Finding Grace in the Mess

By: Maggie Leonard

Fear and determination filled her eyes, I could see it as she looked from me, to her paper, to the crowd.  I grasped one shaky hand in mine and steadied the paper she held with my other hand.  Her voice quivered but she spoke with determination as the crowd silently coaxed and encouraged her from their seats.

“Maggie, you will need water in ministry—to drink when it’s hot outside, to make soup and coffee, and in cleaning up our space.  You have shown me that therembap10 is life inside of me, life that is like the water that Jesus promised to the woman at the well.  You have helped me to know how to drink water when I am thirsty—that is, how to ask God to help me.  Use this water both as you teach others and as you are taught by others.”

With that, she handed me a simple glass bowl filled with water.  A gift of ministry for me to cherish and utilize wherever God called me.

How frequently we try to limit where God’s grace works—declaring some water holier than other water. How wise Cheree was to offer me the simple gift of water at my ordination, so versatile and yet often overlooked in its importance in doing God’s work of mercy.

I did not think about it much at the time, but how precious it was for this symbol to make an appearance on my ordination day, just as it did when the church first proclaimed God’s claim upon my life and their promise to help nurture me that I might know God’s call.  In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, water regularly marks both the beginning of a new journey at the bequest of God and salvation in general.

I love the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, a castrated slave. Though he traveled a great distance to worship, there was, and always would be, rejected from the temple for his impurity—made “unclean” by his mutilation and therefore outside the “righteous” people of God. It was this man who asked, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  For him, the good news was not just of Jesus, but the promise of inclusion in God’s people. We read in Acts that they came up out of the water.  Following God’s call is not a journey we are expected to endeavor alone.

Every Sunday as we gather at Mercy, we ground ourselves by remembering the call God paces upon us in community. The reality is that baptismal water and the promises we make to those who are baptized is not limited just to cute babies.  We never age out of being those who the church promises to nurture and for whom we care.  We are each called into that beautifully broken people of God!  In our baptism we are not only claimed by God, but we are called to care for others and to share our own vulnerability.  Being baptized into a community is no joke.  We are a diverse people with many strong personalities and ways of living; our life together is frequently complicated and messy.

It is no mistake when the water poured into our baptismal font gathers energy and sloshes over the sides onto the floor.  God is there, right in the middle of the mess of our relationships.

Our church members, like many in other churches, fear the spray—I suppose some could say that I am to blame for our empty chairs on the first and second row—but I look forward to the day when the splashing water will be accepted as a delicious drop of grace on our skin.  How often we encounter the Holy Spirit in our midst and do not realize it!  If only we could see the possibilities the water holds—a puddle-time-warp in which to stomp and play and transport us to spryer days, a start in our mopping, a foot-washing, an illustration of the rippling effect of our actions, an escape from the summer heat…

It could be nothing less than God’s grace that brought Philip and the eunuch by a pool in the middle of the desert.  If only we found the same relief and joy in the water!  God’s grace spills out indiscriminately on the rocky ground, thorny patches, and church floors.  But it doesn’t stop there!  Each sip of coffee, rain storm, bowl of soup, newly cleaned floor, shower, or swimming pool can be a reminder of our baptism.  Like the Eunuch, our eyes become attuned to the water God places before us in dry places and help us to see how it might faithfully be used!

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