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Diving into the Water: November 6, 2022

All Saints’ Sunday
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

We were watching a movie recently where these explorers were travelling through claustrophobic underground tunnels. And they came to a confusing roadblock, with nowhere to go. But the young woman professor who was leading them looked down where no one else was, and saw that there was a little hole in the ground, full of water. So she jumped in the hole, dropped down into the water, and swam underneath the floor, popping up in another room down the way, full of — you guessed it — treasure.

(Now, this was around Halloween, and it was a very scary movie, so I’m not going to go any further with it, but the principle is the important thing here.) There is a way forward to something greater than we could ask or imagine, but the way forward is a narrow or unexpected path that just doesn’t seem obvious, or practical, or desirable to many.

One of the important thinkers in the first few generations of Christians was someone named Tertullian from north Africa. And he said something about how Christians are like fish, born in water. Speaking of the baptismal font. Like the explorers in that movie having to re-examine their natural instincts to looking up or forward, and instead finding that the way ahead involved going down. And so we use language around being “made one with Christ in his death” and “dying you destroyed our death.” Jesus went down before he was raised up. And our rebirth into God’s kingdom (God’s remaking of creation, of everything), our commissioning into looking for and working toward this begins by following Jesus. By going down, into the water.

The Letter to the Ephesians picks up on this, by talking about the power of God “[at] work in Christ when [God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Having first gone down, Jesus is raised up, and the letter frames it not wholly in spatial or geographic terms, but meaning that he’s been raised “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion[.]” The world, in other words, is full of players, voices, priorities, and so-called solutions, all jockeying for our attention and ultimately our loyalty. Some of these powers are attractive or, like the name puts it, powerful… But they rarely emulate the going down into the tomb (into the water) that Jesus did. So in baptism there is the somewhat jarring language presented to the candidates and family and sponsors about renouncing the evil powers and spiritual forces of the world. Those authorities and powers in the world that claustrophobically hem us in, but that Jesus, we’re told, has been raised above. And so there follows that language around turning to Jesus and trusting in him, and obeying him, as Lord (rather than those other powers).

Jesus in his life — and we heard it in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount — described this alternative way of being. There and in other places he re-describes the world, where the first are last, and the last first. The puffed up are flattened, and the humbled, exalted. And more than just talk about this, he lived it in his interactions and relationships. And ultimately lived it. As one of our eucharistic prayers says, “betrayed and forsaken, he did not strike back but overcame hatred with love. On the cross he defeated the power of sin and death. By raising him from the dead [God] show[s] us the power of [God’s] love to bring new life to all… people.”

Jesus brought people together as he travelled and taught. One gospel speaks of his arms wide on the cross, drawing all people to himself. And yet, in those dark last days, that’s when so many of his closest companions ran away. Most people are confused or scared by having to dive into that little hole in the ground, and having to swim under the floor to the destination. And yet the disciples eventually found themselves reunited with Jesus, and more and more were added to this community. And today we celebrate how the Lukaw family have located themselves within Jesus’s community, and particularly in our community. And the world and way of love that Jesus described is what they want for baby Divine, to be reborn in the water.

The life of faith is difficult, but we have each other. Just as Jesus gathered disciples wherever he went, the Spirit of God has been calling, nudging, and joining disciples in every time and place; disparate, different people, sometimes without much in common, but all drawn by Jesus. So as we celebrate the feast of All Saints, we remember that our paths come together, as we seek and struggle to walk the way of the Cross. So in a bit I’ll ask if all who witness the baptismal vows will do all in their power to support Divine in following Christ (the answer being a resounding “we will”). You’re witnesses, not just in seeing and observing the baptism that’s going to happen, but also in being witnesses for Divine and Divine’s family, of being followers of Christ. And your support and witnessing is very concrete in the liturgy, first in praying for Divine, and then, after the baptism, in welcoming Divine to this alternative and sometimes challenging (but joy-filled) way of being in the world. As Paul wrote, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ… may give you [and Divine] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know [God], so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you.”

© 20222 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter