Sunday, January 12, 2014

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2014

Matthew 3.13-17

 + I’m only speaking for myself here. It might be different for you. But 2014, for me, is a very important year. Why, you might ask? Well, on June 11, I will be celebrating the 10t anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

 10 years as Priest.  It’s a big deal. Not a lot of priests make it ten years. It’s a hard job, after all.  But I very grateful I am going to be celebrating my 10th anniversary.

 These past ten years have certainly been interesting…. And I have been busy. As many of you know, I am bit obsessed numbers, at times. I keep track of numbers.  I like keeping track of numbers.

 Well, on Ash Wednesday, if all goes as scheduled, I will be celebrating my 1,000th Mass as a priest.  This Mass is actually my 989th Mass.

 1,000 masses in ten years!  You wonder why I look forward to my vacations each year!

 I have also officiated at 55 weddings. And I have done just over 50 baptisms in that times.

 After Mass, Baptisms especially have been my joy as a priest. Ok. I know some of you are already sensing where this is going. It’s gonna be another of one of those Fr. Jamie Baptism sermons.

 Yes, I have to say, it is.  After all, we’re celebrating the Baptism of Jesus today!  And so of course we’re going to talk about baptism.  And ministry Because this is what it’s all about for us as Christians.

 All ministry—the ministry we all do together—stems from that transformational event of our Baptism.   In fact, to be baptized means, essentially, to be called to ministry.  It means to proclaim the God we have found in Jesus by the very lives we live and by the joy we carry within us at being a people in relationship with that God.  When we look at our spiritual lives and our ministries in the “big picture,” we cannot do so without seeing that big picture circling and being centered on the singular event of our baptism.

 For those of you who have visited the rectory you have no doubt seen my own baptismal certificate on my wall.  It is there with my ordination certificates.

It is there to remind me and to help me commemorate that incredible event in my life 44 years ago—this event that changed me and formed me.

 And we all should do that in our lives.

We all should find our dusty baptismal certificates and write down the dates of baptisms and celebrate that event in our lives.  After all, everything we do as Christians should come from the joy and amazing beauty of that simple event. As you all know, as you have heard me preach from here many, many times, probably to the point you start rolling your eyes, Baptism is not a sweet little christening event for us as Christians.  

 It is not a quaint little service of dedication we do.  For us Episcopalians, it the radical event in our lives as Christians.  It is the event from which everything we do and believe flows. And when we look at the actual service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, the words of that service drive home to us how important that event is.

 For example, after the Baptism, when the priest traces a cross on the newly baptized person’s forehead, she or he says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

 You have heard me preach on those words before. And trust me, I will preach them again and again. I will because they are probably the most important words we are ever going to hear in our lives.  That is not just some nice little sentiment.  Those words convey that something transformational and amazing has happened in the life of that person.  This is essential to our belief of what happens at baptism.

 In baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own.  For ever.  It is a bond that can never be broken.  We can try to break it as we please.  We can struggle under that bond.  We can squirm and resist it.  We can try to escape it.  But the simple fact is this: we can’t.

 For ever is for ever.

 On this Sunday on which we commemorate Jesus’ own baptism—on this Sunday in which we remember the fact that Jesus led the way through those waters of baptism and showed us a glimpse of all that happens in this singular event, we should remember and think about what happened at own baptisms.  Yes, we might not actually remember the actual event.  But the great thing about baptism is that, our own individual baptismal event was, for the most part, just like everyone else’s.

 In those waters, we were all made equal. In those waters, the same water washed all of us—no matter who are. In those waters, there are no class distinction, no hatred, or discrimination or homophobia or sexism or war or violence.  In those waters, we are all equal to one another and we are all equally loved.

 In a few moments, we will stand and process to the font and renew the vows we made at baptism.  When we are done, I will sprinkle you with water.  The sprinkling of water, like all our signs and actions that we do in this church, is not some strange practice a few of us High Church-minded people do.  That water that comes to us this morning is a stark reminder of those waters we were washed in at Baptism—those waters that made us who we are Christians, those waters in which we all stand on equal ground, with no distinctions between us.

 Here at St. Stephen’s, all of our ministry—every time we seek to serve Christ and further the Kingdom of God in our midst—is a continuing of the celebration of baptism.  Sometimes we lose sight of that.  Sometimes we forget what it is that motivates us and charges us to do that wonderful work. Here at St. Stephen’s, we have wonderful reminders to us of how important and life-changing this baptismal event was and continues to be in our Christian lives.

 For example, the baptismal font in the narthex—the place we actually baptize—is always uncovered and always filled with fresh, blessed water.  This is not some quaint, Anglo-Catholic tradition that spiky Fr. Jamie introduced here. This is a very valid and real practice, and a vital reminder to all of us how that event of our baptism changed and transformed us.

 It is good for us to take that water and bless ourselves. It is good for us to be occasionally sprinkled with water as a reminder of that event in our lives.  It is good to feel that cold water on our fingers and on our foreheads and on our faces as a reminder of the waters that washed us initially.  And, as you have heard me say many, many times, it is good to remember the date of our baptism and to celebrate that day, just as we would a birthday or a wedding anniversary.

 Today, on this first Sunday in Epiphany, we start out on the right note.  We start out celebrating.  We start our commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.  And by doing so, we commemorate our own baptism as well.

 In our collect today, we prayed to God to “Grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name maybe keep the covenant that they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour.”

 That should be our prayer as well today and always.  We pray that we may keep this Baptismal covenant in which we seek to follow Jesus and serve all people equally and fully in his name, no matter who they are.  And we pray that we may boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, by all that we do as Christians in seeking out and helping others in love and compassion.

 May we always celebrate that wonderful baptismal event in our lives.  And may we each strive to live out that baptism in our ministry of love and service of God and of one another.  Amen.


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