In honor of the Baptism of Cali Christian
Scriptures: Psalm 23 | Mark 1:4-11
This is the first Mother’s Day without my own mother. Later today, I will be driving down to Richmond to be with my brother and place flowers at her grave.
When I was just a bit older than Cali, it was my mother who taught me two scriptures to say by memory: Psalm 100 … and Psalm 23. Both of them in the beautiful and inimitable Elizabethan language I just used for Psalm 23.
I tried to pass along that tradition and get my son, Andrew, to memorize Psalm 23 when he was little. I regret that I was not as perseverant with him as my mother was with me. We got as far as the third line: “He leadeth me beside the still waters” – which Andrew could never seem to get. He would always look at me with his big eyes and say, “And be still, waters.”
“Be still … waters.”
For a little child could care less about how God might leadeth them anywhere. They just want the waters of their world … to be still.
Don’t we all?
The biblical story that named our church – and then in turn named this town – testifies to the power of still waters. For in that story, Jesus does not even ask the physically disabled man beside that pool of Bethesda to enter the pool’s putative healing waters. He simply asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” And then: he heals the man! No water added. No waters disturbed.
Be still … waters. Jesus keeps the waters still, in his healing beside the pool of Bethesda. And as Cali’s mother Lindsey said to me last week when we were meeting about Cali’s baptism: Hey, if anything we do in baptizing Cali has to do with Jesus, I’m fine with it.
Be still … waters.
And yet each and every one of us finds ourselves beckoned during our lives to wade into waters unknown. To places where the waters will necessarily be disturbed. To “wade in the water. For God’s a-gonna trouble the wa-ah-terrrr …”
For in the 23rd Psalm we heard a moment ago, that same God in third person who leadeth us beside the still waters is the same God we engage in the second person when we wade in the waters of the valley of the shadow where we are to fear no evil in the presence of our enemies.
The shadow of death … evil … enemies. Intimate places all, where it seems we all must go so that God can claim our attention – where we all must go that we might cry out to God by the names God craves from us: “Thy” … “Thou” … “YOU.” Not “him” – not “her”: I wonder if part of the reason we fight those inclusive language battles is that we would rather address God in third person than in second? Anything so that we don’t have to engage God directly, anything so we don’t have to address God as “You”.
Call me Thy, God implores us – Call me Thou – Call me You. For, God intimates, when you arrive, and you will arrive, at those places and spaces where I’m a-gonna trouble the water, you will then know – as I say in this Psalm – that my cup will overflow.
That cup of mercy – that cup of grace – that cup of Bethesda: a name which means House of Mercy, some say, or House of Grace, say others. Call me You, God says, and you will know that my cup will overflow with Bethesda.
And when my cup doth overflow with Bethesda, your troubled waters can become still … still again. But only when you approach me intimately in those troubles. Only when you address me as “Thy”, “Thou” … “You.”
I call you (God talking here, still) – I call you to direct discussion with me: but more than that. I call you to dialogue with me: but more than that. I call you to be passionate with me. For I am not someone to be relegated to third-person status. I am not to be quarantined in your studies of me: not as shepherd, not as Savior, not as Son of God even.
I would rather have you address me as one who enters the valleys with you – and know that I willingly, gladly will do that with you. Those places full of evil … full of enemies … full of monsters in your closets. I will go there with you. Always.
Now: How can we let Cali know that she is beloved and that she belongs if we do not know where to turn when our waters are troubled?
Indeed: how can we say to Cali – or say to any child – “be still, waters” unless we are passionately engaged with God throughout?
“Be still, waters?” Indeed!
But only if we are talking with God one-to-one … will they ever.
Ever, for us. Ever, for her.
So the choice is ours:
Keep God safe? Third-person theology.
Or address God direct? Second-person embrace.
The choice is ours. For this child to be ours.