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Isa 1:1,10-20; Ps 50:1-8,22-23; Heb 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40

I have been thinking about a phrase, or maybe it’s an answer to a question, “The waters of Baptism are like that.” The connection to celebrating a Baptism today is clear. And also because we have been dealing with our broken font and making it useable for today. But I wonder if there are stories for you or any of us that might come before these words, “The waters of Baptism are like that.”

          We watched a recently released Netflix series titled, “Keep Breathing.” It is a survival story, much of it filmed in the BC wilderness, of a woman’s struggle to survive an accident in the wilderness, and struggle with her own prior life story of tragedy, pain, loss, and broken relationships. She is alone through great life-threatening challenges, although people from her distant and recent past are at times “present” to her and speak with her in both negative and defeating, and hopeful, life-giving ways, as she relives many scenes of her life and learns more about herself and her relationships, often on a thin line between past and present, life and death. Without giving away the story, there is a scene, following many setbacks in her attempts to find a way back to life, both physically and internally, where she stands before a rushing river, and reflects on entering the water with all its potential to drown her and take her life. But if she surrendered to it, if it could take her to safety and give her life back. The waters of Baptism are like that.

          The readings today have some of these connections. The words from Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” sound like they are describing Baptism. We look into these waters hoping, praying, trusting, that for the Baptized, for us, for all creation, they hold an embrace of God that is unique, once experienced, but we pray, daily remembered, that reshapes each unique person leading to life.  Reminding every one, that they are forever loved, entirely and unconditionally, so that they might believe and live in love that is beyond and greater than themselves. Can you imagine the difference that makes in a life, every person’s life, your and my life, the life of the world, that kind of assurance of this hoped for love and goodness, survival and new life, in and for all? And the conviction that it is true even when not seen? The waters of Baptism are like that.

          The prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s hating the people’s worship with all its trappings because they “do evil” rather than “do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” The Christian church’s story is filled with examples of this tragic and often horrifying truth. Historically and continuing, with Indigenous neighbours and the oppression and genocide of colonization, and through racism and prejudice, self interest and greed, the church’s failing to concern itself with the wellbeing of many of the most vulnerable. And the prophet calls for true repentance and returning, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” There is hope of new life for Indigenous peoples, for all oppressed peoples, for all of us and all creation together in this truth and repentance toward right relationships. The waters of Baptism are like that.

          The recent visit of the Pope holds these truths, as fraught as it was, as Pastor Lyndon mentioned last Sunday, with different responses from Indigenous neighbours - all of them important to hear and learn from as a church, as communities and nations, toward greater truth and justice. This sounds and looks like the life in which the waters of Baptism immerse us, dying to evil and like the ancient words in the baptism liturgy say, “all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, the ways of sin that draw you from God” and instead the Creator’s Spirit turning us again and again, to Jesus’ ways of love and justice and mercy toward our neighbour and all creation. The waters of Baptism hold truth and justice like that.

          While on sabbatical in February, and in a rebroadcast I heard this past week, I was deeply moved by hearing the story of Debbie Paul. The CBC Radio program “Unreserved,” hosted by Rosanna Deerchild, introduced the story of Debbie Paul and the documentary about her story, titled “Burden of Proof,” created by Indigenous filmmaker, Trina Roache. While I share a small potion of her story here, I encourage you to hear her story in the documentary and on the CBC program, told as it should be in mostly Debbie’s own words. Debbie, a survivor of a Residential School, was also abducted by a Nun at the time of the school’s closing and taken without documentation across the boarder to the United States and given to a family in Massachusetts. She spent a year there, in an unloving and abusive home, until, at the age of thirteen, she was put unaccompanied on a plane back to Canada where she landed with no one to meet her. The documentary traces her efforts to find proof of her time in the US, proof of her being a victim of the sixties scoop and entitled to acknowledgment and compensation as a survivor. A significant part of her childhood story was the relationship to a woman and family on the same street where Debbie lived for that year. The woman, named Mary Rome, treated Debbie with kindness and caring, welcoming her into their home to play with her children, for meals, and to play the piano whenever she wanted, a love of Debbie’s and a way she survived residential school. Part of the documentary crew’s efforts and those of the “Unreserved” program, with Debbie’s permission, was trying to locate Mary, if possible. To Debbie’s great surprise, they were successful in finding and contacting her, now 90 years of age and living in Canada. The program includes their first meeting again, over Zoom, and talking together about Debbie’s experience of that year and of Mary’s loving presence in Debbie’s life. It is a very moving reunion, with the two women tenderly remembering and talking together, and the significance of one another in both their lives. Debbie recalled that when she returned to Canada, she worked odd jobs cleaning and saving her money to be able to buy an Indigenous girl doll, which she then sent Mary in the mail to the address she would never forget. As Debbie speaks about this memory, Mary shows her the doll over Zoom, which she has kept all these years, showing how significant the doll and Debbie were to her, although she had no way of knowing where she was or how to contact her. Debbie reflects on what that doll meant to her, “it was me” she said, and she needed to send it to Mary as the one person who showed her love. The women look forward to a day when they can meet in person together. 

           Wanting to honour this beautiful story and again encouraging you to hear it in the women’s own words if you have opportunity by going to “CBC Unreserved” online and searching for Debbie Paul’s story and the documentary, “Burden of Proof,” and without wanting to co-op it for a purpose that is not intended, I also want to honour a connection between Debbie and Mary’s story and the lives we are called to live. To know the love of neighbours and to be a loving neighbour, a love that is greater, deeper, reaches farther than we could imagine, is the love, the faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, the repentance and being reformed, the survival and living on, that we trust, we believe, are held in the waters of Baptism and the promise of God in these Holy waters, for all, for life, forever.           Jesus says, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is the Creator’s good pleasure to give you the dominion of Jesus.” Therefore, give your life and treasure away for the good of others, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And be always ready for Jesus’ love and life to break into this world and your and other’s lives, because we never know when it will, and change us forever. The waters of Baptism hold all this, in God’s promise, for Atley today, and for us all.           Richard Wagamese writes in, What Come from Spirit, Creator doesn’t tell us who to love. Only that we learn how. Love is spiritual. It comes from the Spirit place. There is no colour there. No gender. No skin, no history, no right, no wrong, no better, no best, and certainly no politics. It is a place of pure love. It is our common home and we all return to it someday. So it is our soul’s mission to learn to love, Remember that we spring from love and hold your loved ones close.           When you trust your life to Creator and become willing to take the next indicated step all manner of miracles become possible. I remain in slack-jawed wonder at the richness of my life. (p.85) The waters of Baptism, the love of Creator in Jesus, life in the Spirit, are by God’s endless grace, like that. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.