The 1992 film, “A River Runs Through It”, directed by Robert Redford, and starring Tom Skillet, Brad Pitt, and Craig Sheffer, tells the story of two fly-fishermen brothers. They are sons of a Presbyterian minister living in rural Montana. The film opens with this:
My father was a Presbyterian minister...and a fly-fisherman. Though it is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion...even then he told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen. And we were left to assume, as my younger brother Paul and I did...that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly-fishermen...and that John, the favorite, was a dry fly-fisherman.
In the afternoon, we would walk with him...while he unwound between services. He almost always chose a path along the Big Blackfoot...which we considered our family river. It was there he felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred.
Long ago rain fell on mud and became rock. Halt a billion years ago. But even before that,
beneath the rocks...are the words of God.
And if Paul and I listened very carefully all our lives...we might hear those words.
Listen. The word of God running like a river beneath and through all creation. The word of God, a river of life. The word of God, like water that brings forth life, birthing all creation into being.
The Book of Genesis offers us two stories of creation. In the first story water existed before light. In the second story the garden of Eden rose from a stream of water. In Exodus the Israelites are born anew through the Red Sea waters – reminding us that life often calls us to navigate through challenging waters into new life. Many Bible stories take place at a well including the longest conversation Jesus has in his meeting of the Samaritan Woman at the well – all of these reinforce our sense that from water comes life.
Human life begins in water.
However, not only does life come from water, but water can also take life. Many ancient cultures have stories of a great flood, like this story of Noah in today’s reading from Genesis.
And, water renews life. People travel to bodies of water for rest, renewal, vacation, family and community. Whether lakes, rives, swimming pools, or bubbling fountains in local parks, humans are drawn to the soothing quality of water. When I lived in the desert, the swimming pool in our backyard afford relief – soothing my eye from the stark landscape of sand and prickly cactus, soothing my spirit and body from the 100+ temperatures. And in the movie, A River Runs Through It, water and fly-fishing are the source of inspiration for the spiritual and faith life of this minister and his family.
Water is used to clean our bodies and our environment. In the Eucharist the priest washes her hands before praying over our offering of bread, water, and money – washing as a sacred act, preparing for the coming forth of the Holy Spirit through the words and actions of the Eucharistic prayer.
Christianity uses water in four different sacramental ways: to recall birth, to evoke death, to typify renewal, and to suggest washing.
Baptismal waters are all of these, a sign and symbol of an old life passing away, a new life being birthed, life purified in an encounter with God, an invitation to model our lives on Christ, and an invitation to renewal our commitment to live a life of faith – to love God, love others, love self – to respect the dignity of every human being….
And on this fifth and final week in our celebration of the Season of Creation, we can work for and pray for clean water through out the world. But most importantly today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism - for two little boys: Mason and Maximus.
So, what is a Sacrament? The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not readily apparent so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are ritual acts that reveal to us something about the nature of God.
Sacraments, enable the love of God, that is already present and available, real for us. God’s love becomes real for us in such a way that we are able to fully benefit from it.
Holy Baptism reveals God’s love for us and invites into a particular relationship with God. Baptism makes us aware that God loves each and everyone of us with a love that is merited by virtue of the reality that we are made in God’s image – made good to do good. God’s love is also unconditional and never ending. There is nothing we humans can do or need to do to make that love available to ourselves or anyone else. Baptism is not necessary for a child or adult to receive God’s love. But baptism is the means by which we become aware of a love that we might not otherwise be able to appreciate or benefit from. Baptism gives us our Christian identity, marked with water and sealed with a sign of the cross in holy oil. As Christians we know the love of God as it is made manifest in and through the life of Jesus.
The baptismal rite invites us to celebrate the grace and love God has for our children. It reminds us that our children are in God’s hands and that we are not alone in our love for them. We need to renew our baptismal covenant so that we are reminded that, with God’s help, we are called to reveal God’s love in and through our lives. That we may mirror back to our children, and to all we meet, the nature and character of God’s love.
That we, through baptism, are called to mirror back to the world the love of God, reminds me of a story from “Mary’s Way” by Peggy Tabor Millin. She writes:
I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merge into one for a moment and then divide again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other….
Let us remember that our lives impact other lives, in ways known and unknown. May we strive, with God’s help, to listen. May we hear the word of God that courses through the river of life, the waters of creation. And, may we live our baptismal covenant in such a way that all that we do and all that are, reveals God’s unending love and compassion.