Sunday, January 10, 2016

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord

January 10, 2016

Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

+ I know it’s not something we want to hear about today, on this bitterly, bitterly cold morning. In fact, just thinking about it makes us even colder. But there’s no getting around it. If there’s a theme for this Sunday it’s…


And it’s a very good thing to be considering. It is probably the natural element we most take for granted. And yet it is one of our most vital. We depend upon water.  It nourishes us. It cleans us. It delights us.

In our Western society, we take for granted the fact that our water is clean.  In other parts of the world, water isn’t so clean. In other parts of the world, water sometimes is a source of illness. In some parts of the world they have little idea of the luxury of something like cold water—or even ice for that matter. 

As we’ve known here in this part of the country over the years, water can also be a destructive force when it comes to the matter of floods. Water, as vital as it is, can also destroy. It can destroy property, hopes, dreams and even lives.

For us, as Christians, water truly is the source of our spiritual lives.  Throughout Scripture, we find ourselves nourished by and reminded of the importance of water.  The authors of our scriptures, coming as they did from such an arid place as the Middle East, no doubt appreciated water in ways we don’t. And that appreciation certainly affected their spirituality.  Certainly, we find the image of water returning again and again in scripture. Each time Scripture references water, it does so as a source of life, as a source of renewal, as a source of God’s saving grace—even in the instance of Noah’s flood.

Water is important to us as humans. And it is important to us as Christians.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find probably the most profound expression of how important water is to us as Christians. We find that first great example being set. As Jesus comes out of those waters, as the Spirit, like a dove, descends upon him, he hears the words:

“You are…my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Here the standard is set. Here the breakthrough has happened. From now on, this is essentially what has been spoken to each of us at our own baptisms:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

For most of us, we have no doubt taken for granted our baptisms, much as we have taken for granted water itself. We have viewed baptism as no more than a christening service for babies—a kind of dedication ceremony.  Baptism is, obviously, much, much more than that. Baptism is THE defining moment in our lives as Christians.  Whether we remember the event or not, it was the moment when our lives changed. It was the moment we became new. It was, truly, our second birth.  When some Christians ask you, “Have you been born again?” you can tell them in no uncertain terms: “Oh, yes!”

But event that doesn’t truly convey what baptism is for us. What happened to Jesus in those waters, happened to us as well. In the waters of our baptism, we were reborn as children of our loving and caring God. We became what was Jesus is. We became children of God.  We can, from the very moment of our baptism, trace our relation with God our Parent—the God who recognizes us and loves us and accepts us and embraces us.

I have preached this so much over the years about this, but because of this relationship formed in our baptism, our own baptisms are important to us. You have heard me many times encouraging people to celebrate the anniversary of their baptism much as they would celebrate any other important anniversary in their lives. I always encourage people to find out the date of their baptism.  Or, I encourage them to let me help them find out. That is why here, at St. Stephen’s, we remember the anniversary of our baptismal dates in our intercessions during the Eucharist.

Now, my baptism date is February 8.  I actually framed a copy of my baptismal certificate and have hung it on my wall, along with those other certificates of meaning for me—my certificates of ordination to the diaconate and priesthood, my masters degrees, my oblation certificate from when I became an Oblate of St. Benedict.  In fact, my baptismal certificate is probably more meaningful in many ways that any of them because without my baptism I wouldn’t have most of those other certificates. Well, except for maybe one of my Master’s Degrees.  I also celebrate the anniversary of my baptism, as well as the baptism anniversaries of my loved ones.  And whenever I baptize anyone, I write down the date in my own personal ordo of dates and pray for them on the anniversary.

So, why the importance of this one single event?  Well, the bond that is made at baptism is one that truly can never be broken. That relationship that was formed with God in those waters is eternal.

In baptism, we become God’s child.  Forever. 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.

Now, we might not want to have this bond anymore.  Some of those babies who grow up will make clear later on that they don’t want this bond anymore.  But, no matter how much we may turn our backs on God, God never turns away from us.
 No matter how much we try to turn away from God, to deny God, to pick God apart and make God something other than who God is, God never turns away from us. God never denies us. Why?  Because that bond, formed in those waters, is eternal and binding. And God will never turn away one of God’s children.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we always belong to God.  It is shows us that God will never deny us or turn away from us. It shows us that, no matter what we might do, we will always belong to God.  Always.  For ever.

In this way, Baptism is truly the great equalizer.  In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are. We all emerge from those waters on the same ground—as equals. And, as equals, we are not expected to just sit around, hugging ourselves and basking in the glow of  the confidence that we are God’s own child.  As equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and treat each other as equals. We are called to go out into the world and make a difference in it. And we are called to act like Children of a loving God.

That means we have to fight ourselves sometimes. We have to fight to not become negative people. We, as loved children of a loving God, must work hard to not be manipulative, controlling, gossipy, backbiting, unloving people. We must not be what our critics accuse of us being.

We must love and respect each other equally.  Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as special people. It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world.

So, in those waters of baptism, something truly incredible happened for us. We went into those waters one person, and emerged from those waters as someone else completely.  It was an incredible moment in our lives, just as it was in the life of Jesus, who led the way and showed us that Baptism was an incredible outpouring of God’s love and light into our lives.

So, with this knowledge of how important it is, let us take the time to meditate and think about your own baptism and the implications it has in your life.  And when we do, let us remember and celebrate the bond that was formed with our loving God in those waters on that marvelous day we were baptized.  Find out the date of your baptism and celebrate it.

In a few moments, I will come through the nave and will sprinkle you with water. As that water touches, remember how God loves you and cherishes you. And when you enter this church, and when you leave it, pay attention to the baptismal font in the narthex and the blessed water in it. Touch that water, bless yourselves with it, and when you do, remember it as a reminder of that wonderful event in your life which marked you forever as God’s very own.

Those words spoken to Jesus on the day of his baptism are being spoked to us again and again.  Let us listen to those words. Let us believe those words.  And let us celebrate those words that Gods speaks to each of us—

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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