On the Other Side of the Water

On the Other Side of the Water

“Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you.” This is the first promise God makes to Israel in the book of Joshua, right before the Israelites take their first actual steps through the Jordan River into the promised land. Everywhere you take a single step is a gift from God, the promise goes. Every time the muscles in your body move you a step forward, you are receiving a gift – that God thinks you’re a worthwhile recipient of space and movement and of his loving presence. Every single inch of ground that touches the bottom of your foot is God’s way of proclaiming to you: “You belong with me! I want you in my presence!”

Yes, Israel’s long journey from Egypt to the promised land begins and ends by moving through a body of water. And this is also the promise of the reality that awaits us on the other side of the waters of baptism, a reality of belonging and of grace so abundant that every inch of earth touched by the bottom of our feet is nothing less than a gift. It might not occur to us to ask God for permission to take a mere step, and then again for another mere step. But even if it did occur to us, we wouldn’t need a million individual permissions, because God already gave every step, every movement as a gift. To pass through the water is to experience true belonging with God that cannot be threatened by anything or anyone, to be awakened to the gift of belonging, and to relinquish ourselves into the hands of the God who is making of us a new creation that is free from fear. “Be strong and courageous,” God tells the Israelites in Joshua 1, “for the LORD is with you wherever you go.”

This God is eager, is overjoyed to be generous to us. Every step, every movement we make, God is welcoming us into his presence. Every step, every movement we make, God is there to eagerly bless us with the grace of another step. It delights God to bless us with movement. It makes God happy to give us a fresh bit of ground under us every moment of our day. This is the God who joyfully brings us into the water and then through the water into a completely new way of being human.

We place a lot of emphasis on knowledge and piety, as we should. But do we place enough emphasis on awareness? Awareness of God’s presence with us every moment of every day. Awareness of God’s delight in us belonging with him. Awareness that every breath and every little bit of ground beneath us is a gift, not something we pay for or graduate into, but a gift from the God who gives it simply because it makes him happy to give it. This awareness cannot help but create a transformation within us, a complete renovation of our desires and priorities, a complete re-tuning of our lives in which living in tune with God’s will happens more and more naturally. That’s why we are baptized.

When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River, he’s inviting us to experience the Israelites’ story anew, but this time we’re not following Joshua through the waters into a new reality – we’re following Jesus. God meets us in the waters of baptism and declares us to be his children who belong with him in his presence now and for eternity, just as he does in the Jordan River for Jesus. This promise cannot be threatened by anyone or anything. And once we’re in the water, this promise is moving us from the water into a completely new way of being human.


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