An example of a thematic sermon ...
When I was a little girl my family would take vacations, go to parks, camp, do all sorts of fun things. Some of these things I distinctly remember. The one outing I am thinking of particularly was a trip to Apple River, now I am not sure if you are familiar with this place, it is a river on which you can go tubing. You ride an inner tube down this nice lazy river until you get to the part they call the rapids. Then the water starts churning over the rocks and your inner tube goes bouncing along, your head goes under the water and you think for sure you are going to die.
Well as a little girl I thought my parents had lost their minds. I remember my mom and I being next to each other and I was screaming my head off and she had her hand on my tube. Well we started over the rapids and my tube nearly flipped, I scraped my legs on the rocks, and I fell into the middle of my tube. At the end of the rapids I remember my mother standing up, grabbing my tube, with me folded over it and hauling me off to the side of the river. I was out of breath from screaming and thinking I was gonna die and she asks me, "So was that fun? Did you want to go again?"
This was when I became aware of the fact that indeed I was smarter than my parents and they were really insane. No I did not want to go again, I wanted to know why they tried to kill me on these rapids in the first place and not succeeding why they wanted to try again! Of course my sister and my father were up and running around to go again and my poor mother, who loves a good ride, rapids or amusement park, was stuck watching from the bridge with me, nursing my bruises and scrapes. I have been back to Apple River since, and I do enjoy it, though they have tamed the rapids down quite a bit. Sadly, people had drowned there on occasion.
Rapids, white water rafting, people like the excitement of passing through dangerous waters. People like the rush of beating death. Waters certainly can destroy and kill. The floods out West proved that, the floods here in the Mid-west some years back did all sorts of damage. They are worried with all of this snow accumulation that we may have problems with flooding this spring. Waters going out of control, hurricanes, typhoons, it can be incredibly frightening. The flood story in the book of Genesis captures that same terrible agony of death and destruction by water. It says in the story, "the flood continued forty days" and "all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings - everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died." The mention of nostrils and the breath of life, brings to mind the agony of drowning--the way in which the water takes away your breath. All except those who were on the ark died.
In ancient stories from other cultures surrounding Israel there are similar stories of a flood. And they like the story of Noah, use it as a new beginning, a creation or recreation story. It would seem that there was indeed a devastating flood in that region in Ancient times. This story of recreation, God starting afresh with Noah and his descendants, is a story of passing through dangerous waters and coming out unscathed or at least, coming out in one piece on the other side. And God start afresh, he makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants never to do this again, and he puts a sign in the sky, the rainbow to be a reminder of this covenant. You can imagine the ancient storytellers using this story to explain the existence of the rainbow to the people.
Another outing for me as a kid was chasing rainbows, I remember one time we got on our bikes as a family after dinner and biked to where we could get a good look at the rainbow, as a kid, even as an adult, rainbows make you happy, they are indeed a calm beautiful promise after a storm. Things are quiet again, everything is okay. We have passed through the dangerous waters.
Each of our scriptures today share the theme of passing through the waters. The flood story, the baptism of Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness and lastly Peter's commentary on these stories. Peter ties together Noah's passing through the waters and the use of water during baptism. He says that the immersion in water (as it was done in those days) is not about cleansing your body from dirt and grime, it is about the washing away of sins. It is symbolic for passing through dangerous waters and coming out safe on the other side. Sin,is dangerous waters, temptation is dangerous waters. Through out our lives we experience dangerous waters. Time when our lives seem out of control, when we have made a serious bad choices and we can't seem to make things right again; times when we can't seem to get things in balance as it once was.
There are also times that are not connected to our sin or temptation but rather the way in life just happens. Norma Williams in her fight against cancer, experienced dangerous waters. And now she is coming through those waters to the other side, she is making a recovery. Howard Albers is experiencing dangerous waters and we hope and pray that soon he will be making the journey through those waters to safety. Perhaps some of us have experienced those dangerous waters, going through a divorce, losing a child, losing a loved one, a family feud, a less than perfect childhood. Perhaps we are still riding the rapids clutching desperately to the sides of our inter tube, wondering why on earth God would put us through such treacherous times.
Times of upheaval and change disturb us, we want everything to be calm, right with the world, in balance. But life is not like that. There will be times of upheaval and upset. We are going and will be going through changes right here at Northfield Moravian. We may not all agree on the changes. But if we are to grow as a church then we need to be doing something different than has been done in the past. Together with God's help and some nudging from the District Board we will realize what that something is. For those of you on the Joint Board, you heard what Dan Wilson, a district board member, said, he said, "We are in for a wild ride. Put on your seat belt, cuz we are in for a wild ride." Well, that's the truth, we have some rapids to pass through, some dangerous waters, but if we are able to pass through these waters we have every hope of being reborn on the other side.
And so we look back on these stories, the flood story and the promise of the rainbow and the story of Jesus' baptism and temptation and we recognize the times when God was at work in our lives. That rainbow and the promise of baptism signal the moments of grace in our lives, God's saving hand pulling us from the rapids, pulling us to safety on the other side. It is true that we live our lives between these moments and that at times we may screaming our head off, sure that we are done for, that we will never make it to safety, back to a normal life, but we are feeling like this let us try to remember the promise of the rainbow and the promise of baptism, we are not alone in this, God will pull us to safety once again, of that we can be assured. Amen.
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