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Sermon: Is it really that simple?
Speaker: Gretchen Geyer
Texts: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Matthew 5:44, 6:34, 16:24
Good morning everyone - Throughout this sermon, I am occasionally going to say the phrase
‘reflect and meditate on the word blank’ and in the place of blank, I’ll insert a specific word. Then I’ll
leave about 10 seconds for you all to think of whatever images, ideas, or other words come to mind
when I say that word. So let’s begin. Reflect and meditate on the word water. [Count to 10]
On June 13, 2008, while I was living with my parents in Iowa, a massive rain storm headed
towards our area. We watched as the storm clouds moved in and the rains started to pour down. While
my parent’s home was safe, a mere 30 minutes away, the city of Cedar Rapids was not so fortunate. The
water from the rains wreaked havoc on the city. The Cedar River, the river that runs through the city
crested at 31 feet which is an incredible 11 feet higher than was ever previously recorded. The waters
reached 10 square miles throughout the city. These waters impacted 5400 homes and dislocated 18,000
On that same day, my parents and I used water in our home on numerous occasions without
giving it a second thought, as I’m sure many of you do as well in your daily lives. We drank water from
our faucet, we used water to clean up the dishes after our meals, we used water to flush the toilet and
to wash our hands. How can it be that water, an element of life, that seems so simple at the outset and
one that is absolutely crucial to life, can also be so destructive as was the case in Cedar Rapids and
unfortunately in more and more cities across the US and around the world?
Reflect and meditate on the word baptism. [Count to 10]
In our lectionary scripture for this Sunday, which was the first scripture that was read today by
Blake, Luke retells of Jesus’ baptism. Luke 15 says “The people were waiting expectantly and were all
wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.” John goes on to explain that he is not
the Messiah but that someone far more powerful than he will be coming to baptize the followers with
the Holy Spirit and fire. When Luke gets to Jesus’ baptism, he only gives one single sentence to retell of
this presumably fairly important time in Jesus’ life. Luke simply said “When all the people were being
baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” It seems a little too elementary.
Outwardly baptism appears to be straightforward. John D Roth wrote this about baptism in his
book Beliefs, “The ingredients seem simple enough: water, a gathering of witnesses and a few carefully
chosen words. To a secular person looking in from the outside, it might seem hard to understand why
the Christian practice of baptism is so significant. Yet, despite its elemental simplicity, virtually every
Christian denomination regards baptism as a foundational event, a ritual that embodies the essence of
an entire theological tradition”. I can imagine the random person walking by Jesus as he was baptised,
catching a glance at the foreign scene. There is one man, whom we know to be John the Baptist, a
second man Jesus and a body of water. That’s about as simple as it gets. And yet, we understand this act
to be a much greater commitment than it first appears. In fact, as Roth puts it, this is a “ritual that
embodies the essence of an entire theological tradition”.
There are many questions that I still have about baptism, some of which Roth covers in the next
chapters of his book Beliefs. Roth poses these two questions among others: What is the appropriate age
of baptism? And is choice different than socialization? I greatly relate to this second question and I’m
guessing some of you may as well. As a sophomore in high school, my pastor approached our Sunday
school class and asked if anyone was interested in being baptized and that he was going to lead a six
week class and everyone was welcome to participate if they so chose. But is it really a choice if everyone
your age, in your same sunday school is also doing it? While I by no means regret getting baptized, this is
yet another example of how this outwardly simple act of baptism becomes a bit more complicated when
you really stop to think about it.
There are many aspects of our lives that on the outset look just as simple as baptism appears to
be but when we stop and think about them, we realize that they are much more complex than we first
assumed. We opened today hearing two very different stories about the power of water. One life-giving
and the other life-threatening.
Next, I’d like you all to reflect and meditate on the words yard signs. [Count to 10]
Yard signs are very commonplace nowadays. Yard signs about science, religion, general ethics,
our government. I’m sure many of you have seen the following signs that I’ll read off but let's use these
as a reminder for all the different signs that are out there. Signs that read “No matter where you are
from we’re glad you’re our neighbor, No soliciting, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Biden for
President, Trump for President.” List goes on. I have to admit, I myself have made plenty of immediate
assumptions about the owners of those yard signs. But I’m coming to realize that people really aren’t
that simple. They can’t be put into one singular box simply because of the yard sign that they (or
someone else living in their home) chooses to put in their yard. Humans, just like baptism and water are
a lot more complicated than what first meets the eye.
Finally, let's reflect and meditate on the words followers of Jesus. [Count to 10]
Our second set of scriptures read by Blake, were Jesus’ callings for us, his followers. First, he tells
us to take up our crosses and follow in his ways. This command makes sense that as followers we should
listen to Jesus’ teachings and do our best to live them out in our daily lives. Then he gives us commands
that are a lot more difficult, these are the other two readings from Matthew which are only a sample of
the many difficult tasks that Jesus set before us. He tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those
who persecute you” and to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day
has enough trouble of its own”. These specific commands are a lot more difficult to follow, at least for
me. I’ve also been in a number of different conversations recently with folks about what or who they
believe God is, if they believe at all. Another complicated subject for another sermon.
Understanding and wrestling with the complexities of baptism, the powers of water, yard signs
and following in Jesus’ way, are not easy tasks and are often easier if we avoid thinking about them all
together. And yet, I believe it is in our best interest to embrace the complexities. If everything in life was
as simple as it seemed on the outset, I think life would be kind of boring.
In order to truly wrestle with these complexities it’s important to give ourselves more time to sit
in quiet reflection or possibly take a quiet walk in nature or journal in silence. I recognize that this is
much easier said than done. There is constant noise and information shoved in our faces whether we like
it or not, unless we make a very concerted effort to stop it. Whether it be music, a child calling out in
need, an audio book or podcast, a work meeting, the news, the latest tweets, NPR story or a family or
friend calling to chat. Finding a silent moment is difficult enough let alone a few minutes or hours to
really contemplate life’s complexities. We may create noise by verbally discussing these complexities
with others but in order to come prepared to that discussion, it’s quite valuable to first spend time
thinking through these situations on our own.
Susan L Taylor is a journalist and was the editor-in-chief for nearly 20 years of Essence, a monthly
magazine written primarily for African American women. Taylor, while a very busy and prominent
woman, still understood the importance of quiet reflection. She said, “We need quiet time to examine
our lives openly and honestly - spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself
and create order”. Examining our lives and our ideas about life openly and honestly, admittedly, can be
quite scary. It gives time for us to stop and examine the routine tasks in our lives and really question how
we understand them. Take our first example of water. Upon first thought we see the need to drink water
daily and to use it in our daily lives to clean, cook or create art. But then when we stop and think, we
remember, or understand for the first time, that water can also be very destructive as the residents of
Cedar Rapids know all too well. Wendell Berry, poet, essayist and environmental activist poses a
potentially even scarier suggestion. Berry encourages us to “Ask the questions that have no answers.”
“Ask the questions that have no answers”. It may take us some time to get to a point where we are
comfortable to ask the questions that have no answers, but creating more space for self-reflection will
certainly move us in that direction. Along the way we’ll start to see the complexities in the seemingly
simple aspects of life.
If this is new for you, I’d start off slow and I mean really slow. No one should be expected to
immediately be able to find 30 minutes a day of quiet time to reflect on life’s complexities. But maybe
you can find 30 seconds to stop and really take a deeper look at a situation or item at hand. Then a few
weeks later, you’ll be comfortable with 30 seconds of daily silent reflection and you can slowly start to
increase the time. As James Clear wrote in his book Atomic Habits, “The seed of every habit is a single,
tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench
themselves and branches grow. . . the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower
one day at a time.”
Going about the rest of our days today and our weeks ahead, may we recognize the simple
seeming things in life really aren’t so simple and may we sit with and reflect on their complexities
whether that be for 30 seconds, 30 minutes, or longer. May it be so.