It’s odd that just about the time that Baptism of the Lord Sunday arrives, I am googling car washes because my car is so grimy that I’m afraid to brush against it with my coat and my hands get dirty opening the trunk. It’s hard to know what the true color is under all that road guck. Our spirits are like our cars. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember who we are under all the guck we pick up—the skewed messages, the slights, the unkind or thoughtless actions of others that cause us to want to respond in kind.
Our spirits at birth have a design integrity that staggers the imagination in their beauty and potential. Most of our spirits get a good cleaning in our baptisms, whether it’s symbolic if we were baptized as infants, or a personal moment of renewal if we were baptized as adults. I don’t want to make it sound like a magical action, but there is something powerful and generative in having the Church declare publicly what is already true: That we are named as God’s Beloved and sealed by the Holy Spirit, claimed as God’s own, and sent into the world as God’s gift to the world. And then we return to daily living and our spirits get grimy. I know mine does. We shower or bathe our bodies, and we wash our clothes to remove the dust from the road and the sweat from our labor. But our spirits collect just as much dust and sweat as our bodies do and, I think, we pay them less attention.
Now I don’t want to go too far in separating bodies from spirits because they reside together and deeply affect one another. But let’s just focus on the part of us that resides in our thoughts, emotions, egos, and dreams—the part of us that is interior. Let’s stay with the car analogy for a minute. It’s like our spirits collect the dust from the road—the naturally occurring dust and pitch and slime that comes from living in the full community of creation. That sounds pretty obscure. I mean how our spirits are affected by natural disasters that we cannot comprehend, or illness, or injury, or the death of someone that we love, that can leaves us feeling like we’re in an off-road vehicle where we can feel every bump and bone-numbing thud, but can’t see out very well. Or how we accumulate the guck and smell of what our surrounding community does—and that sometimes includes our own actions. By that I mean the effects of mean statements and rude encounters, the spirit-bruising personal and institutional slights of racism, sexism, agism, and other –isms. I mean the grit of violence, greed, poverty, and insecurity. All that we read in the paper, all that we see on TV, all the unfairness on the playground, or anxiety in the classroom, or stress in the office, or loneliness in our families—they build up in our spirits like grime on our cars or on our bodies.
The other build up on our spirits is sweat. Our spirits sweat from exertion and anxiety as much as our bodies—from trying to be perfect parents or super students, from trying to hold both halves of a marriage together, from trying to please everyone except ourselves, from trying to apply our childhood faith to our grown up world, from keeping excruciating pain hidden, from struggling to make ends meet, whether it’s money or nerves, our spirits can be drenched in sweat from trying so hard or being so afraid.
And we forget. We forget that we are water-washed and spirit-born. We forget that our spirits came clean from our Creator and they are washable. We are baptized once as a symbol, but we can be washed every day. That’s why the font stands at the entrance of the sanctuary. It is a reminder that we are water-washed and spirit-born, that we are named by God as Beloved and claimed as God’s own in a ritual that makes visible an invisible reality. And the water is there for us to touch so that we can remember our baptism, and in our worship offer our spirits to God for cleansing and renewal. That’s why, after we touch the water and sing a hymn of praise, we join together to confess those things which have caused pain, confusion, or alienation to ourselves or others through us. We confess individually and as a people. We ask God to cleanse us so that we may see more clearly, and free us to act differently. And then we hear words of forgiveness, hope, and challenge. We remember who we are. We are re-membered with the community of faith. We remember whose we are. We are re-membered with God who loves us more that we can ever love ourselves.
The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, declared to the people of Israel that they were given as a covenant to the rest of the world. By living within God’s framework that seeks an end to oppression, desiring justice and mercy, with compassion for bruised reeds, we reveal God’s love and promise to the world—things can be different. Life can be good and abundant. It is God’s breath that animates us in our baptism and we become different people with important work to do on God’s behalf. As God’s covenant people, we:
Bring light to the nations
Open the eyes that are blind
Bring the prisoners out of the dungeons
Bring from their prisons those who sit in darkness
Because God declares that God is doing a new thing.
You and I are water-washed and spirit-born children of God. We are named as Beloved, with whom God is pleased. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and claimed as Christ’s own forever. We are God’s covenant to the world. I encourage you to spend some time each day bathing the dust and sweat from your spirit in the fountain of God’s love and grace—when you shower or bathe remember your baptism and let God wash your spirit. Because we are the body of Christ, the words of God at Jesus’ baptism apply to us too. So hear it for yourself. “This is my son, or This is my daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Will you rise with me now in body or spirit, and let us reaffirm our baptism together with thanksgiving, as we do every year. Listen deeply to the way that we are called to live as baptized children of God. We are a people who are water-washed and spirit-born, named and claimed as God’s own. Thanks be to God!