A friend and I attended worship on the beach during spring break in Destin.
Worshipping outside, it’s harder to pretend that we are the masters of our own destiny and determiners of our fate. We are surrounded by the powers of creation that existed millennia before we got here and will be here eons after we’re gone. We don’t need to think about our smallness in the grand scheme of the universe. We are small, sitting in beach chairs while waves crashed before us.
How awesome that the Creator of all the incredible wonders around us, wants a relationship with each one of us personally. What kind of God is that? A relational God. A Trinitarian God. A God who became like us to show us eternal love, our ultimate destiny, and how to live until we get there.
Our ritual that marks that God desires this relationship with us is the Sacrament of Baptism. I’d never seen a Baptism in the ocean before and it moved me to tears. After the sermon and Communion, about 80 of us worshipping made a circle, held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer. Then we all moved to the shoreline for the Baptism. A girl about 9 or 10 years old went forward with her dad and they joined the pastor in the waves. She folded her arms across her chest, plugged her nose, and they dipped her back in the water and up she came as we all clapped and whooped. Her dad wrapped her in a big towel and hugged her tight.
The pastor was about to give the Benediction and send us on our way, when a man came forward. He looked like he’d had a hard life, but he experienced something that evening on the beach that told him hardship wasn’t all of who he was, nor the end of his story. He was ready to commit his life to God, to follow Jesus, and enter a relationship with the Creator who could be felt in the wind, seen in the sunset, tasted in the bread and grape juice, and held in the people beside us. The pastor went back into the waves with a church leader. The man folded his arms across his chest, plugged his nose and down he went, backwards into the waves as the water God made washed over him, a sign of pure love and forgiveness, of dying and rising with Christ. The pastor and his assistant lifted him back up. And we all clapped and hollered for him, too. What a remarkable way to begin one's faith journey. Baptism is done to you, even as an adult. The man didn't dip himself back, he was dunked by two others, by love, by God. And he was raised up again. God uses us to claim others.
I had never seen so clearly how in Baptism, we not only belong to God and to the faith community, but also to the whole creation. That’s why faith is made up of the stuff of the earth—water and grains and grapes and people seeking to understand and order our lives in relationship with the Divine mystery hidden in all things.