Two summers ago, I took a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with our youngest son, Sam. On our last day, we were paddling back to the outfitter’s when we took the portage from Alpine Lake into Seagull Lake.
Seagull is what Boundary Waters veterans call “big water.” It’s a really big lake to paddle across.. And it’s dotted with islands and lined with bays. It is beautiful. But when the wind comes across the big water, the waves can get huge. Dangerous, even.
We came off the portage and out of the little, calm inlet and around the corner, right into the wind. And the wind grabbed ahold of our canoe and just spun us around 180 degrees.
We managed to get ourselves back into the inlet to regroup and rethink our strategy. Then we turned around, back toward the east, and our destination, and we started paddling like crazy… It would be five or six miles across the lake, straight into the wind.
It was an ugly afternoon or paddling. Each stroke of the paddle had to be deep, just to make any headway. We just crawled along. The waves sometimes crashed over the sides of the canoe and Sam and I barely spoke the whole time. Our focus was on paddling and just staying upright.
Almost five hours later, we landed the canoe at the outfitter…we pulled up to their dock, we unloaded it, and we just sat. Exhausted. Ok, actually we sort of sprawled on the dock.
It reminded me, that though we often take it for granted, the journey crossing the water, is not always easy. It can even be dangerous.
So many of our stories, legends and history involve the crossing of waters…often dangerous waters.
- Israel was enslaved in Egypt. When they were set free from bondage, they had to get across the Red Sea to find safety. God parted the waters, and Israel passed through to dry land.
- 40 years later after those same Israelites had journeyed through the wilderness, they encountered the Jordan River. Again, the waters parted, and Israel crossed into the Promised Land.
- If you are a descendent of European immigrants to North America, as I am, then your ancestors made a journey over the Atlantic Ocean to reach the shores here.
- African slaves made the same ocean journey, but as prisoners and under terrible and dangerous conditions on a slave ship.
- And for those slaves who escaped into freedom, their trek required them to pass through the waters of the Ohio River in order to reach the North. African American spiritual songs will commemorate that crossing, singing: “Deep river, my homes lies over the Jordan.”
The idea of crossing water has been a part of our heritage…our story…for generation upon generation. In the world we live in now, with planes, trains, and automobiles, we don’t think about it very much. But in our history, the crossing of rivers, lakes and oceans, was a big, big deal.
This weekend, we remember Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. It took place in almost the exact spot that the Israelites had crossed the Jordan thousands of years earlier. It was an event that marked the beginning of his ministry.
As John is baptizing others, Jesus arrives to be baptized as well. Luke doesn’t give us a lot of details. But what he does share gets right to the heart of the story. As Jesus emerges from the waters, the Holy Spirit comes down from the sky in the likeness of a dove and descends on him. And then the voice of God speaks from heaven. “You are my Son.”
What begins as a simple baptism in the river ends in a moment of power and affirmation.
One of the most interesting things about this story is where it is placed in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, I think where the story fits, might tell us as much as what the story actually says.
Lets think about the order of the stories for just a mopment:
- Luke, chapter two has Jesus’ birth story. The Christmas story.
- Then here, in chapter three, is Jesus’ baptism.
- Then, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, Luke does something strange. Starting with Jesus’ father, Joseph, he lists all of Jesus’ ancestors, all the way back to Adam. He does this to demonstrate that Jesus is the one descended from King David’s line…just like the prophets said he would be.
- And then, after this long list, Luke goes on to tell the story of Jesus 40 days of suffering and temptation at the hand of the devil in the wilderness.
First comes Jesus’ baptism. Then his genealogy and his ancestors. Then his suffering and temptation. Why would Luke do that? Why stick the geneology in the middle of these stories like that?
Well, I think that Luke is trying to make a subtle, but important point.
Luke wants us to know that before Jesus faced the challenge of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus knew…in fact, he was completely secure in his identity…in who he was, and in where he came from.
Remember, that when John baptized Jesus, and Jesus came up out of the water, God’s voice spoke. God said “You are my Son, the beloved. With you, I am well pleased.” You are my Son. With you I am well pleased.”
In Luke’s version of the story, God is speaking directly to Jesus. God says “you are my Son.” If you compare this to Matthew’s version of the story, God says more generically, “This is my Son.” In Matthew, God is speaking to the crowd. But in Luke, God is speaking directly to Jesus. it is intimate; it is personal. “You are my Son.”
We don’t even know for sure that God said this for the crowd to hear. We just assume that. But maybe God just whispered it in Jesus’ ear. “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
And then Luke tells the story of the genealogy; Jesus ancestors. As in, “And this is where Jesus came from. These are his people.”
First, you are my son. And then, “and this is where you came from.” And all of this happens prior to Jesus going to face the wilderness.
The message here is simple and profound. To face what we need to face, we need to be confident in our identity, and in where we come from; in who we are… and whose we are.
This was the case for Jesus. I’m certain it’s the same for us as well.
You too have faced your challenges…We all have. We have stood at the bank of the metaphorical river, and we have known that getting across…getting from here to there…was going to be a challenge. In that way, we are no different than those early Israelite refugees who were seeking the promised land.
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling it. We are about to enter the 3rd year of a pandemic. And to be honest, I am getting tired of it. My patience is wearing thin. It feels like we are swimming across a wide river…fighting the currents…and just as we approach the other side…the current pulls us back out…it can be exhausting. I think it’s tiring us all out. And I think that much of the emotional angst, and the conflict, and the polarization and the anger that we see in our society right now are at least partially a result of this COVID exhaustion.
And that’s just one challenge we face…one river to cross. There are others:
- For some of us, the challenges are around broken relationships.
- For others, it’s about finances.
- Or maybe it’s issues of health.
- Or maybe our challenges are about our work.
- Or perhaps it’s simply our fear and our anxiety.
We all have our rivers to cross. And for many of us, the far bank…the destination…the resolution of our problems…it feels a long way away, and the wind, and the current, seem overwhelming.
If this is you…and I suspect that it may be, then know that God has a Word for you today:
It’s this: Never forget who, or whose, you are.
You may be in the midst of a challenge…a struggle… working to get across that river…whatever it is……from here to there. And you may be tired…or disillusioned. But never forget who…and whose you are. Never forget.
You see, that Word that God spoke on that day 2000 years ago to Jesus at the Jordan River…the word that he may have whispered in Jesus’ ear…is his Word to you today as well. You are my child…my beloved child…and with you, I am well pleased.
Nothing can take that Word away from you. Nothing. Nothing you do. Nothing you don’t do. You may be standing at the edge of the water, looking at the distant shore. But know that there is no river too wide, no lake too deep, no spiritual or emotional wilderness that you cannot survive…because God is with you. Because you are not alone.
My friends, hear God’s whisper in your ear today: “You are my child. You are my beloved. And with you…I am well pleased.”
Thanks be to God!