Forming Faith Blog

After the Storm (John 1)

John the Baptist referred to himself, in The Message, as the thunder in the desert (referencing Isaiah 40). John was letting us know a storm is coming. Jesus was that storm, a life-changing event that would affect everyone, everywhere. The old life is washed away, and we come up out of the water into a new one, a new life. Nothing can be the same.

Person with an umbrella on the beach in a storm.
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on
A True Story

A pastor friend of mine had a church in Miami Beach, Florida. It was an old church, and the hotels and tourist shops grew up around it over the years. He could walk out the church’s front door, turn left, and in eight blocks have his feet in the water. He had been counseling a church member who one day decided he was ready for baptism, and he wanted full submersion in the gulf. My pastor friend explained the water was symbolic and that just a little on his head in the sanctuary would suffice, but the man was insistent.

And so, a few Sundays later, the entire congregation paraded down the street to the sandy beach. The baptize-er and baptize-ee walked out until they were waist-deep in the water and turned back to face the congregation. At this point, my friend learned they had selected an area of the beach that was bathing-suits optional. He fervently prayed his congregation did not turn around. Meanwhile, sunbathers behind them jumped up and down to see what was going on in the water. Soon the assembly walked back to the church, most of them looking at their shoes. Baptism is a new beginning whether for an adult choosing a path for their own life or for parents choosing a path for their infant child. Baptism is the start of something; something big, something life-changing, a storm in the desert.

Washing Away

There is something to be said for the act of total submersion. Yes, baptism is an “outward and visible SIGN of an inward, invisible grace,” and “dipping” is not required. But remember, he was called John the Baptist, not John the Sprinkler. He did not stand in the water and fling it out onto those on the riverbanks. There is something emotional about a full submersion. Someone once told me the proper way to do a baptism is to “dip ‘em like an Oreo.” You wait for the bubbles to quit, then bring them up before you lose them.

A Storm Is Coming

Keep in mind, in Jesus, and John’s time, there was no word in that part of the world for “bad rain.” We have many. John is referencing Isaiah 40 when he says, I am that “thunder.” He’s telling the people something good is coming, something big. A storm that will change everything. As the poet says, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining.”

My own mother was raised by an aunt who was petrified of thunderstorms. Consequently, my mother raised both of her sons to love them. Thunderstorms were something you got out INTO, not something you got OUT of. Thunder is a welcome sound. It should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. 

I’m reminded of a scene from the end of The Shawshank Redemption movie where Andy Dufresne “crawls through a river of s**t and comes out clean on the other side.” He stands in the storm and lets the rain wash away 20 years of life in prison. There’s an old song by Murray McLauchlan that goes, “If the wind could blow my troubles away, I would stand in a hurricane. Get washed away in the driving rain. If the wind could blow my troubles away.”

There Comes a Rumbling

On baptism Sundays, we all sit and watch the young couple hand their baby over to the pastor and promise to raise the little one in the Christian faith. The congregation gives a collective “Awwwwwww.” And everyone is happy.

Baptism is cute.  But most life-changing events seldom are.  What if baptism required a thunderstorm? Whether moistening the head of an infant or full-on submersion of an adult, baptism is meant to convey that nothing is going to be the same after this.  Baptism (aka the arrival of the Christ) is life-changing.  At the beginning of this Gospel, the reader is told plainly who Jesus is. Those first sentences clue us in, but then the story begins. At the beginning of this story, no one knows Jesus except John. John even knows how this story will end by referring to Jesus as the lamb, the sacrifice. John knows. These events that John is about to set in motion will be life-changing for so many, himself included.

Coming through the Storm

The Bible leaves the details of this event to Matthew God says, “This is my Son with whom I am pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus hasn’t even DONE anything, and yet God is pleased. 

Maybe the lesson is that making it through the storm is worthy of our attention. Not just our attention but our praise. Just surviving is pleasing to God. Sometimes just getting through this day is a miracle. We stand like Andy Dufresne with our arms outstretched and let the rain pound against our skin. We will not take cover. We will welcome the storm because, after the storm, there is freedom. There is rebirth. As the psalmist says in Psalm 30, “Joy comes in the morning.”

The Storm Changes Everything

I spent twenty years in Florida. Hurricanes were common, and great loud thunderstorms happened every day in the summertime. Walking out the front door after the storm had passed was life-affirming. Whether the damage was severe or minimal, just breathing in the air after the storm made it feel like the world was different. 

Who do you know that has survived? Not done something productive. Not reached the highest heights, but someone who has just plain made it through. What can we do to show them God is pleased with them?

  • A phone call. 
  • A kind word. 
  • A mid-week cup of coffee.                                 

Survival is winning. Surviving is rebirth. Storms are a beginning.

I’ll close this one out with the words by Murray McLachlan. 

 If the wind could blow my troubles away
 See me stand with a smilin’ face
 Clothes all flappin’ all over the place
 If the wind could blow my troubles away
 Blow my troubles away
 If the wind could blow my troubles away
 I would stand in a hurricane
 Get washed away in the drivin’ rain
 If the wind could blow my troubles away
 Blow my troubles away. 

May the God who makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, rain down love and grace and soak you through to the skin. Amen.

Steve Case

Steve Case is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran. He’s written books reimagining the words of a 17th Century monk as well as three books of biblical Dad-jokes. His latest book is called F**k Death. It’s a hard-core guide to grieving for those who are sick of pity and condolences.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download our weekly “bulletin insert” home devotional resource for the week of September 26th. This is a full sample from our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) home devotional resource which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

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