Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Ripple Effect

The ripples of the water lapped the shore unevenly, out of rhythm with the steady flow of the river. Looking at the river’s edge she noticed a disturbance somewhere past her was causing miniscule waves to break all along the shore beside her. Movement elsewhere in the water was bringing the small breakers to shore swifter than they had been coming before, and the new waves were bumping into the others irregularly. Something, somewhere was moving toward her from up the river. The ripples of the water betrayed its presence or announced its arrival. I guess it depends on how the story is to turn out.

The disturbance turned out to be just that – a 3 month old baby, still dependent on a woman, someone’s mother for food and comfort and care; soon to be a boy with energy and awkwardness and rough edges and a competitive spirit; someday a young man with a call, a mission, a persistence that could drive you crazy or wear you down; then in middle age and growing old always coming back with yet another request or commandment or rule or guideline or instruction, something to change the way things are always done. A disturbance in the water was all it seemed to be that day. A disturbance in the world was what was coming down the river.

The ripples started upstream where an older girl, the baby’s older sister, was watching silently, stealthily through the reeds, waiting anxiously to see what would happen. Would this scheme of the last resort bring the baby to safety or would it just usher in the devastation the family had been blessed to avoid at least this long? Would the baby be pulled adoringly out of the water, or would he be deemed a nuisance and a threat, and subjected to the same watery death as all the rest of the newborn Hebrew boys? Miriam watched with her heart in her throat and her fists clenched in tight balls of prayer and demanding.

Ripples of protection helped guard Moses as his basket was carried down the river. Watching his destiny unfold his sister stayed close enough to see who would find the basket, ready to step in at a moment’s notice if needed. In anticipation and curiosity at least her toes must have dipped in the water as she craned her neck to see what was happening down the river.

His mother’s ripples of deliberate action saved his life in a when desperate times called for desperate measures. She was the one who hid her baby, who plastered the papyrus basket, ensuring it would be water proof and safe for her precious baby whose short life was already a unique testimony to the mysterious intersection of preparedness and providence. She was the one who pushed the child’s makeshift boat gently out from behind the reeds in the meandering river where it could drift off in the stream. Her motions and calm strength were the source of the ripples that danced at the shoreline.

Ripples of determination and holy disobedience were put into motion by the midwives’ refusal to harm, possibly the first recorded case of civil disobedience. Without their subversive spirit, the baby would never have lived this long. Fearing God and dismissing Pharaoh’s command to murder the Hebrew baby boys, the midwives kept this child from dying even before he was living in their arms.

Every person who touched the current of his life, left behind ripples of evidence of his or her presence. Some only dipped their toe in for a minute, others were there daily for years or decades. Some were faithful Hebrews, fearing Yahweh, God of the Israelites, others were Egyptians, devoted to their local gods and customs. Young and old, male and female, relationships long lasting and those that were gone in a splash – people of all kinds touched Moses’ life and sent ripples radiating out as he followed God’s call into the world.

Ripples forever change the face of still waters. They forever disrupt and reorganize the water they move through. Ripples and relationships, no matter how long the touch, can change us, do change us, and are the handiwork of God who guides and guards our lives.

This morning in the ripples of baptismal waters we forever changed B's life. In our understanding we didn’t in this one moment save her from some specific evil or hell. We didn’t throw her a spiritual life-preserver or give her a get-out-of-jail-free card. But we changed her life forever. With every ripple of the water in the font we made public the loving secret God already whispered in her tiny newborn ears. God loves you. God welcomes you. God is with you forever.

The ripples of the water poured (lovingly and excitedly) into the baptismal font share the excitement of this welcoming day. The ripples left behind as I scooped water out “three times with the word that made her new” (Walter Wangerin in Water Come Down) were a testimony to the overflowing love of God. The ripples that spread with each hand the reached in to grab a keepsake told the story again and again, “We will love you. We will nurture you. We will share our faith.”

In her baptism we made ripples in her life that will be a part of the stream of life and love that carries her forward. The Bs are moving to California this week. That makes the sacrament that we shared this morning a bit unique in its meaning for us and for them. A big part of baptismal understanding in our Presbyterian tradition is the promises we all make, B’s family, her sponsors, AND the entire congregation, to nurture her in the faith, to teach her what we know and what we believe, to be the church family to which they turn in times of great happiness and in times of struggle. Suddenly, those promises seem difficult to act upon when we realize that soon they will no longer be with us every week.

But the ever-widening circles in the waters of baptism speak to a different reality in the sacrament given to us by God. Every touch in her life – every adoring look from family, friend, and congregation, every soft kiss on her forehead, every stroke of her toe, even every prayer that is offered for her, and every blessing that is given to her – every touch in her life will send ripples of faith and love that will be a part of her life forever.

Likely this congregation, this exact gathering of the people of God will not be with B when she begins to roll over, to sit up, to crawl around the floor and get into everything, but that doesn’t not mean the God won’t be with her. That does not mean that the Body of Christ, wherever the Ms live, will not be a part of her life. The vows we took, the promises we made to God and to B and to her family, we made not just for ourselves, but for the whole church, in every time and in every place. We may not be the ones who are blessed to carry them out on a regular basis, but that does not make them any less true.

The ripples have been set in motions, and someone somewhere, in a church filled with faith and love and hope, will someday add their own ripples in the life of BGB. And likewise, today, next week or the week after that, somewhere in this country or around the world, another baby will be baptized. A congregation will make promises and a pastor will wash her in water from the font. God’s love will be celebrated, and the child will be welcomed. But, someday that family will have to leave the place they love and call home. And someday they may find themselves carried by the ripples of God’s love through our doors looking for a new faith home.

The promises we made today will be good even then, for we don’t make them just for M or just for our own children. We make them for every child of God, those we know and those we don’t, those we have seen, those will see someday, and those whose rivers of life will never be in our sight. When we promised our love and our nurture and our faith we gave the promise of the church universal, of the Body of Christ, and that church has no walls.

The midwives, the princess’ handmaids, their presence in Moses’ life seems fleeting in the story we heard. But without their unique touch, the story would not have continued. Without their lives, used by God in God’s relationship with the world, the story could have unfolded in a very different way.

Open yourself to the ripples of love God sends in the water of your own life. Open yourself to the opportunities to make ripples for others. Even just in a moment, even just in 3 weeks of a new baby’s life, our love and our faith and the love of God from which they come can make a difference in the world.

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