Dangerous Waters (Lectionary Reflection for Proper 16, Year A)

This week’s lections reminded me of an interchange from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which was quoted in a sermon at my church on August 3.  It goes like this:

Susan and Lucy are at the cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, as they talk about what is to happen next.  They ask the Beavers to describe Aslan, asking if Aslan is a man.

Mr. Beaver replies, “Aslan a man?  Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion– the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he–quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about being safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

The thing is, God is certainly not safe.  God is continually calling us out of the places where we feel safe, secure, comfortable, and leading us out into new territory that makes us uncomfortable, that disquiets and disturbs us, that frightens us.  When Jesus says that he didn’t come to bring peace but the sword, this is what he means.  He came to roust us out of our safe hiding-places, to make us uncomfortable enough that we will move forward, we will leave behind security and follow him into the unknown.

God has ever done this with God’s people.  Since Ordinary Time resumed this summer, we have heard the story of Abram and Sarai – called out of home and into new places, called out of settled old age to bear a new son.  We heard the story of Jacob, who fled his home in fear for his life after deceiving his brother, who found himself called back home again after years of security working for his father-in-law Laban.  We heard the story of Joseph, who didn’t really have any say in the matter of being taken to Egypt, but who called his father and brothers to join him there to survive the famine.  We know that in coming weeks, we will hear the story of Moses, called out into the desert and then amazingly back to Egypt to deliver God’s people.  We will hear about the Israelites called out of the security of Egypt and into the hostile and frightening desert, where they would wander for decades.  We know the story of that young woman named Mary, who God invited to be the mother of God’s child.  Do you think it was safe or comfortable for her to be thirteen years old, engaged but not yet married, and pregnant?  She could have been stoned for this!

The gospel reading for Sunday is rather scary.  Jesus challenges his closest circle of friends, who do you say that I am?  Peter takes a deep breath as the rest of the guys sit in uncomfortable silence, not quite sure what Jesus wants to hear, and then he blurts it out: you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!  And Jesus responds, lifting Peter up as the rock on which he will build his church.  But then he says that the gates of Hades will not prevail against this church, and I have to think Peter heard those words and thought, “Wait… what was that, Lord?!?”  Jesus continues to say that whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in Heaven.  That is some awesome responsibility there.  Think about it.  If Peter calls someone a damned liar, well, then that person is going to experience those gates of Hades, whether they actually lied or not.  While any of the disciples would love to be honoured like this, the responsibility is pretty scary, too.  Peter isn’t going to get to go home and fish quietly, surrounded by his grown children and laughing grandchildren.  No, he is going to end up crucified upside down by the Romans for leaving security behind and embracing Jesus with all of his being.

The Letter to the Romans tells us something similar – we are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  So you have to wonder what exactly a living sacrifice is.  Up to this time, a sacrifice had always meant that something had to die, and you’ll probably agree with me that this doesn’t sound exactly secure or safe.  We are instructed to be humble in our thoughts, to be sober, to fulfill our particular function in the Body of Christ.  I’ll admit that humility has never come easily to me.  It is uncomfortable for me, and it is threatening for me to think about people who are stronger or faster or smarter or just better than I am.  And what if I’m the armpit in the Body of Christ – smelly and sticky and hairy and nasty?  Or worse, even?  What if I don’t want to fulfill that function – what if I’d rather get to be the tongue that gets to taste food, or the eyes to see beauty around me, or even the feet to bear the body up?  I don’t want to be the colon – why can’t I be something sexier, like even the lungs or maybe even the brain?  It’s discomforting to think about how many people there are and have been and will be, and how each of us is part of the body… and many of us are going to be unglamorous parts.  I know that somebody has to be the urethra, but I don’t want it to be me!

In our Old Testament lesson for Sunday, we see the opening to the book of Exodus, and it isn’t exactly pretty either.  The Pharoah has begun to feel threatened – unsafe, insecure, uncomfortable – by the sheer number of Israelites in his kingdom, so he decides to cull their numbers, so that he can remain in power.  The midwives conspired to trick him, so Pharoah had to call out the Egyptians to begin killing baby boys born to Hebrew women.  But we know the story – one of those baby boys slips through this net of murder, and grows up in the palace of Pharoah himself.  (And while we’re on the subject of making people uncomfortable, note that Pharoah’s daughter can see immediately that the baby is a Hebrew child.  If you’re ever annoyed with your child’s Sunday school teacher, have your son or daughter ask their teacher how Pharoah’s daughter knew this right off the bat.  Heh heh heh!)  I know that the mother and daughter of this baby boy were terrified, and even as his mother nursed him, she was in mortal danger.  I can well imagine, too, that Pharoah’s daughter had some fear that her father would find out what this child was.  But they all knew they were called out of safety and comfort, into a vulnerable place where frightening and terrible things could happen… or frightening and miraculous things could happen.

Most of all, though, this week’s psalm talks about the danger we are in when we choose God.  When we choose God, we are in the middle of the raging waters, the torrent, the snare of the fowler, even swallowed up.  This psalm talks about God delivering us from all of these things – and God does – but God leads us into those places, too.  I was vividly reminded, as I read these words, of our baptism.  Sometimes, I think we do baptism all wrong in the Episcopal Church.  Baptism is not a cherubic infant, sprinkled with a bit of clear, sparkling water.  No, baptism is a raging torrent.  Baptism is a snare, and in baptism, we are swallowed up by God.

You are sealed with the sign of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.

Hear that?  When we make those vows, those scary and dangerous vows for our infant children, we are giving them away, releasing them into the torrent of water that carries us all.  We do not get to keep our children; we are entrusted with their care, as stewards, for a time, and then they have to leave the safety and security and comfort of their nest so that they can go forth themselves into the waters.  The waters give birth to us, and the waters mark us as Christ’s, and the waters continue to rush past us, around us, over us, under us, through us, until we sink and die and become part of the earth again.

The blessing over the water in baptism says this:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This is not safe water!  We are called to immerse our children in the waters of Creation, in the Red Sea where the Egyptian army died, in the Jordan River where God terrified the people at the baptism of Jesus by appearing as a dove and identifying God’s son.  We are killing and burying our babies in this water, so that Jesus can lead them out again as his own.  So that Jesus can lead them out into a new life, a life of discomfort and distress, of insecurity and fear.

So we dress our babes up in perfect white gowns with cute little booties and caps.  We give them gifts of candles and seashells, when instead we should be issuing life preservers to the parents and the godparents and everyone in the congregation who is renewing his or her own vows.  We should have life rafts and oars, rather than cakes and balloons.

We are called to the raging waters.  We are called out of the quiet, out of the safety, and into the torrents.  Of course, there is good news in this.  In baptism, we are brought into fellowship – we are not alone out in those waters.  Through baptism, we are made part of the body of Christ, where before, we did not have a part yet.  We come to know what is good, even if it frightens us.  We know that the Lord is on our side, that God does issue life preservers and rafts, that God breaks the snares and rescues us from God’s enemies.  We come to know what Mr. Beaver said in all his wisdom:

Of course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good.
He’s the King, I tell you.

This week I wish you goodness.  Through the raging waters, through the torrents, through the snares of safety in your life, I pray that you will find that which is good, whether it is comfortable or not.  And I pray that in the voice of the floods, in the song of the blowing trees, in the hands of the hurricane – you will hear God’s voice calling you from your place of security and safety and comfort, and into something wild and exciting and fresh.