Sunday, January 8, 2017

1 Epiphany

The Baptism of Our Lord

January 8, 2017

Isaiah 42.1-9; Matthew 3.13-17

+ Sometimes—oftentimes—when one preaches week in, week in, the preacher maybe—sometimes—oftentimes—falls into ruts. We preachers too are at the whim of our obsessions, whatever might be right on the surface in our lives, or what have you.

So, of course, on this Sunday—this Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord, this Sunday in which we officially end the Christmas season—yeah, you kinda know where I’m going.  You know it’s gonna be another of one of those Fr. Jamie Baptism sermons.  Because, as you know, there are few things I like preaching about more than baptism.

It could be worse, right?

Of course I’m going to preach about baptism today.  After all, we’re celebrating the Baptism of Jesus today! And of course, how can we not 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 transformative event of our Baptism.   In fact, to be baptized means, essentially, to be called to ministry.  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 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 47 years ago—this event that changed me and formed me as a Christian. And, this gives me another opportunity to remind you, if you haven’t done so yet, to do a bit of detective work and find the date of your baptism as well and to share it with me or James so we can commemorate it and celebrate it.  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, for me anyway, 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 a radical event in our lives as Christians. It is the event from which everything we do and believe flows.  It was the day we were welcomed as loved children of God. And it was the day we began following Jesus.

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 forever.”

You have heard me preach on those words many times 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.  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.  Forever is forever.

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, God spoke to us the words God spoke to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. In those waters, the words we heard in our reading from Isaiah were affirmed in us as well.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;


Those words are our words. Those words were spoken to us in those waters.  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 distinctions, no hatred, or discrimination or homophobia or sexism or war or violence. Or walls.  In those waters, we are all equal to one another and we are all equally loved.

In a few moments, we will stand 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 continuation 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. Sometimes we forget that our ministry as baptized people is a ministry to stand up and speak out against injustice.

Our ministry is to echo those words from Isaiah God spoke to us at the beginning of our ministries:

I have put my spirit upon [you];
   [you] will bring forth justice to the nations. 
   [You] will faithfully bring forth justice. 
[You] will not grow faint or be crushed
   until [you have] established justice in the earth
;

The water of our baptism is a stark reminder to us of our call to the ministry of justice.  There is a reason the baptismal font in the narthex—the place we actually baptize—is always uncovered and always filled with fresh, blessed water.  Again, this is not some quaint, Anglo-Catholic tradition that spiky Fr. Jamie introduced here. This is a very valid and real reminder that in that place, in those waters, we began to do the radical things we are called to us as Christians.  It is good for us to take that water and bless ourselves, and with it to be renewed for our call to justice.  It is good for us to be occasionally sprinkled with water as a reminder of what we must still do in this world  It is good to feel that cold water on our fingers and on our foreheads and on our faces as a reminder of our equality and our commitment to a God of love and justice.   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 live out our covenant by all that we do as Christians in seeking out and helping others in love and compassion and justice.


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

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