Fear of Water
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Amen.
Back in 1975, one of the greatest horror movies of all time came out—Jaws. It made a lot of people afraid of the water. One young man said that after he saw the movie he was afraid even take a bath. There were stories and pictures in the newspapers of people walking on the beach, but no one was out in the ocean. I pretty much agreed with them. I saw the movie and it scared the beejeebers out of me. Even after I had seen the movie 3 times, there were still a couple of scenes that caused me to flinch.
The movie is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Peter Benchley. Steven Spielberg turned this horrifying book into a reason to hate sharks. He brilliantly took what could have been a cheesy movie and turned it into a classic motion picture. Think about this. Everyone who has seen that movie never forgets the music. Here it is 30 years later. If you hear a few notes right now, you would recognize them immediately.
Jaws starts off with one of the most terrifying scenes in movie history. A young pretty girl goes swimming in the ocean at night. She is brutally attacked and killed by an unknown creature in the water. The next day Chief Brody investigates, and, suspecting a shark attack, urges the mayor, Larry Vaughn, to shut down the beach, but this is a tourist town and the mayor says they cannot panic the tourists. He keeps the beach open, and so the shark attacks again, eating a young boy. Brody calls in Matt Hooper, a marine scientist, to see if they can find the shark. But when another attack ensues and almost kills Brody's young son, Michael, the police chief, the scientist, and a sharkhunter named Quint go out to find Jaws themselves.
This turns into several of the greatest cinematic scenes of all time. There is a famous speech by Quint, called the "Indianapolis" speech, in which he describes his first encounter with sharks. The speech is so intense you can not turn away from the screen.
One of the scariest things about the movie is that you mostly do not see the shark. This thing is out there and part of the horror is you don’t know where it is--until Brody is chucking bloody chum overboard to attract the shark, and it suddenly appears almost in his face. "We're gonna need a bigger boat!" Brody says to Quint. Another classic scene is where the shark jumps onto the boat and Quint is trapped and slides slowly into the shark’s mouth. That is a scene that nightmares are made of.
In 1975, no one wanted to go into the water. This reminds me of another incident that gave me pause about going into the ocean. Just several years ago, long after I had forgotten about Jaws, I was down at the beach and had been playing in the surf, and there was a fishing pier right there so I walked out on the pier. I met a Korean man and his wife and kid. He had a big rod and reel, big hook upon which he was putting a chunk of fish as bait. He was fishing for sharks. He had already caught two or three, and his wife was cutting them up. He was fishing almost in the same area where I had been playing in the surf. And I thought maybe we do not realize what is around us when we go in the water.
And maybe that has a spiritual application. The gate to the Christian community is the water of baptism. We are baptized as a symbol of our unity with Jesus who was also baptized. We say in our baptismal ceremony, as we baptize this child with water, may she be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
We certainly do not see anything to be afraid of in that. When we think about an actual baptism, we talk about how cute the baby was that day, or how the baby cried like a tornado and how the minister hastened to give the baby back to the mother as soon as possible. Kind of funny really.
I was talking to a Baptist minister this week about the way they do baptism, and he said that Baptists are supposed to wait until the person understands what it is all about, but usually they don’t. If a child is able to mumble a few of the right words, they dunk them underwater, but he said that later on in life that child often comes to understand more and comes to cherish their baptism. That is, of course, exactly what Presbyterians say about infant baptism. But however that may be the Baptists do have one idea about the symbol of baptism that I have always liked. It is called the “watery grave.” When a person is immersed into the water, they die to their old life and when they come out, they are resurrected to new life in Christ.
That is part of the symbol of baptism, but it also is a spiritual truth. We have a new and better life in Christ. You might say there is nothing fearful in that. We rejoice in this good life we have as Christians.
But baptism is also a symbol of commitment, and here we come to the fearful part. I was talking earlier about how some folks are afraid of water, well, many people are equally terrified by commitment.
I heard an old story about a church that started a support group for people who were afraid of commitment. One man went down to the classroom where the group was meeting and it was empty—because you see, they were afraid to commit—to the group.
Bad Joke I guess. However, baptism is about commitment. Jesus made a commitment to us.
His baptism is surrounded by terrifying images. The reading in Luke's Gospel has water, fire and a heavenly voice. John the Baptist, standing knee-deep in the waters of the Jordan, appears to preach anything but good news. In fact, his fire and brimstone talk sounds like the worst kind of news. John says, if you think drowning by water is terrifying, just wait for the more powerful One who baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire. He will clean house from top to bottom and will put everything false out with the trash to be burned.
When Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized, the terror was still there. Later on in Luke, he says "I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is accomplished!" (12:49) That baptismal terror would continue in the distress and agitation of Gethsemane where Jesus was "grieved to death." And the cup he drank along with his baptism into death would be the fate of all who shared the way with him.
Luke's telling of Jesus' baptism takes us beyond the event itself. He foresees the far-reaching effect that baptism will have down the generations.
When we join with Christ in our baptism, everything changes. Everything is charged with new meaning. You look at things differently. You take nothing for granted. Things you barely noticed yesterday are now treasured gifts. Each day becomes precious, and you receive the most common things with a heightened gratitude.
Baptism is more than a reprieve: it means resurrection from the dead and a new creation. For those held in the grip of terror, the voice that shakes the wilderness and causes oaks to whirl also speaks tenderly, saying, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." (Isaiah 43:2). Because Jesus went into the water first, we need have no fear of death-dealing waters or trial by fire. What goes under the water is nothing compared to the new self risen with Christ, more human, more hopeful and more eager to seek God's glory and the neighbor's good.
I have a question for you this morning. When did Jesus come to believe that he was the messiah? We can reasonably assume that as a little boy he was growing into knowledge of his abilities. Somewhere he moved from being a little boy to being a young man, and along the way, he became aware of the fact that he had a unique relationship with God.
We cannot possibly pinpoint when that realization came to full flower, but certainly at his baptism in the Jordan River he put it all together, and fully committed himself to his destiny. A booming voice from heaven proclaimed: "You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests." Jesus knew that our heavenly Father had special plans for him, but he could not know all of the details of precisely how that would be worked out. Nevertheless, he made his commitment to us, and he calls us to make a commitment to him.
Making a commitment is the most important part of any task that we undertake. It is the motive force that gives us the will to do the hard work the detail work to make the commitment a reality. We may need to acquire education and knowledge. We may need to practice and develop our skills.
Take something like marriage. When a man and woman marry, they make a commitment to each other. They will spend years working on the commitment, learning how to make the marriage work. It is not an easy thing, but it can be done if the couple has the will to make a go of it. The same thing occurs when we become parents. The parent has a commitment to that child. It is not an easy thing to be a parent. We make lots of mistakes. We often learn the hard way. Our call as a parent is to work at it. What about being a Christian? Our call, our commitment, is to work at that.
Jesus made a commitment at his baptism to us. In our society, we often talk about wanting role models or heroes. Americans in particular seem to want to find their heroes in sports. I have never understood this. The ability to throw a football or dunk a basketball or hit a golf ball does not say much one way or another about the character of that person. I suppose it says that they had the will to learn to throw a football or dunk a basketball or hit a golf ball--Only that. And that is why we are so often disappointed in our sports heroes. They might rightly say to us, why should you expect me to be an outstanding moral person when what I am famous for is hitting a golf ball.
If you want a hero, a real hero, you must look someplace else. Well, I have a real hero I would offer you today. I have a real role model. Jesus.
He told us how to live and showed us how to live. He said that the whole law of live can be summarized in two commandments. Love God and love others and actually these two commandments are the same, the only way we can love God is to love others.
Then Jesus showed us how to live. He died on the cross for us. Jesus was totally committed to us, in word and deed. He calls on us to be united with him and to be totally committed to each other.
So Jesus is my first hero, but I have other heroes. My other heroes are people who take Jesus seriously and not only say what Jesus said, but do what Jesus did.
You can be one of my heroes, if you say what Jesus said, and do what Jesus did.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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