Longing for God and God’s Help in Distress
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng[a]
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise God,
and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your torrents;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I love the outdoors. I love to rock climb, hike, camp…and of course, I love to run. These are all activities that I enjoy that are on solid ground. I don’t particularly like water sports though. I do enjoy kayaking and canoeing and I love going to the beach…but, I don’t particularly enjoy swimming. I have confidence and skill in the other activities, but not swimming. As a kid, I learned to fake swimming pretty well, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to swim. It wasn’t until I was an adult, in my mid-twenties, when a good friend Jay Borck, who knew I wasn’t confident in my swimming, taught me.
My lack of confidence in swimming was evident on a vacation years ago. Some very good friends of ours offered to us their family’s condo near a beach in Florida for vacation. It was a great vacation filled with great memories with our family. One of the days we were there, we went to a state park that was known for snorkeling. We spent a lot of time in several locations looking at some great fish and other sea life, but the water was fairly shallow and I could stand. At one point, I found myself pretty far from the rest of my family. They were one side of this lagoon and I was one some rocks on the other side. I had gone around the side as the middle was fairly deep. To save time, I decided to swim across the middle that was only about 40-50 yards. I started to panic a bit when I realized that it was so deep that I could no longer see the bottom. I was overwhelmed but kept on kicking. I really wanted to get to the other side, I wanted to be with my family, but the path that I took was pretty scary for me.
Being in deep water can overwhelm a lot of us. But, we could be feeling overwhelmed with lots of things in like issues in our families, or our own inner thoughts that we are scared to deal with or simply cannot process. Maybe we are overwhelmed with some sort of addiction or obsession that we cannot seem to get out of or get release from. Maybe we are overwhelmed with financial pressures or issues with co-workers or bosses. Even in church, where we are supposed to have safe haven, and even when we feel like we know how to swim metaphorically in the body of water called church, we can feel overwhelmed.
Maybe we can relate to this quote from the book, Breathing Underwater, by Richard Rohr:
“I built my house by the sea. Not on the sands, mind you; not on the shifting sand. And I built it of rock. A strong house by a strong sea. And we got well acquainted, the sea and I. Good neighbors. Not that we spoke much. We met in silences. Respectful, keeping our distance, but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand. Always, the fence of sand our barrier, always, the sand between. And then one day, —and I still don’t know how it happened— the sea came. Without warning. Without welcome, not even sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine, less like the flow of water than the flow of blood. Slow, but coming. Slow, but flowing like an open wound. And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death. And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door. And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning. That when the sea comes calling you stop being well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance, neighbors…you give your house for a coral castle, And you learn to breathe underwater.”
― Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater
During times of feeling overwhelmed, if we are facing them alone or keeping the issues facing us to ourselves and not leaning into them, adapting…we can experience a deep sense of despair and brokenness. I was grateful to have my family there with me at the lagoon that day (knowing that they are all excellent swimmers!) and for my friend Jay Borck whom I could share my embarrassment of not knowing how to swim and to have him be my friend and offer to help.
I learned, and continue to learn, to trust what is given in the moment in life.
We can also be overwhelmed in a good way. We can learn to live in new ways when things happen to us. We can learn to “breathe underwater” and go to some of the deeper places in life and even find rebirth in the midst of whatever is washing over us. We can learn to appreciate friends like Jay and so many others and my family, not out of what they can do for us, but out of our deep love that we find within ourselves. Knowing that they are not simply there to rescue us, but to love us as we love them. We can then be overwhelmed with the depth in those relationships and the community that God has given us, or communion if you will. We may realize that we may not have much in material wealth, but we are wealthy beyond imagination in relationship with ourselves and one another as we live in the depth of the flow of God’s Presence!
God longs to be in community with us, to be in relationship with us. And we also have a longing for God. We are hard wired for relationship and something inside us compels us to seek out the source for relationships. We have a desire to be connected. We can relate to the words of Psalm 42 that were read this morning.
The Psalmist does not long to be in relationship with an idea, concept or emotion, but an encounter with a living God. The imagery of a deer panting for water gives testimony that God is the source of life. We all need water to survive! As a runner, I know that if I don’t drink enough water, I will get dehydrated. I thirst for water. Coke doesn’t work, other drinks don’t work as well either, I long for water. The Psalmist is desperate for God, not a substitute. In verse 5 of Psalm 42, the writer describes his soul as being downcast and that they are desperate for God’s Presence.
Psalm 42:7 gives witness to the depth experienced in this relationship: 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7, TNIV)
Deep calls to deep. God calls us out of the depth of God’s love and desire for relationship and we experience a depth of desire for that love. God is the author of relationship and of love. God is deep within all of us, crying out for God’s very self to God…and to the depth of God in each one of us, all of us. All of the world and creation really. It is overwhelming, like a waterfall or waves breaking over us on the beach.
A few years ago I went on vacation with my family to Philadelphia to visit my brother-in-law, Paul. My other brother-in-law, Johnny, and his family went with us. We had a great time together. One of our day trips was to Rehoboth Beach, DE. We spent the day playing in the waves and building sandcastles. I also spent some time walking around the boardwalk there by myself. It was a great time of remembering a summer that I spent in Rehoboth beach 36 years ago after my freshman year in college. It was a time of deep loneliness for me and questioning of my faith. I remembered sitting on the boardwalk one night at 19 listening to the waves and asking where God was and if God understood me and if he even existed. Over that summer, as I had more times of sitting on that beach, listening to the waves, the Bible became alive to me as I read it new ways with new eyes, the eyes of suffering and being overwhelmed…eyes that were seeing God within me suffering along with me and with all people! Through so many others, and a new power or depth within me, I began to see a God who not only was real, but was within me and even experienced what I experience in our shared humanity. God was even with me in my doubting and questioning.
The Gospel lesson from Matthew this morning demonstrates God’s deep longing to be with us and to share in life with us through Jesus. It’s the story of Jesus’ baptism where God’s love is poured out over Jesus.
John the Baptist, the one who had been calling people to repentance and announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, tried to talk Jesus out of being baptized, saying that Jesus should be baptizing him. But, something else was at work. Jesus was demonstrating a deep relational reality and promise. Jesus is proclaiming that through his life, God and humanity were joined together. That he was God in the flesh and that this God was entering into all of the messiness and brokenness of humanity. He was identifying with us and our need for forgiveness and repentance.
TF Torrance says this: “When he saw the people going down to the river…being baptized, confessing their sins, submitting to their verdict of guilty…Jesus said to John, ‘Baptize me! I will submit…”
Jesus submitted to baptism. He demonstrated to us that he is present with us and asks us to respond by following his example. By doing so, we are participating in Jesus’ baptism for us. It’s a crazy, beautiful deal. It is deep calling into deep. By submitting to baptism, Jesus is signifying that humanity is forgiven through his actions on our behalf. Jesus is also fulfilling a promise that God is with us, completely…not just part of God, but all of God.
After Jesus is baptized, there is an amazing statement from a voice from heaven saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Since Jesus represents all of humanity, that voice in effect is saying to all of us, “”YOU are all my children, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God has come to us, God has entered into our brokenness, and God’s Spirit which demonstrates perfect love is with us today and wants to open our ears and eyes to a God who is telling us that he is well pleased with us, that we have his approval and we have his Presence.
Baptism symbolizes to us much about God’s faithfulness to us through Jesus’ actions for us. We are now going recognized our new slate of officers, reminding them, and all of us, our communion, our coming together…and we are also about to participate in another action that Jesus practiced, gave us: the Lord’s Supper. In this sacrament or “sacred moment” we celebrate God’s community with us. As we break the bread, we are reminded that we are Christ’s body and Christ is present with us in our brokenness. As we pour the wine (or grape juice in our case) we are reminded that Jesus has poured his life out for us and into us and we are called to receive it and to revel in this reality to world that is broken and in need of God’s communion. The very word “communion” has a meaning of community and union. We are not alone. Friends, may we experience God’s waves of love crashing over us as deep calls into deep and as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us and to our community.