Fire warms. And fire burns.
Breezes carry seeds from field to field. Winds can blow down a tree or remove a roof.
Wine. A little can loosen your tongue and warm the blood—enable you say honest, loving, laudatory things you might not have had courage to say otherwise. More than a little can loosen your senses—make you a danger to yourself and others, and what you may say the least of it.
Bread? Is it good, or bad? Well, it depends. On several things.
Blood pressure: you can’t live without some, of course, but too much of it can kill you.
See how this goes? Almost everything—at least everything that has creative, generative or healing power, and no matter whether it is the work of God’s hands or ours, also has a threatening, debilitating or destructive power. Blessing, and danger, are properties of fire. And of wind.
Of rain, too. Showers soften the earth, make the plants to grow, cool the summer’s heat, while storms erode the beach, flood the flats, swell the rivers and slide the mud. In sum, there are April showers. And there are Category Five’s. There are sweet breezes, and tornados.
Water. Each human life begins there, is gestated, nurtured, safe in a mother’s womb. And many lives end in unsafe waters, merciless merciless riptides, raging seas. Life, and death, are properties of water.
Baptism. In water. That, too, is a matter of life and death. Following Jesus carries blessing and danger. Both beyond the imagining, most days. There is comfort, and we might wish for only that, but that is not the way it is, anymore than with wine, wind or fire. The water means grace, and calls for faith; faith promises great reward, and also great cost. Resurrection, but also crucifixion.
Most days we ignore the cost. Customarily we crave only the blessing. We hope for abundant life without anything like sacrifice. Jesus offers no such thing. He offers abundant life, but also hard choices. Which is to say, there is real challenge in being a disciple of Jesus. But also great comfort. There are stormy seas, but Jesus is in the boat with us. We don’t always know where we are going, but Jesus is leading. We don’t always know what we are to do. But Jesus is constantly teaching.
Because when Christ bids us come and die, he offers us life eternal.
It is he who helps us navigate the dangerous and life-giving waters of our baptism.