Gritty Grace

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 15, 2023, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: Unknown

Made Flesh

Years ago, I was serving in a small church in my neighborhood. One week, I was preparing for a baptism and discovered this church did not have a baptismal font. In a conversation with another pastor and friend whose church was down the street, he said, “Not a problem, I will bring you ours.”

Later, he arrived in his Mini Cooper, top down, with the baptismal font securely strapped into the back seat. We joked about how he could’ve been baptizing folks on Ambaum Boulevard (one of the busiest streets in our community), just splashing water on people and shouting, “You are God’s beloved children!”

I know that may sound a little sacrilegious, but I actually believe that sacraments should be gritty like that. We’ve made them too clean, and in doing so, we’ve made them inaccessible to people who, in many ways, just like us, need to know that God’s grace meets them where they are.

Recently, I’ve thought about the baptismal font in the back seat of the Mini Cooper. On Ambaum Boulevard, there’s a vacant plot that, until two weeks ago, was a homeless encampment. The city banned “camping.” So, the folks living in that encampment were “swept” away. (Interesting language when talking about humans?) We keep doing that to unhoused people in this community.

What does this have to do with today’s passage? Bear with me.

Today’s text introduces us to John (the Baptist). We learn who he is and all the questions that religious leaders had about his baptizing people!

Setting all those questions aside for a moment, I found myself drawn to the last verse, which names the location in which all of this is taking place: “in Bethany, across (beyond) the Jordan.”

It grabs my imagination. John was baptizing people, and later baptizing Jesus, not actually in the promised land. Wait. Don’t you get to the promised land first, THEN join the ranks through some baptism ritual?

It had never dawned on me that Jesus was baptized outside of the “promised land.”

What kind of God does this? What kind of God identifies with humanity in the place where we are on the “outside” of the Good News? Where we feel most hopeless, forgotten, or maybe discarded and “swept” aside. Across the Jordan.

We all know people living “across the Jordan,” beyond knowing the promise of the fullness of life or without experiencing the grittiness of a baptism that comes to all of us as grace. I wish we had the courage every day to “splash water” on people wherever we go, believing it makes a difference to hear, “You are God’s beloved child. He is thrilled with you!”

May God keep us there, not just striving to get to the “promised land.” Rather, let’s stay knee-deep in the water of our own local communities, proclaiming the belovedness of all God’s people.

Dwelling Among Us

Where does the idea of “beyond the Jordan” hold particular meaning for you during Advent?

Where are the “beyond the Jordan” places in your own life? In your neighborhood? In your church?

About The Author

Lina Thompson