Come to the Waters
“You can surely say in a certain way each and every day’s a new beginning. Starting out to see possibilities; you can hold the keys to happy endings. It’s all in how you look at it to get what you see! Cause day’s a new beginning if you want it to be.”
When I was in elementary school my older brother gave me a cassette with some Christian songs on it, including this one. “Every day’s a new beginning.” It also had a version of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” on it, with a woman singing in a very operatic vibrato-full style, (example?) which, believe it or not despite that description, made it one of my favorite hymns as a child. I can’t tell you what the name of the cassette or group was though. Some years ago on my blog I posted the snippet of lyrics I could remember of “Every day’s a new beginning,” after finding zero results on google for them. Someone from Australia replied with the complete lyrics, but still no information on where to get the song or who sang it. A mystery! But as a child, I already knew to fall in love with this awesome concept: “Every day is a new beginning.” I already knew that getting to start over each day was a precious gift.
Indeed, the scripture is full of similar promises from God. The psalmists repeatedly talk about God putting a “new song” in their hearts, or they pray for a “new spirit.” The prophet Isaiah proclaims for God, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare” and “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Both Old and New Testament readings talk about a “new heaven and new earth” that God prepares for the faithful. Ezekiel speaks repeatedly of “new hearts” God gives us. The apostle Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” When Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples, he says, “‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” He teaches, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” New, new, new.
I wonder, though, if the new God promises us and the new we seek after are the same things. Because really, our culture, our media, our stories, our world all seem to seek after “new” as well. We’re constantly being told that we need all things new. That, in fact, we need new selves. Out with the old, in with the new. I recently watched a clip online that mentions that young people are exposed to an average 7.5 hours of media a day in some form or another. And of the thousands of images they see each day, so many of them are edited, photoshopped, manipulated in order to present an image of perfection, of new and improved, that is so unattainable, but that we’re buying into, literally. All things new: a new car. A new house. A new haircut. A new face. A new personality. A new life. A new you. This doesn’t sound very much like God’s promise of being new creations in Christ, does it?
The trouble is, I think, is that we’ve skewed the message of the good news. We got confused. Instead of longing for Christ to make us new, we’ve started longing instead to simply be someone other than who we are. We don’t want to be made new, to be renewed. We long to trade ourselves in for a better version. And in our hearts, we wonder if that isn’t God wants from us too.
Pastor Emily Scott writes that we long for “A different us: . . . Us version 2.0 . . . This new us springs energetically out of bed and goes to the gym three times a week, or suddenly has no desire for cigarettes, or alcohol, or other vices, or magically keeps the house tidy and organized. This new us is shiny and new, and feels recently purchased, like a new car, with a fresh, new us smell and sheen, a smile that is whiter and skin with a healthy glow. This new us is even more photogenic than the old, as evidenced by the new [2.0] us that appears on facebook, always smiling riotously and having just a little bit more fun than everyone else.” But, she writes, “This is the lie: That you can start fresh. That you can drop off the old, unwanted, weatherworn bits of yourself at the Salvation Army and pick up something fresher and more appealing. Something less complicated and easier to live with. Here is the truth. Here is the Good News. God came to dwell among us. God came to pitch a tent, and [God] pitches it deep down in the muck. In the deepest, most forgotten corners of our hearts, the bits that we would rather set out with the trash. It is those parts of us where God loves us the most: wants most to dwell with us. God lives in the unwanted, weatherworn places, a light that shines even in the places we experience as dark or despairing.” (1)
At LIFE this week, our youth program, we watched a skit called “God’s chisel.” I’ll be posting a link on the church facebook page to the video later so you can watch it too. In the video, the narrator Tommy says he wants to be God’s masterpiece, like the Bible says, and so he tells God to bring out the chisel and work on him as God sees fit. He’s surprised, though, when God does just that. And then he’s – alarmed and embarrassed. It becomes clear that he thinks that if God sees what he really is, when God gets too close, when God chisels stuff away, God will be unhappy and disappointed with the Tommy that remains.
God says to Tommy, “You are God’s Masterpiece. I want you to do something. I want you to look out there and I want you to say "Tommy is God’s original masterpiece.”
Tommy does this half-heartedly, but God interrupts, “No, not the way you see yourself or the way you fear others see you, but how I see you…the way I created you.”
Tommy says more boldly, “Tommy is God’s original masterpiece.”
“Yes, you are.” God agrees.
And then Tommy tells us, “And so are you. God doesn’t make junk. You are an original masterpiece.”
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It is the Sunday when we remember Jesus’ baptism by John, and when we reflect on the meaning of our own baptisms, or anticipate the day we will be baptized. Today we hear of Jesus’ baptism from the gospel of Matthew. John has been baptizing people, a symbol of their repentance, an action he calls them to do to prepare because “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John says to the crowds, though, that another is coming, more powerful than he, who will not baptize with water for repentance but with Holy Spirit and fire. That very one, Jesus, comes to the Jordan, seeking baptism from John. John is confused – why would Jesus want to be baptized by him? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? But Jesus tells John this is the right action for the right time. So Jesus is baptized, and as he comes out of the water, Matthew tells us that the heavens are opened and God’s spirit descends on him like a dove, and a voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” After this, Jesus will head to the wilderness and encounter temptation before beginning his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.
Jesus doesn’t come to the waters to be made into someone else, to be made into the Messiah by John’s touch and the magic of water. No, he comes to be reminded of who he is: “My Son, the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.” He comes because he is about to embark on a new part of his life’s work, and he needs to be grounded in his identity to have the courage to journey to the cross. He comes to the waters not as a sign of a new covenant that rejects the old, but of a new covenant that fulfills what God has already promised, a covenant never broken by God.
In the United Methodist Church, we don’t celebrate rebaptism. Because we don’t need new yous! God loves you, God’s masterpiece, God’s beloved. And God doesn’t need to be re-convinced to love us. But sometimes we need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to remember. We remember, not the literal event, perhaps, of our baptism, but we remember that we belong to God. We remember that indeed, God is making all things new – in you – who God already created just as God intended to. Remember, and be thankful. Amen.