The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost | Proper 17 | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 28 August 2022 | Jeremiah 2:4-13 | Psalm 81:1, 10-16 | Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 | Luke 14:1, 7-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God the fountain of living water.

Good morning, friends. Today we come to the waters of baptism together again. We do this at Easter, and at feasts of baptism, and whenever someone among us comes to be baptized. In a few minutes, we’ll baptize baby Jean into Christ’s church.

So today we’ll all renew our Baptismal Covenant as we welcome Jean into the community of the baptized. We’ll remember what we signed up for as Christians, and the good news we proclaim by word and example. We’ll renew the faith we’ve found, and we’ll reflect on what kind of faith we want to pass on to Jean and to other young Christians in our care and to our neighbors and to each other.  

Our readings speak to this faith too, and to the process of passing it from generation to generation. We learn again what it looks like to live out the faith we’ve learned. Our scriptures speak to the abundant life we find in God, and what it’s like to drink living water.

In Jeremiah, we learn deep truths about faith from a lament for its absence. The prophet, in God’s voice says, “my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” You might know a cistern is a water tank. You use it to hold water if you don’t have a well or if you know that your well dries up part of the year. It’s not as good as having fresh water, but it’s better than having no water.

So the accusation here is that God’s people are turning to something less good than the gift God offers. Sometimes we do that: We hoard resources and we scrape by on something stale and limited, when we could be tapping into the love of God that is right under our feet.

God is a fountain of living water. Living water is water that’s moving—like water in a river or an actively bubbling spring. That matters if you don’t have plumbing, because living water is safer to drink; it doesn’t have a chance to get stagnant. It also matters because unlike water in a cistern, there’s not a small, finite amount of it—it’s flowing from somewhere, and it keeps flowing. It’s abundant.    

And we are baptized into the living water that is God. We are baptized into the grace and vitality and freedom and flow and abundance of God’s own life. In this baptized life, we don’t have to hoard water in cracked, leaky cisterns—we make our camp right on top of a well that never runs dry. In our Psalm, God says God wants to feed God’s people with the best food, satisfy God’s people with honey from the rock.

Luke says more about what that abundance is, and what it isn’t. When we drink living water, we’re not here to jockey for position. We have honey from the rock, so we don’t have to make exchanges that will profit us in social life.

We can afford to be humble and not try to push our way up the status ladder, because we know that God upholds our dignity. We can afford to give without expecting anything back, because we know that God provides abundantly.

 And in the letter to the Hebrews, we see even more clearly what the life of baptized people looks like. We love each other. We show hospitality (we seek and serve Christ in all persons, as our Baptismal Covenant says). We are faithful in the commitments we make. We have living water; God is our helper, and so we don’t need to chase after money and status. We learn from the legacy of faith passed down to us, as we pass it on to the next generation. We praise God. We do good. We share what we have. It’s just what we do in baptized life, as normal as breathing or washing our hands.

These are the basics of Christian ethics, and yet so much more than basic. Regular human kindness and hospitality can become an encounter with the angels. Love for those suffering can change the whole world.

Simple faithfulness can become a pattern of beauty and strength that spans decades in our own lifetimes and millennia in the communion of the saints. When we share what we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much, we are taking part in God’s movement to feed all creatures and to reconcile the cosmos. (Remember that when baby Jean decides to feed all her cheerios to pets under the table.) And baptism is one way that God weaves our most ordinary, creaturely capacity to do good into God’s dream for the world.

And today our church gets to welcome another little life into that dream with us. We get to support her in her life in Christ, as we continue to support the other young Christians among us, as we continue to support each other, as we all grow in the faith together.

We here at St. Paul’s will get to learn from the wisdom God gives baby Jean, and we’ll get to help teach her what God’s grace looks like in action. Wherever Jean goes in her life, she will always have been baptized here.

She’ll always have a part in the lifegiving, resilient legacy of faith passed down here in this community, starting at this baptismal font. You may know that this font has been through fire and water already; we’ve told this story and will tell it again. After the flood in 1937, our church was rebuilt, only to burn down in 1938. But this baptismal font survived.

When the wooden floor of the sanctuary burned, the font came crashing down to the undercroft below. It’s broken at the edges here, under one side. But it’s still with us. It’s a little bit battered, but it holds water just fine. It is not a cracked cistern. It is still a place where people can encounter the living waters of baptism, the fountain of God’s love.

And so are we, friends. Some of us are a little rough around the edges; some of us carry scars from what we’ve been through. Some of us carry pain we should never have had to carry. But we are here. We still have the capacity to hold the living water that flows from God. And we are passing on the faith.   

We don’t yet have the vision here to know what the church will look like when Jean grows up; we won’t be able to teach her exactly how to live into the call the Spirit gives in the future. But we do know the love of Jesus that was with the saints yesterday, that is with us today, and that carries on forever. That’s what we pass on to all those we care for, and to Jean as she grows up in this church.

The most important thing is that she knows she is loved. The most important thing is that she knows where the living water is. And the best way we can teach baby Jean or anybody else about that is to live it ourselves. Our words can only go so far.

The way we can show other people the springs of living water is by drinking from them deeply ourselves. The best thing we can do for baby Jean or anyone else whose faith we come to care for and nourish is this: We can let God love us, and we can show the ones we love how that’s going.

God’s life is already among us. Living water flows free. If you are lucky enough to know baby Jean as she grows up, please show her where it flows for you. If you are lucky enough to spend time with our children and youth, please show them the springs you’ve found so far.

Tell the people you love where you find living water as each season of your life unfolds. Sometimes you will be so glowing with grace that you won’t even have to say any words—you will be so clearly living in the flow of God’s love for you and for creation. And that is how we pass on the faith; that’s how we proclaim the good news by word and example.

So today I invite you to reflect: Where have you known God’s love for you lately? Where have you tasted living water? What was it like the first time that you really knew you were forgiven?  And where do you find life right now? What are the things that nourish you? Where do you find peace and joy in your walk of faith?

These are the things worth sharing as we proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. These are things worth teaching to the young people among us. These are things worth shouting from the rooftops or whispering to our loved ones at night or texting to our priests or our friends in the middle of the day. What does God’s living water taste like to you in this season of your life? Where is it flowing?   

And friends, if you start to reflect on where you find living water, and you realize you have actually been thirsty for a long time now, God’s love is here for you too. It’s not too late to find it together. If you’ve been struggling along with a cracked cistern that keeps on leaking all the life out of you, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

If you’ve been dry for a season or for decades, you’re not alone. God loves you, and we love you. Come talk with me or Holly or someone you trust, and we’ll look together for the gift God longs to give you. We will find our way back to the honey from the rock, the spring that never dies.

Life can be so hard, friends—and there is always grace for the asking in the midst of it. There is living water for all of us. And the gift of the church (for Jean and for all of us) is that whenever we get stuck in a place where we can’t find our way to God’s love, we have each other to help us get unstuck. We help each other remember the living water that is always here for us. We help each other remember our baptism, whether we were too young to remember the moment of our baptism, or we remember but have forgotten the grace of it. We remind each other of the living water of baptism.    

There is living water to drink. There is living water to splash around in our joy. There is cool, fresh, living water to wash our faces when we’re weary with crying. It’s here for me, and for you, and for baby Jean, and it’s here for everyone we love. The water of God’s love springs from the ground under our feet and falls from the sky above us.

So, trusting in that love, let us pray for baby Jean and for ourselves: Holy God, we thank you for the living water of your love, and for the water of baptism.

We thank you for baby Jean, and the blessing of a new life in our community. Bless her with every good gift as she grows in your love. Help us to love her well and pass on a lifegiving faith to her.

Give us all grace to return again and again to your waters of healing when we are wandering or in need, and to help each other find the way back to your peace whenever we miss it.

Help us to drink deeply of the springs you give us.  And from that welling abundance, help us to proclaim your good news by word and example to Jean and to all.

In the name of the Maker who loves us, and of the Word who saves us, and of the Holy Spirit who flows within us. Amen.

a photo of a stained glass window detail showing blue water flowing over Jesus' bony feet with plants and geometric designs below
Living water flowing over Jesus’ toes from our stained glass window of Jesus’ baptism.