David Gambrell was baptized when he was three months old and doesn't remember the ceremony.
But he did have a memorable water experience several years later, when he was white-water rafting on South Carolina's Chattooga River. He fell out of the raft and nearly drowned and remembers how grateful he was to live.
"Baptism is a matter of life and death — or better yet, a matter of death and life," Gambrell said.
Gambrell urged listeners to remember their baptisms. The ceremony surrounding the sacrament of baptism can seem kind of stuffy, but if you really think about it, baptism is a dangerous act.
"When we are washed in the water of baptism, we are immersed head to toe in danger, in death, in the suffering of the world," he said.
Those who have been baptized have no excuse to ignore those who suffer — baptism is an act of bathing in their tears, Gambrell said. But he reminded participants that believers are also redeemed and given new life in Christ.
There is no flood, power, prejudice, war, injustice, border, institution, disaster or stigma that can separate us from the love of God in Christ, Gambrell said.
The 2010 conference recognized the 30th anniversary of Peacemaking: The Believers' Calling, a document approved by the 192nd General Assembly (1980). The Believers' Calling called for the establishment of a churchwide peacemaking emphasis, leading to the formation of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
The conference was a chance to reaffirm the call to peacemaking, but it was also a chance to reaffirm baptism.
In baptism, God's favor shines on us in order that we might proclaim the year of God's favor and the time of liberation. We're called to announce that the time for justice is now, Gambrell said.
"Baptism is the source of every Christian's calling," he said.
And this is especially true for peacemakers, who are called to share the water of life with a thirsty world.
But as life-giving as water is, it can also be destructive. Floods, hurricanes and water pollution can all bring death.
Gambrell urged listeners to "Remember this pain but remember this promise" of the water of the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and the waters of Amos: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Am 5:24).
"You are baptized for the sake of generations present … and for the sake of generations to come," he said.
Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23). At the 30th anniversary of the Peacemaking Program, Gambrell reminded peacemakers that they've only just begun and still have much to do.
"Our mission and ministry is only beginning," he said. "We're together in this boat and it's on its way to a new creation."