Congregational Church of Christ

United Church of Christ

"A little church with a big heart!"

Connected, claimed and called by name! - Reflections on Luke 3:15-22

The metaphor of “living water” is the central image in baptism…an image we used to signify God’s love by which we are connected, claimed and called by name. 

We, in this country, don’t think much about water.  Maybe folks in Flint, Michigan, do.  But most of us are blessed with an abundance of fresh, clean water.  I’ve traveled to places in this world where you can’t drink the water out of the facet…can’t brush your teeth with it.  Even showering in it leaves something to be desired.

In Biblical times water was hard to get.  Very hard.  People – predominantly women – had to walk miles for enough water for the family to cook with.  Bathing was a whole different matter.  It wasn’t as often.  People probably didn’t smell as good afterwards.   It was harder, I bet, to feel refreshed. 

So even the notion of baptism…and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan that we read about in the Gospel of Luke…that full-body experience in the waters of the River Jordan—was a powerful, visceral event that we may find hard to comprehend.  Our little sprinkling on the forehead hardly does it justice.  I try to talk about living water with the children as they pour it into the baptismal font but I’m not sure it’s possible to fully convey to them…and all of us…the notion of water as something rare and precious, life-giving and sacred.  The significance of our baptism by water and the Spirit, pouring over us like the clean flowing water without which we cannot live. 

 “At the end of Mitch Albom's bestseller “Tuesdays with Morrie”, the dying Morrie tells Mitch a story he has come upon. There is a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He's enjoying the wind and the fresh air — until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.

"My God, this is terrible," the wave says. "Look what's going to happen to me!"

Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave looking grim, and it says to him, "Why do you look so sad?"

The first wave answers, "You don't understand! We're all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn't it terrible?"

Mitch Albom concludes, "Morrie closes his eyes again. 'Part of the ocean,' he says, 'part of the ocean.'” [1]

When we celebrate baptism our focus is often on the communal aspects of the sacrament.  Our Protestant congregational theology leans toward a celebration of the child’s entry into our community of faith.  The parents and god-parents make promises to care for the child, and we as a congregation make promises, too.  It’s a rite of initiation, a welcome into the community of faith. 

But baptism is also a reassurance of the broadness and abundance God’s love.  In baptism, we now belong to something much greater than ourselves, like a wave in the ocean.   When we join this community engaged with God and other communities in the transformation of a broken world, we are working together to bring a new world to reality.

I’m afraid that sometimes we lose sight of that.  At Jesus’ baptism, as he stood in the muddy river waters, God claimed and named him.  A voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  At its essence, baptism is the reassurance that we are blessed and beloved, that God knows us...calls us by name, and we are not alone…we are connected, and claimed, and called by name.

It’s no mistake then, why, when I take a child in my arms to baptize her, I ask her parents, “What name do you give this child?”  Then we bathed her in the living waters of God’s love, letting her know that God knows her name, she is called by name... and no matter what life holds for her—for any of us—each of us is a child of God, blessed and beloved, and connected to others by that love.

In the book “Craddock Stories,” celebrated preacher Fred Craddock tells of an evening when he and his wife were eating dinner in a little restaurant in the Smokey Mountains.  A strange and elderly man came over to their table and introduced himself.  "I’m from around these parts," he said.  "My mother wasn’t married, and the shame the community directed toward her was also directed toward me.  Whenever I went to town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses about who my daddy was.  At school, I ate lunch alone.  In my early teens, I began attending a little church but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church.  One day, before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder.  It was the minister.  He looked closely at my face.  I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was. 'Well, boy, you are a child of. . .' and then he paused.  When he spoke again he said, 'Boy, you are a child of God.  I see a striking resemblance.'  Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, 'Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.'  I left church that day a different person," the now elderly man said.  "In fact, that was the beginning of my life."[2]

The promise of water of our baptism, immersed in God’s love is “living water”, by which we are connected, and claimed, and called by name.


[1] Tuesday’s With Morrie:  an old man, a young man, and life’s great lesson, Mitch Albom, DoubleDay, 1997.

[2] “God Believes in You”, The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, Day1.org