Sermon: Baptismal Thirst by Rev. K.C. Van Atta-Casebier

September 26, 2021

Good morning and welcome to those just joining us. I hope you will check-in if you haven’t already done so and let us know that you’ve been with us. 


Let’s Pray. God, for Your wisdom and revelation and hope, we pray now. Amen. 


Splash! A little jarring at first, for both me and the water, but when the water settles, it begins to envelop me in what feels like a hug with no added pressure. Then an immediate, unencumbered deep breath with no resistance, no pain. It's the moment I long for - breath accompanied by relief. 

After the breath comes the desire to test the water, to see if it encourages movement or would prefer for me to stay in my place. Predictably, it always encourages movement. It always invites me forward. And after the movement comes the rest. And oh, does the water encourage rest. It holds steady as if to say, “Take all the time you need, I’ve got you, and I’ll be here when you’re ready to move again.”

Eventually though, the time does run out. I have to find the nearest ladder, and pull myself out of the pool. It’s hard, not just because of a lack of desire, but because (and I’m sure you’ve noticed this as well), pulling yourself out of the water requires extra strength. The water grabs onto you, almost trying to pull you back into communion with itself. “No! Don’t go,” the water says. Inevitably, the first feeling and connection I have with my body after swimming, is a deep and primal need — THIRST. 

Now, I do need to confess that I am typically a thirsty person. I have “beverage needs” as the Foundry Youth and I call them, and you will likely never see me without a ridiculously large sized container of water. Swimming, though, exacerbates my thirst, because as it turns out, spending time in the pool can actually dehydrate you. As time goes on, I not only experience that kind of primal thirst, but also an itching desire and thirst to be back in the water. To feel held, relieved, and encouraged to move and to rest. Over the last few months of obligation, difficulty, and to be transparent, a dip in my mental health, swimming has sustained me.   

To set the scene for our text, we actually have to set two scenes. In our first scene, the Israelites are emboldened to express their hunger and thirst by this rag tag rabble, said to be a group of Egyptians who tagged along with the Israelites out of Egypt. They begin to express a hunger for sustenance beyond the miraculous manna that God has provided for them. Specifically, they wanted the fish, melons, cucumbers, leeks, onion, and garlic that they were fed back in Egypt - a meal that was remembered as free, except that it wasn’t free at all. It actually came at a great cost, the cost of their freedom. Moses hears the people weeping at their tents. I imagine it as this guttural expression of another very basic human need - food. Moses, overwhelmed by the communal despair, addresses God by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Why am I the one carrying this burden? Did I conceive these people? No, YOU did. I can’t carry the weight of this need. It is too heavy. DO SOMETHING.” And as we enter the second scene, God basically rebuts saying, “No, you do something. Go grab the seventy elders and bring them to the tabernacle tent.” And in our second scene, Moses does just that.

 And in the tabernacle tent, God takes some of the Spirit saturated in Moses and places it on the seventy elders, and they begin prophesying. Then word gets back to Moses that 2 of the elders weren’t in the tabernacle, but they were prophesying anyway. Joshua is very concerned. And Moses says, “Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (v. 29) This is firstly a tale of revised memory. Perhaps we revise our history because it is too painful to confront. Maybe we do it subconsciously.

I’m going to talk briefly about pregnancy and want to offer this word. If you feel that this might be something that could cause you pain, please keep watch over your heart. With my first pregnancy I had this nifty little thing called hyperemesis gravidarum, which they should really just call “misery with a side of misery.” It caused me to have all day, all month, all pregnancy illness. There wasn’t a day in my first pregnancy where I didn’t vomit, including the day I gave birth. I lost a total of 50 pounds over the course of my pregnancy with Kash. And I insisted I wouldn’t have another child because of how miserable the first experience had been. I even wrote a journal every day so that if I ever even thought about trying again, I would have a firsthand account to convince me otherwise. And lo and behold about 2 years later, and after reading my pregnancy journal, I began to remember that it “wasn’t that bad.”

And I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that my pregnancy with Riggins was even more difficult. And as an aside, both were of course totally and absolutely worth it.

The Israelites have not only misremembered their time in Egypt, but it seems they've also forgotten about God’s work and provision that got them where they are and the blessing of manna they have now. For example, in their exodus, when met with an obstacle of a huge body of water, with an opposing army at their back, God provided a way. And it's worth noting that this way isn’t around the water, or by another path, the way that God provided is THROUGH the water. And yet, even as water is poured from their faces, and as they thirst, they can’t recall this great water miracle. Not only do they not remember it, they don’t crave it - God’s provision and blessing. Their craving instead is for something less sustainable and empty - that later in the text becomes their demise.  

How often do we forget about our own great water miracles? When the suffering is too great, when we’re holding more than we can bear, when work is overwhelming, and the lines between work and home are blurred, and we’re angry because we’re grieving unfair deaths, and our anxiety and stress levels are through the roof. How is it even possible to remember anything other than the weight of the wilderness or to yearn for the predictable, even if it is torturous? And so we cry out, “God, where are you? DO SOMETHING. I can’t carry this load, at least not by myself.” Or...we’re simply too exhausted to be angry so we weep at our tents. Or we become wrapped up in the predictability of hierarchical structures and binary ideals. And if we check in with our second scene, how is Joshua handling all of this? By realizing for himself if he doesn’t at least have an idea of who is allowed to be prophesying and who isn’t that it will all come crashing down on him. As if to say, “Nothing around me makes sense right now, but you know what feels really good in the midst of this suffering and grief? To know that I’m right about know that I’m on the good side of something. To know that these people have authority and these people don’t. Or these people deserve medical care and these people don’t. And sometimes thirsting for reassurance of our goodness and rightness, can spiral into a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, a conscious or subconscious bend toward manipulation and gaslighting, disempowerment and abuse - that ultimately becomes our demise.  


And yet, God had not abandoned the Israelites. God provided manna for them in the dewy water that grasped onto the land. God showed up and commissioned 72 people in the community to help share the load of Moses. And while baptism isn’t an expressly mentioned ritual in the Hebrew scriptures, the idea of water as an agent of renewal would have been intimately known by the Israelites who practiced mikvah - a purification bathing ritual. I wonder if the Israelites recognized this in the crossing of the Red Sea, or if it wasn’t until they later crossed the River Jordan into the promised land that they felt the significance of the breakthrough, release, and rescue of movement THROUGH the water. The same River Jordan where later the Messiah would come to be baptized. 


Crossing through the water is part of the story of our people of faith. Wandering away from the water is part of our nature. Misinterpreting our thirst becomes a coping mechanism for the desert. I find that in driest deserts, I try (and often fail) to be grateful for the oasis of grace, which we see highlighted in baptism - those three Wesleyan types of grace: prevenient - the grace that goes before our understanding or recollection, justifying - the grace that stops us in our tracks, the moment of realization and memory; and sanctifying - the grace that continually pulls us back into community to be encouraged, loved, and fed on our spiritual journey.

Our baptisms aren’t just certificates we keep in storage boxes. They’re a tabernacle event, whether we remember it or not, where we become saturated by the Spirit. They are our great water miracles. In a gathering of the community intended to embrace those claimed by God whom we invite into life and love and grace, and eventually vocation through the sacrament of Baptism. It is a passageway from death to life, from darkness to light, from wandering to the promised land, from bondage to liberation. It is THROUGH, through the water we are saved and healed and made whole, imbued with the spirit, consecrated as prophets with something to say about the way of justice and mercy. It is on our baptismal journey that we remember that we are surrounded by more than seventy capable and called people, ready and willing to help carry the load, who share the same vocation of the work of transformation and showing up for and with our siblings as living witnesses that we can be different and still belong together. It is there where we are ushered into unrevised memory of the power of the promise of God’s unfailing presence and love for us and all people, where we feel empowered into leadership and sharing the work of communal life together.

And Foundry, as we continue turning this corner, I can think of nothing better to remember as we’ve come through the driest of deserts, than our great water miracles. And just like my thirst to get back in the pool, I pray that we thirst for the things that will sustain us and carry us through.  Our thirst, may it be for the baptismal waters. Waters that envelop us like a hug with no added pressure. Waters that provide relief, encourage us to both move and rest. The waters that say, “I’ve got you. You’re safe here.” And the waters that grab onto us and beg us not to go.  

Let’s Pray. God of the great water miracles, remind us that in our driest deserts, when we hunger and thirst and get caught up in coping strategies that bring harm to ourselves and others that the oasis of grace is not a mirage. Remind us that we are water people, baptized into this storied faith and that we are part of beloved community together. Help us to stand so that we may step up. And continue to rain manna down on us until we no longer insatiably thirst for inadequate substitutes. Drench us in the memory of our baptism that we may intimately know who we are and who we are called to be. For these and all things we pray together in the name of the Triune God. Amen.  



May we go from this place remembering our great water miracles, staying in touch with how we cope with our deep human needs, and commit the coordinates of the oasis of grace to our memory. In the name of the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, go in peace and go in power. Amen.