If life is like crossing a night lake, with dark waters that can call us in, make us lose sight of shore, sometimes we can submerge into water and feel the world saying no. Sometimes we surface to cross the water to the shore in response to God’s yes. We all exist in a lifetime of nos and yeses, of moving through that overwhelmed feeling and the persistence of the crossing. In Christ, God has given us a gift, a yes embedded in every no. Stars open among the water lilies. Their reflective light caresses the water, showing us the way. And though we may even submerge into the waters, God reminds us of our baptism, that we are always invited us back to the shore - reminds us that no night lake is too deep to separate us from the love of God.
In the Jacob saga today, the trickster has been tricked! In one aspect of the story, we feel more of an opportunism than persistence - Whether or not he loved Leah, hey, he gets another wife and he can stay away from home even longer to continue to avoid any encounter with Esau. But we can see persistence in his response to the first “no” to marrying Rachel. Every moment of the seven years was a “no” to his personal freedom (he experienced a kind of indentured servitude), and still was a yes to being with the woman he loved.
Yet of all the characters in this story, I find myself drawn to the fate of poor Leah, the less pretty older sister? Leah’s eyes were either weak or lovely. Can’t even use comparison (did it say but or any when describing Rachel and Leah) because and and but are the same word in biblical Hebrew, both just the letter vav! I think here is one who probably heard more no’s in her life than Jacob ever did. She goes on to be Mother of all but two sons and only daughter. Leah persisting here. How she saw the yeses amongst the nos. How she lived outside of the comparison to her sibling, and rather chose to live into her strength as the strong mother, rather than fall deep into her rejection.
Thecla is both rejected and rejects several times at this point in our story. She has said “no” to being married, first to Thamyris and her biological mother, then to Alexander. Those “no’s” opened up space for her to say “yes” to following Paul. And still, even he rejects her, refusing to baptize her. Happily, we discover at this time in Thecla’s adventures, Paul's “no” to baptizing her meant a “yes” to baptizing herself.
A no to one thing is always a yes to something else. In an old tale from Iceland, a scoundrel named Jon is much beloved by his wife. He took ill one day and she realized he may have some trouble getting into heaven, being so disagreeable all his life. So she caught his last breath in a small bag, so that she had his soul neatly stored, and makes her way to the borders of Heaven. She knocks on the door, and don’t you know it, out comes Saint Peter. She says, won’t you please let in my poor Jon? And he says, “I’m afraid I’ve heard of your Jon, but I haven’t heard good of him yet!” She says, “Well, Saint Peter, I never would have believed you could be so hard-hearted. You must have forgotten the old days when you denied Christ.” Saint Peter did not take kindly to this and slammed the door in her face. She knocks again, this time Saint Paul comes out. She asks for him to take Jon, and he tells her Jon deserves no mercy and it simply cannot be done. The old woman gets angry and says, “It’s all very well for you, Paul. I guess you’re forgetting the old days when you persecuted righteous men!” Paul shuts the door as quickly as possible.
A third time she knocks, and this time who answers but the Virgin Mary. “Hail blessed lady,” says the old woman. “Won’t you be letting my poor Jon into Heaven, even if Peter and Paul won’t allow it.” “I do pity you,” says Mary, “but I dare not. He really was a brute, that Jon of yours.” “That may be,” the old woman replies, “but I thought you could overlook the weaknesses of some. You must have forgotten you once had a baby and no father for it!” Mary closes the door as quickly as the first two. She knocks yet again, and this time our comes Christ himself! She begs him saying, “Please dear Savior, let him warm his soul by the door.” “No,” says Christ, “for he had no faith in me.” He was about to shut the door but before he could, the old woman flung the bag with her husband’s soul through the door so far that it landed in the halls of Heaven. In spite of everything she went home happy. Rejection is never the end. All the nos of the saints and even Christ, left the door open long enough for her to sneak in the soul of the man she loved. And I think, even if the story makes it seem immediately otherwise, if we look more closely, we can see that God said yes through this woman who remembered her earthly time where the saints did not, this wife who persisted for love of her husband.
God says no to fear. God says no to feeling unworthy or unwanted. In this way, God say yes to you, to me, to the whole of creation. We find this “yes” in Christ, who ultimately shared that the “no” of death brings the “yes” of resurrection. It is especially important to remember God’s unequivocal yes for those of us who have been gifted with neurodiversity, born with a brain that makes life in so many ways more intense. For those who through no fault of their own have trouble in persisting. Sheer will is not the full measure of our worthiness in this life. God says yes to the will that drives us to be closer to God, of course, but God first and foremost says yes to you.
God, through the whole of your lifetime, is saying yes to you, regardless of where you have gone or where you find yourself. Baptism, including in the case of Thecla, is a sign. It isn’t a magic. She didn’t baptize herself and it kept her magically safe. God was there with her before and after, and it was a symbol, taking that dive, that God would be with her even in the depths of a man-eating seal tank. Baptism is a reminder of what is always present - that God always says yes to you. No doubt you will be blessed to have lots of encounters with water this week. Running over your hands as you washing dishes? Doused in shower, immersed in a bath, a hose for the garden? Take a moment to immerse your hands in water. Let them fully soak.
In the soaking remember that God beckons for us to persist, invites us always to continue. It seemed like it could be the end for poor Thecla there. Her immersion baptism seemed like it could have been the last no she ever made. God rejoices in us always, and the water, whether a deep immersion or a gentle sprinkle, reminds us that we are never too far for God to say yes to us. And oh, does God invite us to say yes in return. Even in the depths of a night lake, the servitude of seven years, in the rejected comparisons, in the dangerous dives, God is saying yes to you. All the ways in which our lives unfold, God sees all the nos, and says yes.
Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash