Taking the plunge – J. Barry Vaughn – Jan. 12, 2020

January 12, 2020

Taking the plunge – J. Barry Vaughn – Jan. 12, 2020

When I was ten or eleven, I took swimming lessons at a pool just a few miles from my home. After we’d learned to float and do some simple strokes, we were allowed to jump off the diving board into the deep end, but I was too scared to do it. My mother, who was sitting near the pool with the other mothers, told me to look at how much fun my friends were having and assured me that it would be fine. But I still hung back. Finally, I decided that I’d do it. So I walked to the deep end and got in line and stepped up on the diving board, but just as soon as my toes left the board, my mother saw what I was doing, and yelled, “Catch him! Catch him!”


Today’s gospel story is about the time that Jesus jumped into the deep end. John the baptizer tried to talk him out of it, but Jesus was determined. When Jesus jumped into the deep end, his mother, Mary, did not say, “Catch him!” Rather, his heavenly Father said, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


Life has both a shallow end and a deep end. The story of Jesus’ baptism tells us that we are not meant to stay in the shallow end of life; it is an invitation to go deeper than we ever thought we could


We spend most of our lives paddling about in the shallow end of life. The shallow end of life is fun. Maybe we stay in the shallow end because that’s where our friends are most of the time, or maybe we stay there because we are afraid of the deep end.


Year ago, there was a cartoon in the daily newspaper called Family Circle. Are there still cartoons in the newspapers we read on our iPhones and computers? I guess that illustration dates me!


In one of the Family Circle cartoons a little girl held her doll over the toilet and said, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and into the hole you goes!”


I don’t know about you, but I often feel as though someone is holding me over the water and is just about to let me go and flush me down the drain. But the baptism of Jesus tells us that we don’t have to be afraid of the deep end where the swirling waters of chaos threaten to take us down into oblivion.


That great theologian Mr. Rogers wrote a song for children that says,


You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.
You’re bigger than the water,
You’re bigger than the soap,
You’re much bigger than all the bubbles
And bigger than your telescope, so you see…
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.


We don’t have to fear the deep end not only because we’re bigger than the water, the soap, and our telescope; we also don’t have to fear it because Jesus is there to catch us. Jesus will be there in the deep waters of life to catch us and hold us.


The shallow end may be fun, but that’s not where we’re supposed to be.


Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tested against the power of evil. The gospel writer we know as Mark uses the Greek word ekballo when he says that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert. That literally means that the Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness like a baseball.


That’s what baptism does for us, too. Baptism is not a fire insurance policy. It’s not a route into safety. It is not a safe harbor. It is a doorway to adventure. Baptism is an invitation to sail out into the deep waters of life, into a world of challenge and adventure. But the story of Jesus’ baptism tells us that we are not alone as we sail out into the deep waters. Jesus is there with us, and the Spirit equips us with all that we will need.


I want to say one more thing about the shallow end of life.


Baptist pastor William Self tells the story about taking his grandchildren to their swimming lesson and said, “I thought this would be a routine trip, but I was wrong. The pool was enclosed in a rather large building, and the sounds of all those excited children of different ages and abilities were deafening. Upon further observation, I noticed something unusual. All the noise was coming from the shallow end of the pool. The only sound coming from the deep end was the sound of experienced swimmers swimming with discipline and confidence. There was no yelling, no crying, no complaining, no evidence of fear or frustration. They were following the instructions of their leader. After a lifetime of parish ministry, I have concluded that all the noise comes from the shallow end of the pool, from those who haven’t learned to swim with confidence or are not secure enough to venture into the deep water.” (William Self, “Swimming to the deep end of the pool,” Sept. 26, 2004, day1.org)


That’s the truth, isn’t it? Like Dr. Self, I’ve noticed the same thing in parish ministry. Most of the noise comes from the shallow end of the pool. Church members who have learned to swim in the deep waters of the Spirit don’t make a lot of noise. They are too busy following Jesus.


I’ll be honest with you: I’ve spent too much of my life in the shallow end. It’s difficult to follow Jesus. He told us that following him meant being willing to give up our lives for the sake of the Gospel. But I do aspire to live my life in the deep end, and hope you do, too.


When Jesus’s time of testing was over, and he returned from the wilderness the first thing he did was to head for the deep water. He went to the Sea of Galilee and found some fishermen. Maybe he did that because they were already comfortable with the deep water. And he invited them to follow him, to sail out into the deep water, to throw their nets into new parts of the sea.


The challenge I’d like to leave you with is this: Follow Jesus into the deep waters of life. Sometimes the depths are far away.  There are times when God calls us to unknown, exotic places without giving us a map; perhaps God will give us a task that we haven’t a clue about how to accomplish.  But sometimes the deep end is right here at home.  Sometimes the deep end is staying in a relationship that seems to have gone dead and trying to give it new life. Sometimes the risk is in seeking to overcome the alienation that has come between us and those whom we love.  Maybe God’s call is to find unexpected depths in the particular corner of life where we find ourselves.


Or maybe, to use the words of Isaiah, the challenge is to be a light to the nations, proclaim good news to the poor, and release prisoners from the darkest and deepest dungeons.

Those who are born of the spirit venture out into the chaos and deep water of life.  We can do that because that’s where Jesus is — in the deep end.  So go ahead and take the plunge!


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