Close Up Photography of Water Flow

Power Washing

I’ve been away from this blog for a long time during our move and adjustment to New Jersey. The move had a surprise benefit though. I found the following sermon that I had thought lost. I preached it on January 13, 2002 in two small  churches in Baltimore County, Maryland. I hope it touches you in some way.

I’m not sure why it is, but it seems that the older I get, the more I like to fool around with tools. I believe I caught this bug after my first year serving with the Appalachian Service Project. My wife can attest to the rather dramatic change that has been in me as for most of my life I could hardly be characterized as the home handyman type. The only tool I used to like was a golf club. But now I like to go to Toys-R-Us for Men — you know it as Home Depot — and just look at all the tools. I can find just all kinds of tools I’d like to have, even though the probability of me doing any meaningful work with them is pretty slight.

One of the tools that I would love to have is a power washer. You see, a couple of years ago I borrowed one so that my son and I could wash our deck. Boy are they cool! They blast the water out with tremendous force and clean deep into every nook and cranny of the deck. When my son and I finished the deck looked like new.

Prior to that time, I occasionally had hosed the deck off with my garden hose. It seemed to make the deck wet, but it did not do much beyond a surface cleaning. The power washer had been hooked up to the same faucet as my garden hose had been, but the hose could never work that wonder. Same faucet. Same water source — our well. The difference was the power. It was the power behind the water that cleaned and transformed the deck.

Water has always been a powerful symbol of life and transformation in Judeo-Christian experience. When the Israelites left Egypt, the Red Sea parted by the power and grace of God as they stepped out in faith. When they entered the Promised Land, the flooding Jordan River also parted as soon as they stepped into the water in faith. On each occasion, they surrendered themselves to the grace of God and passed through water into a new life of service to God.

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. We are called to reflect upon our own baptism and reflect upon the ritual and its meaning in our lives. The Baptismal Covenant in our Hymnal is rich in this symbolism regarding water. Turn briefly to pages 36 and 37 and just look at the number of times it references water: “dark waters,” “ark through water,” “water of a womb,” “gift of water,” and on and on.

For me, baptism has always been focused on the water. I was not raised or baptized as a Methodist. I grew up in the Church of the Brethren. Now the Brethren are into the use of water. One of the most distinguishing ways they use water is in washing the feet of each other during the annual communion service on the Thursday before Easter. But where they really do water well is with baptism. Some of you older folks may have heard the Brethren referred to as “Dunkards.” That’s because when they baptize you they “dunk” you completely in the water. When you are baptized in the Brethren Church you know you’ve been baptized! You are dunked backwards three times — once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit.

When you wade down to the pastor you had better be ready to let him take over because you go down, come up spitting water, and down again and again. I was baptized at the age of 11 sincerely expressing my belief in Jesus and I would like to tell you it was a meaningful spiritual experience, but all I remember thinking was the pastor was trying to drown me! Now I laugh about that, but there is a message there. My baptism was like trying to wash my deck with the garden hose — it was really effective at getting me wet, but it really didn’t clean the nooks and crannies of my soul because I did not use the power that could have been behind the water.

If we look at today’s Scripture passages I think you can see what I mean. In Acts 10:37-38, Peter testifies:

You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

In Isaiah, God specifically had promised that which he later fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism. In verses 42: 1-3:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

Look how closely that was fulfilled in Matthew 3: 16-17:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

What strikes me is the bit part that the water seems to play in this drama. It is after the immersion that God anoints with his Spirit. It is after the immersion that God affirms Jesus as his Son. God’s grace is not in the submersion in the water. This is an act of man — something we do. We never can do something to earn God’s grace, even being dunked in the water. It isn’t the water that cleansed and saved, but the grace of God. It is God’s blessing of the Holy Spirit; his affirmation of love for Jesus in naming him as his Son that transformed Jesus from a carpenter to the Savior of the world. It was Jesus being washed in the power of the Holy Spirit that began his ministry and that has made it possible for each and every one of us to approach God and call Him Father.

Friends, although we often place our focus on the water during the ritual of baptism, we don’t find God’s grace in the water. The power to transform is not in that “garden hose” ritual, but rather the Holy Spirit. But our ritual also recognizes that fact. Turn again to pages 36 and 37 and just check how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned. It is not the baptism of the water, but the immersion in the saving grace we find in Jesus through the Holy Spirit that is symbolized in the water. That’s where we too find the power to wash our hearts and lives clean and set us on our ministry.

For me, there was a long time between the time I was dunked in the water and when the Holy Spirit finally came to rest upon me and God called me as his child. But on reflection, I now realize that I was given a very clear message at my baptism. You see the minister that baptized me, a fellow with the solid old Brethren name of Galen Fike, had the practice of putting his hand over your nose and mouth as he submerged you. But I was afraid of water so I fought as he acted and he could not cover my nose. So instead, he just dunked me three times as fast as he could. If I had just released and submitted to him, it would have been easy. And that’s where I find the meaning of the water — it symbolizes our submission to God. At the time of my baptism, I may have been expressing my belief, but I neither submitted to God nor the pastor.

As recorded in Matthew 3:11, John preached that he baptized with water to symbolize repentance, but that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That was why he was confused when Jesus presented himself for baptism. Jesus knew he had to show everyone that he was submitting himself to the will of God just as they must to be made righteous. That was why he was baptized by John.

We do not have to go through the ritual of baptism by water, whether by sprinking as an infant or immersion later in life, to receive God’s saving grace and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We do, however, have to clearly and unequivocally give up ourselves and our right to control our lives, and submerge ourselves in the will of God. When you do, that’s when God locks upon you and says:

This is (Your Name), whom I love and with whom I am well pleased.

That’s when he begins to fill our lives with his Spirit and transform us into the persons He wants us to be. It all starts when we give up ourselves to be power-washed by God.

So friends, on this celebration of the baptism of Christ, I suggest that you reflect on your own baptism — not the one with the garden hose, but rather the one with the power washer that reaches every nook and cranny of your soul. Think about what ministry you have allowed that power to work in your life. And if you have never submitted your life to Jesus, I urge you to make this day the day that you decide to stop struggling on your own and submerge your life in Him. Trust me, you don’t drown in that power washing!

May the Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be faithful disciples of Christ.”                    United Methodist Baptismal Covenant


  1. Marilyn Reed on February 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Liked this one, Tom. good job.

    • Tom Trezise on February 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      For all of us who started or remain Brethren it has to bring back a few memories.

  2. Sue Culp on February 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

    thanks for posting and I’m glad to still be on your list! Tell Kathy we missed her on the retreat. Hope all is well with both of you. sue

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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