Water, water, every where
Based on Mark 1:4-11
If you asked me what the most precious substance on earth was, my answer would not be gold. And nor would it be silver. And nor would it be diamonds. My answer would be water. We can live without gold, silver, or diamonds. But we can’t survive without water.
Unless you are from a farming background and have lived through a severe drought, those of us who have grown up here in Aotearoa New Zealand have always had a plentiful supply of clean potable water. And it would seem like we have been taking it for granted.
Although if you are like me and enjoy the outdoors, you will know differently; unless you are near a river you know is safe, finding good water can be a challenge. You may find water, but it might not be safe to drink untreated. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink. 
In recent years, water has gone from being a freely accessible essential to a marketable commodity. I am amazed by the amount of bottled water people buy here in Aotearoa New Zealand, when our tap water is perfectly drinkable. Businesses are also bottling a vast volume of our finite underground water and selling it offshore, and there is little resistance. Even though fresh water is becoming more and more scarce, in part thanks to human impact on climate; only yesterday, I read an article that suggested that that the next major wars will be about access to water.
But not only is water vital for life, it can also be incredibly dangerous. I know this first hand, having had a narrow escape from drowning many years ago. Others are not lucky; a friend loss his young son to drowning a few years back, and he is still grieving to this day.
Water is also vital ingredient in the sacrament of baptism. A sacrament is most usually described as being an outward sign of an inward grace. But I see a sacrament as being both divine and material in nature, something that brings the spiritual and the physical together. A place where heaven and earth can and do meet.
From the very beginning to almost the very end of our scriptures, we see clear distinctions between heaven and earth.
This morning we heard the very first verse of the Bible, which introduces the first of the two creation stories in Genesis:
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” 
When we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we clearly distinguish between heaven and earth, praying:
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. 
And the second to last chapter of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, tells us:
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had
passed away, and the sea was no more. 
While they may be separate and distinct, there are also times when heaven and earth meet. Such as when Jesus is baptised.
10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ 
And today is the day when the Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus.
We have just heard the Gospel according to St Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus by St John the Baptiser.. Mark is almost certainly the oldest of the four canonical gospels and it is also the most concentrated in that it leaves out a lot of detail found in the other gospels.
Even though Mark’s account is the most concise of all four gospels, it is easy to get overwhelmed by some of the more evocative detail, such as the heavens opening, the dove descending, and the voice from heaven, which I just referred to, and thereby missing some of the context.
By going to the Jordan to be baptised, Jesus is rocking the boat both religiously and politically. John is an outspoken troublemaker who openly challenges the religious and political authorities of his day. Even though he would know full well this is going to get him into trouble. John is not only calling on the people to repent and follow a different path, he is directly challenging the status quo. And it is quite likely that he in the wilderness because the city is not a safe place for a firebrand radical like him.
And by submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus publicly aligns himself with a religious and political revolutionary, and Jesus the carpenter becomes Jesus the man on a mission who, like John, will be killed after upsetting the powers that be.
That doesn’t explain why Jesus asks to subjected to what was essentially a rite of repentance. Various answers have been offered, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that Jesus is baptised to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters by being in them.
As Greek Orthodox priest Father Barnabas Powell wrote, “Jesus did not need baptism. The water needed Jesus! By his baptism, Jesus restores water to its original intent, to truly clean, to truly refresh, and to truly satisfy our thirst.” 
And following Jesus into the waters of baptism is the rite of entry into the Church. Through the sacrament of baptism, we are cleansed and born into a new life with God. And the water is the outward sign of the inward grace imparted to us.
But although the waters are life giving, remember they are also a dangerous place. John and Jesus both know this, but it does not stop them. And to be an authentic follower of Jesus does mean living a safe and peaceful life.
Following Jesus means feeding the hungry, refreshing the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. After all, Jesus tells us when we do this for them, we also do it for him.
Following Jesus means being good news for the poor,
release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind
and liberty for those who are oppressed.
And following Jesus means caring for God’s creation. Including our precious water, which refreshes us and washes us both physically and spiritually.
So when we listen to and reflect on those stories of Jesus’ baptism of Jesus that have been handed down to us by our ancestors, we should ask ourselves whether we have the courage to follow Jesus into the river of life. And the dangers that come with this.
10 January 2021
10 January 2021
1 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
2 Genesis 1:1
3 Matthew 6:10
4 Revelation 21:3b-4
5 Mark 1:10-11