Many years ago Simon and Garfunkel sang a song about a “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” What a blessing it would be to find a bridge over troubled waters! But there is another song, an old spiritual that says something quite different, something far less appealing, something calling for courage. The song says, “Wade in the water children! God’s gonna trouble the water!”
What strange advice! And yet it is rooted in deep biblical tradition, and like so many biblical themes it is rich in paradox. Truth be told, God often troubled the water in biblical times and his troubling of the water usually evoked fear and bewilderment. It challenged God’s people to step out in faith and trust, to wade into troubled waters. And guess what? There was always a blessing on the other shore. But first you had to wade in, first you had to trust God.
And there is this additional feature, (almost as though God were giving us something with which to float to safety). God doesn’t just bring the blessing through troubled waters, but rather through wood and water. It is not water only, but wood and water. Maybe you know where I am going with this but for now just wade in the water with Jesus on this the feast of his Baptism watch how wood and water work wonders!
First let’s consider some of the following Biblical examples of this tradition of wood and troubled waters bringing blessing.
- Cleansing Flood– One of the most terrifying stories of the ancient world is the flood. The world had grown so wicked and sin so multiplied that God concluded he must literlly wash it clean. And you think its bad now! God went to a man named Noah and told him that He was going to trouble the waters and that Noah had to be ready. Build an Ark of Gopher wood Noah! Now this was not a small project. The Ark was the length of one and a half football fields (150 yards), it was 75 feet wide and 45 feet tall. Now you have to really trust God to do all that work. And then gather the animals two pairs of unclean animals, 7 pairs of clean animals. More trust more time and lots of wood. But then God troubled the waters and the waters of the flood made an end of wickedness and a new beginning of goodness. From troubled waters came a blessing. But first Noah had to wade on in. Through the wood of the ark and water God worked wonders! (cf Gen 6-9)
- Trouble at the Red Sea– Pharaoh had relented and the people were leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. But fickle Pharaoh has once again changed his mind and pursues them. With the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh behind them the people were struck with fear. But God would win through for them. How? By troubling the waters: God told Moses to take up the wooden staff and to trouble the waters with these words: And you lift up your staff and with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two… So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. (Ex 14:16, 21) Now you and I know the end of the story but the people that day did not. With water like two walls on either side they had to go forth, they had to wade, if you will, in the waters. They had to trust God that the waters would hold. And God brought them through and they went out of slavery and into freedom. Are you noticing a pattern? God troubles the water and there is a blessing that follows. But you gotta wade, you gotta trust that with God, wood and water work wonders. The wooden staff and troubled waters bring forth freedom.
- Trouble in the Desert – It is a fine thing to be free but thirst has a way of making itself known. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet (Ex 15:23) So once again, God troubled the waters, called the people to trust and there came forth blessing! And God did it through wood and water. The wood of the tree and the troubled waters of that spring brought the blessing of survival.
- More Trouble in the Desert! But yet again as they journeyed further more thirst. And God said to Moses: Go over in front of the people holding in your hand as you go the staff with which you struck the sea, …Strike the rock and the water will flow from it for the people to drink. (Ex 17:5-6). From troubled waters came forth blessing. With God, wood and water work wonders. The wood of the staff troubled those waters and they came forth with the blessing that preserved life in the desert. St. Paul would later say that they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor 10:4)
- At the River Jordan– After forty years of wandering in the desert the Israelites are finally ready to enter the promised land. But the Jordan is in flood stage, impossible to cross. But once again God had a plan and was going to trouble those waters. He instructed Joshua to have the priests place the ark on their shoulders and wade in the water. Now the Ark was a box made of Acacia wood and covered in gold. In it were the tables of the Law, the staff of Aaron and a ciborium of the manna. The also knew and believed that the very presence of God was carried in that ancient wooden box, even as in our tabernacles today: And when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap far off people passed over opposite Jericho (Joshua 3:15) So again, God troubled the waters and the promised Land was reached. And how did God do it? Wood and water work wonders! The wooden box of the ark troubled the waters and they parted bringing the blessing of the promised land.
OK, we’re almost done. Today is the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus wades in the water. But the Baptism of John can’t bring blessing it can only symbolize repentance and point to blessing. Why can’t it bring blessing? No wood, at least not yet. But Jesus whom Isaiah called a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is 11:1) will soon enough take up an old rugged wooden cross and and trouble the waters of his own body and soul and from those troubled waters flowing from his wounded side on the wood of the cross will come forth the greatest blessings of all: salvation, cleansing, holiness, adoption, membership in the Body of Christ, a heavenly inheritance, a transformed life, Grace upon Grace and the very gift of the Holy Spirit. Listen to how John describes the troubled waters of baptism coming forth from the side of Christ:
When [the soldiers] came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:33-37)
John wants to make sure you know that it wasn’t only blood that came from his side but also water. And that water is the water of our baptism and the giving the Holy Spirit (cf John 7:37-39) And what water was more troubled than these waters? Who ever suffered more than Jesus? And these waters bring blessing because they are troubled and because of the wood of the cross. These waters still flow in your baptism and mine. When we were baptized, God troubled the waters of the font and they brought forth blessing by the power of the cross. You see, wood and water work wonders. So wade in the water Children, (don’t build a bridge over it!) God’s gonna trouble the waters! And by the wood of the cross he’ll see you through.