Sunday, January 12, 2020

1 Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord

1 Epiphany
The Baptism of Our Lord

January 12, 2020

Isaiah 42.1-9; Matthew 3.13-17

+ This past Wednesday we, of course, did something here at St. Stephen’s we do on a fairly regular basis.

We welcomed a stranger into our midst.

We welcomed someone we didn’t know.

Someone we will never know—at least not on this side of the veil.

We welcomed and gave thanks for little Stephen Angelito Juan Diego.

He was only a baby.

He never breathed air or saw the sun.

He never knew the warmth and embrace of his parents.

He was cast off.

But we took him and we have made him one of our own.

As I said in my homily on Wednesday night, we do not know what hell his poor mother was going through.

And it not for us to speculate or judge.

But what we have done is we have taken up what she could not bear to carry.

And while Angelito was not able to be celebrated in a baptism like most of our babies here at St. Stephen’s are, although we were not able to rejoice in the celebration and reminder that he was marked as Christ’s own forever in the waters of baptism, we still know that he is Christ’s own forever.

But the reason we do what we did on Wednesday, the reason we welcome, the reason we include, the reason we strive to be a place where all are welcome is because of our baptism.

We don’t do it because we think these things will get us in to heaven.

We don’t do these things because we think God will grant us favors or pat us on the back.

We do these things because, as baptized followers of Jesus, we are called to make this world a better place.

Even if that means giving a dignified rest to a discarded baby who has no other place to rest.

Today, of course, we’re celebrating the Baptism of Jesus!

And because we are, it is important for us to reminded of how important the event of our baptism was in the ministry we do and the work we are called to do as a congregation.

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 my home  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 50 years ago next month—on February 8th—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 this pulpit 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 for ever.”

You have heard me preach on those words many times before.

And trust me, I will preach them again and again.

Because, these words are important.

I will preach about them because they are probably the most important words we are ever going to hear in our lives.

You are marked as Christ’s own forever!

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, God spoke to us the words God spoke to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.

“This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

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 racism homophobia or sexism or ableism  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 process back to the baptismal font and renew the vows we made at baptism.

When we are done, I will sprinkle you with water from the font.

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 asChristians, 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.

We pray that, in keeping this covenant, we may continue to welcome all those who need to be welcomed, love each other and those who come to us, to respect and serve each other, and, yes, to honor the lives of those who have been cast off and abandoned by this world.

Even little babies.

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.


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