In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven.And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (ESV)
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Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
29 July 2014
What's the big deal about water? When I was a child my mother continually encouraged me to drink water. The well water that came from our taps was sparkling and sweet. How I miss it now! Without water humans fail quite quickly. You can do without food for days, but water is a much more immediate need. It is one of the basic building blocks of life, made up as it is of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Its importance and ubiquity should give us a hint as to why the Lord provided it and then used it to bear new life to those who are baptized into it. Water was created at the beginning when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (Gn 1:2). The creative work of God included using water to differentiate between sea and sky (Gn 1:6-7). This primordial element was present when life was conceived by the voice of God in the majestic, "Let there be..." through which the Word of God (Jn 1:1, 14) ordered all things.
Did God create water for the sake of baptism, or baptism for the sake of water? Of course, at one level it doesn't matter. We have the divine command to baptize with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The "why" doesn't matter much, because the Lord's will in this matter is sufficient to establish the church's baptismal practice, without His explaining to us the particular reason for it. On another level, of course, it does matter. Baptism was not given to the church for the sake of water. Water does not have priority over this gracious act of God. Martin Luther says, "Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith that trusts this word of God in the water" (SC 4.3). Water alone does nothing, and in baptism does not even remove bodily filth. However, the water is never alone, but always used in connection with divine command. With the Word of God it is a baptism.
There are those who deny water any role at all in our salvation; who denigrate the divine use of the material world. They deem it unworthy of God to tie His divine grace to mere matter. They want a more fully "spiritual" brand of Christianity disconnected from the things of this world. Yet, what do you do with the first chapter of the Bible? How do you get around God's willingness to place His hand into the creation and make it not just good, but "very good" (Gn 1:31)? He formed man of the dust of ground and Spirited him into life with the kiss of breath. The Lord has chosen to redeem those who are flesh by bearing that same flesh of which we have been made. He has a decisive prejudice to save what He has created and becomes part of that creation by Spiriting into Mary's womb His Son, who would remake the common clay. He has judged it right that salvation should come when creation's stuff bore His uncreated and eternal Son. This judgment He made from eternity. Let's not say that this is impossible with God, when He has said that He has done it. Why then should we be surprised that water, clear water, should bear the gifts of death with Christ and resurrection into the new life with Him? Why are we incredulous that God has knit forgiveness into water through its connection with His Word? Who would say that God could not do this, when he has promised that He does exactly this?
"We proceed to treat the question, 'How foolish and impossible it is to be formed anew by water. In what respect has this material substance merited an office of so high dignity?' The authority, I suppose, of the liquid element has to be examined. This authority, however, is found in abundance and that from the very beginning. For water is one of those things which, before all the furnishing of the world, were quiescent with God in a yet incomplete state. Scripture says, 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters' (Gn 1:1-2). The first thing, O man, which you have to venerate, is the age of the waters, in that their substance is ancient; second, their dignity, in that they were the seat of the divine Spirit, more pleasing to Him, no doubt, than all the other then existing elements. For the darkness was total, shapeless, without the ornament of stars; and the abyss gloomy; and the earth unfurnished; and the heaven not yet made. Water alone-always a perfect, gladsome, simple material substance, pure in itself-supplied a worthy vehicle to God.
"What of the fact that waters were in some way the regulating powers by which the disposition of the world from then on was constituted by God? For the suspension of the celestial firmament in the midst He caused by 'dividing the waters' (Gn 1:6-8). The suspension of 'the dry land' He accomplished by 'separating the waters.' After the world had been set in order on it through its elements, when inhabitants were given it, the waters were the first to receive the precept to bring forth living creatures. Water was the first to produce that which had life, that it might be no wonder in baptism if waters know how to give life.
"If, from that time onward, I go forward in recounting universally, or at more length, the evidences of the 'authority' of this element which I can adduce to show how great is its power or its grace; how many ingenious devices, how many functions, how useful an instrumentality, it affords the world, I fear I may seem to have collected rather the praises of water than the reasons of baptism; although I should thereby teach all the more fully, that it is not to be doubted that God has made the material substance which He has disposed throughout all His products and works, obey Him also in His own peculiar sacraments; that the material substance which governs terrestrial life acts as agent likewise in the heavenly life."
Tertullian, On Baptism, 3
Lord Jesus, You have created water to save the pinnacle of that creation. Help us not to judge by our faulty standards, but rather to believe that you can accomplish what You say You can do. Give us the confidence by Your Spirited grace to trust the forgiveness that is ours through Your connection of water and the Word. Amen.
For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School as they prepare to commence a new school year, that those who teach and those who learn would be blessed by the eternal Wisdom
For those who are shut in, especially Juanita Duffala, Irene Schroeder, Pearl White, Rita Baker, Anita Markwardt, Helen Weaver, and Robert Frerking, that God the Lord would watch over them
For those who struggle to use their mouths to bless instead of curse, that they might shape their mouths and bridle their tongues to proclaim the grace of God
Picture: Courtesy of Martha Fredenburg
© Scott R. Murray, 2014