Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of Our Lord


January 13, 2019

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…

Water.

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 from God:

“You are my Son, 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 child, 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.

As you hear me say again and again, 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 I have actually!” You can, “I was reborn in the waters of life and marked as Christ’s own forever on the day of my baptism.”

But even 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.

Yesterday, we baptized Briar and Harlen Stears, grandchildren of Kris and Kip Vossler. It was a beautiful baptism.  It was a morning of happiness of and joy. But it was also an immensely important day in the life of those children.

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 truly do  become God’s child.    

For ever.

We becomes God’s own Beloved.  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 we have baptized in the font in the narthex 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.  A bishop or a king or a president is no greater than you or me in those waters.  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.

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 God speaks to each of us—

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





Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany


January 6, 2019

Matthew 2.1-12

+ Some days, I wish I had a sign like these wise men in our Gospel reading for today had. I wish I had something real and tangible like that in my life. A star I could see and follow. And not just me, but others too. As though they too could validate this sign from God.

I don’t get signs from God like that. Do you? If you, I would love to hear about it.

I mean, look at it!   A star! Not very subtle.  

Still, even if a star like that appeared as a sign, I’m still not certain I would follow it.  I doubt any of us would actually follow a star.  We certainly wouldn’t follow a star with some vague notion of a divine king being born. It probably wouldn’t mean much to us, prophecy or not.

It would take great faith and great bravery to load up everything, including valuables like gold and spices into that time of hijacking and robbery and just head off into the unknown.

But these men did just that. These “wise” men did something that most of us now days would think was actually na├»ve and dangerous.

Originally, of course, the word used for these people was “astrologers,” which does add an interesting dimension to what’s occurring here. Astrologers certainly would make sense.  Astrologers certainly would have been aware of this star that appeared and they would have been able to see in that star a unique sign—a powerful enough of a sign that they packed up and went searching for it.

And it certainly seems like it was a great distance.  They probably came from Persia, which is now modern-day Iran.

And they would’ve come in a caravan of others.  These Magi are mysterious characters, for sure.  We popularly see them as the three wise men, but if you notice in our Gospel reading for tonight, it doesn’t say anything about there being three of them.  There might have been four or five of them for all we know.

It’s a fascinating story. Certainly, it might seem strange that I am even talking about the Christ child and the Magi. It’s the beginning of January, after all. Christmas happened almost two weeks ago.   Most of us have put away our Christmas decorations.  Trees came down quickly in the first few days after Christmas, the rest in the days immediately after New Year’s.  Since we’ve been hearing about Christmas for months, we are maybe a little happy to see the Christmas season go away for another by this time. 

I, for one, am happy we don’t have Christmas commercials and songs all over the place.  (Yes, I am a Christmas curmudgeon)  We’re ready to put those trappings aside and move on.  The fact is: the Christmas season, for the Church, began on Christmas Eve and ended last night.

So, what is the Epiphany really?   Well, the word itself—Epiphany—means “manifestation” or “appearing.”  In this context, it means the manifestation of Christ among us.   And in the story that we hear this morning, it is the appearing of Christ not only to the Jews, but to the non-Jews, as well, to the Gentiles, which we find represented in the Magi—those mysterious men from the East. 

The feast is all about the fact that the Messiah was sent not only for the Jewish people, but for all people.  Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s Son in our midst. 

Epiphany is a moment of realization.   In this feast we realize that God has reached out to us—all of us, no matter our race or our understanding of this event.  No matter who we are.

Epiphany is the realization that Christ has come among us. Not in some blazing cloud. Not in some pillar of fire. Not with a sword in his hand, to drive out our enemies and those with whom we are at war, as many people believed the Messiah would do.  But in the person of this little child, Jesus, in God’s own Child. 

Over the last month or so, we, as the Church, have gone through a variety of emotions.  Advent was a time of expectation.   We were waiting expectantly for God’s Holy One to come to us.  Christmas was the time of awe.  The Messiah, the Christ, was among us and there was something good and wonderful about this fact.

Epiphany, however, gets the rap for being sort of anti-climactic.   It is the time in which we settle down into the reality of what has come upon us.   We realize what has happened and we accept it.  A bit of the awe is still there.  A bit of wonder still lingers.

In the Gospel story, the wise men are overcome with joy when they see the star stop over Bethlehem.   But, for the most part, despite the joy they felt, we are now moving ahead. 

There are no more angels singing on high for us. 

The miraculous star has begun to fade by this point. 

The wise men have presented their gifts and are now returning to home to Persia. 

It is a time in which we feel contentment.   We feel comfortable in what has happened. 

But, in a few weeks, this is all going to change again.   We will soon face the harsh reality of Ash Wednesday and Lent. 

Now, I know it’s hard even to think about such things as we labor through the winter.   But it is there—just around the corner.  The time of Christmas feasting will be over.  The joys and beauty of Christmas will be replaced by ashes and sackcloth and, ultimately, by the Cross.

But that’s all in the future.   Christmas is still kind of lingering in our thoughts today and, in this moment, we have this warm reality.   God’s anointed One, the Messiah, the one the generations were looking for and longing for, has finally appeared to us. 

When we look upon the face of the child Jesus, we see ourselves.  We see that just as Jesus is the Son of God, we too are children of God.  In this Child the divine and the mortal have come together.   And that, as children of God ourselves, we too can find the divine and the mortal within us as well.

And for this moment—before the denial of our bodies in Lent, before the betrayal and torture of Holy Week, before the bloody and violent murder of Good Friday, we have in our midst, this Child. And this Child reminds us that we are children of this same God as well. In this season of Epiphany, we are definitely being reminded that we are children of God.

Next week we, celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, and our are reminded of our own baptism.  Our baptism reminds us very clearly that we are children of a loving and caring God.

The Episcopal priest and biblical scholar, Bruce Chilton, once wrote about baptism:

“Baptism…was when…God sends [the] Son into every believer, who cries to God, ‘Abba, Father.’ The believer becomes a [Child], just as Jesus called upon his father…The moment of baptism, the supreme moment of faith, was when we one discovered one’s self as a [Child] of God because Jesus as God’s Son was disclosed in one’s heart.”

For now, we are able to look at this Christ Child and see God’s Messiah in our midst.  But we are also able to look at this holy Child and see ourselves as well. And, in looking at this Child, we see ourselves as holy too. We are able to see ourselves as truly loved children of our loving God. That was made possible through the waters of baptism.

Epiphany is the realization that Christ has appeared to us where we are—here in our own midst. Christ has appeared to us, in us. We realize at Epiphany that we often find Christ in our own mirrors, staring back at us.

And this is what we can take away with us this morning.   This is the consolation we can take with us as we head through these short winter days toward Lent. No matter where we are—no matter who we are—Christ is here with us and within us.  Christ is with us in all that we do and in every place we look.

So, let us look for him.  Let us see him in our midst—here in our life. Let us, like the Magi, adore him as he gazes upon us.  And whenever we recognize him—that is our unending feast day of Epiphany.