What do mustard seeds, rainbows, lost sheep, an expensive pearl, yeast, and wine have in common? They and many other common everyday things are used in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to describe the kin-dom of God, and still today every once in awhile God sneaks a little theology lesson into the most ordinary moments to remind us that the line we draw between “sacred” and “secular” is an imaginary line. Those ah hah moments are all around us, and I would “see” many more of them if I wasn’t distracted with other things.
I had one of those serendipities yesterday while doing a most mundane chore. The picture here is of the deck at the back of our house. This deck has to be cleaned at least annually, but because of my back trouble it didn’t get done last year. Hence it was dirtier than usual this year, which is illustrated in the picture. The section of the deck on the right here has been cleaned, while the part on the left is what the condition was before cleaning.
This is no job for ordinary cleaning. Mold and grime congregate on this deck because it is shaded most of the day and doesn’t get the sun’s solar cleaning rays. So this task calls for a power washer and the patience to clean one small section of each board at a time. The deck is not very large, about 12′ x 20′ or 240 square feet, which doesn’t sound too daunting. But remember I’m cleaning with a stream of water that covers an inch or so at a time. I’m sorry I did the math that way because when multiplying 240 square feet times 144 square inches per square foot I get a total area of 34,560 square inches.
God speaks to us in mysterious ways if we’re listening, and I’m glad I decided to just do it yesterday because as I started the power washing process the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear one of my favorite lines from the musical “Godspell.” Near the beginning of that wonderful play Jesus comes to the Jordan River to meet John the Baptist. When John inquires of Jesus why he is there Jesus says, “I came to get washed up.”
That image helped me see my deck-cleaning job through a theological metaphor for baptism. But this is not the sanitized, watered-down version of baptism we practice today which usually leaves no signs of dramatic change from a few drops of water sprinkled on the head of one who often is so young as to have no idea what’s going on.
True baptism or baptism by the Holy Spirit is a life-changing transformation, and for most of us it requires more of a power washer blast than a sprinkle. My deck looks radically different when it’s clean, and yet the power washer can’t hold a candle to the power of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the Damascus Road conversion kind of change God can bring into a life, but most of us don’t want to be knocked off our comfortable horses and be made blind for three days that may come with that in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 9:1-19)
Procrastination is one form our resistance to change can take. I can find a million excuses for not cleaning my deck. It takes a couple of hours and is pretty boring most of the time, especially if my self-talk stays focused on how boring it is. I’m grateful God got through to me yesterday so I could not only clean the deck but could ponder again the mystery of God who is everywhere, even in scuzzy, moldy deck boards and power washers.
Our current existential crises calls for a power washer baptismal experience. We need to bring out the heavy artillery because those who dare to follow Jesus’ vision of a new way of living are automatically in conflict with the powers and principalities of the world. We cannot just call on Mr. Clean who claims to “get rid of grease and grime in just a minute.” Jesus’ followers are in this for the long haul and need daily and maybe hourly reminders of who we are, whose we are, and who we are becoming. Legend has it that Martin Luther reminded himself of his baptism every time he bathed.
What are you doing today that might be a vehicle for God’s transforming power? Put your theological Ray Bans on and tune your self-talk to the Holy Spirit network, and you may be pleasantly surprised.