Come to the Spring of Living Water!

Pastor Jeff Wells

     Raise your hand if you are baptized. Now, “remember you are baptized and rejoice!” Remember it now and remember it always. Now, if you are not baptized, you don’t have to raise your hand. I don’t want to make you feel awkward. Don’t worry this is not some exclusive club, but the value and the scope of baptism is exceedingly great. So, if you are not baptized, I urge you to pay careful attention to what I am going to say this morning because at the end of the message, I am going to ask you if you are ready.

     For those of us who have been baptized, we ought to be very grateful to God because, through our baptism, we were initiated into the body of Christ and onto a pathway of growth in faith and understanding and commitment. Most of us were baptized as infants and even though we could not grasp it at the time, the Spirit of God was present and powerful in that event and, just as in Jesus’ baptism, God declared, “This is one of my beloved, with her I am very pleased” or “with him I am very pleased!” God promised to love us, forgive us, inspire us, encourage us, and never let us go. This is no small thing. In fact, it is a very big deal – so we celebrate and rejoice as we renew our baptisms today.

     God did not just make promises to us, but invited us to make promises and commitments to God. We call this the baptismal covenant. It is a sacred two-way commitment. In most cases, our parents or guardians took vows on our behalf. We will be reminded of these vows in a few minutes. They vows commit us to a life of loving and serving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, being nurtured in faith, striving following Jesus, seeking God’s justice, and practicing radical inclusivity. But baptism is not a covenant just between God and you. In baptism, God also invites us into beloved community with others. You see, baptism is not an individual act. It is a profoundly communal act because God knows we need to community to survive, grow, and thrive. We need community to learn, to support one another and hold one another accountable, and to work together for God’s love and justice in the world. So, through Jesus the Christ, God created the church – which we call “the body of Christ.” It’s about living water, you see. Baptism is a spring of living water, just as Jesus talked about it in the story of the Samaritan woman. And the spring of living water is available to us not just at the moment of the sacrament when we are baptized, but continually, throughout our life – out baptized life, our covenant life.

     Baptism is not something we did or that was done to us. Baptism is a way of life that God offers us as a gift – full of grace – and that we must choose to live. It is a thread that runs through your entire life as a follower of Jesus and serves to tie the whole journey together and tether you to God. This is why we regularly recommit ourselves to our personal and communal covenant with God.  

     We should be honest and admit that it is hard to keep our baptismal covenant. But that is what God asks of us – to keep our end of the baptismal bargain as God steadfastly keeps God’s end. God never fails to extend love and grace to us. God never fails to be with us and support us through our struggles, our growing pains, our hurts, and our grief. God never fails to offer us mercy and forgiveness when we harm ourselves or others through our actions or our failure to act.

     God loves you so much! In the New Testament story of the prodigal son, the father in the story did not judge the son when he returned penniless and begging forgiveness. The father had already forgiven him before he arrived home and when he saw him, he threw his arms around him, kissed him, shouted “Hallelujah!”, and threw a big party, because his son who had been lost was found. This is how God feels about you – about all of us. No matter what you have done or failed to do; no matter what shame or pain you carry inside; or how unworthy you feel; or whether you have hurt someone or stood by when someone was being hurt – God loves you and wants to be in covenant relationship with you.

     I did not always stick by my baptismal covenant with God. In fact, I rejected it explicitly for a long time. I was a prodigal son. Yet, God waited for me a wooed me. And when I returned, God embraced me without reservation and celebrated my return. That is why, today, I am so grateful for the covenant we share because I have felt the power of the baptismal covenant and baptismal spirit in my life and in community with you. I want to be there for God the way that God has been there for me. I want to be able to say, “I will go anywhere God leads me. I will give my life, if necessary, in the service of God’s love and justice. I will stand with a Muslim sister or brother who is threatened and I will protect and support an undocumented person who the government wants to deport and I will fight for the rights of working people to decent jobs with wages a person can actually live on. I am able – I am given the strength and courage to do all of this in more for the sake of God’s vision for humanity – all because of my baptismal covenant.

     I want to vow and I want us to vow that we will live our lives in such a way that the light of Christ will shine through us to light up lives and hearts around us. In our baptismal vows, we offer our active participation to build up the church as the body of Christ for the world. This is no small thing. It turns out, you see, that the covenant we make with God through our baptism into Christ encompasses just about everything we do as Christians and as the church of Jesus Christ.  The baptismal covenant is not merely words in a worship bulletin, it is an ever-flowing spring of living water.

     You can see that this is a demanding covenant and a demanding way of life. And as one wise man wrote about baptism, “Unlike God, who is faithful to all covenant promises, we are fickle. Even when our intentions are the best, our actions do not [always] match our desires. The covenant we make with God is therefore frequently broken by us and needs to be renewed by us.” We ought to wake up in the morning and say, “Faithful and Ever-Present God, I pledge to live the life that I committed to in my baptism.” Periodically renewing our baptismal covenant together, as a sacramental act, helps to remind us that what we do here in this place and what we do with our lives matters – it matters profoundly in our own lives, in the lives of our children, and in the lives of those we are able to reach and touch with God’s love and forgiveness.  Sometimes, we might even save a life. That has surely happened in this beloved community. For Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly and we are the body of Christ for the world.

         Now, I said at the beginning we would get to this question. If you have not been baptized, what’s holding you back? To paraphrase the story of the Ethiopian official we studied three weeks ago, “Here is water – and surely the Spirit of God is in this place – what’s to stop you from being baptized this morning?” Are you ready to receive the spring of living water? There are no prerequisites. All you need is the desire to love God and your neighbor as yourself. Remember, Jesus did not demand that the Samaritan woman to first clean up her life or convert to Judaism. He just offered living water – free of charge.

         If you are ready to be baptized, come to the spring of living water! Come and receive the gift of God’s grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of life in covenant relationship with God.