The Baptism of Hadlee Broten
July 17, 2022
Colossian 1.15-28, Luke 10.38-42
+ Yesterday we had, between downpours of rain, the interment for the ashes of Marie and Samuel Phillips, the parents of Amy Phillips.
As we hunkered down in the church before the service, waiting for the rain to clear so we could go out to do the committal in the memorial garden, it was a pleasure for me to show Amy’s brother and sister-in-law our church.
I love showing off our beautiful stained-glass windows, which always impresses everyone.
And this past week, we were gifted with the beautiful pieces of art from Sue Morrissey that grace the wall by the baptismal font, which also impressed our visitors.
We should be grateful for Gin and Sue and Lily and all of our visual artists here at St. Stephen’s.
And we should be proud of our beautiful church.
I know some people might appreciate a bare, white –walled church, which is what St. Stephen’s was a few decades ago.
Back in those days, we didn’t have frontals on our bare, butcher-block altar.
We didn’t have images of Mary and St. Stephen and the ikons that we utilize now.
We didn’t have our beautiful windows or our beautiful Stations of the Cross.
But most of us here at St. Stephen’s, I know, appreciate that fact that we worship with all our senses here.
We worship with our ears—with music and bells.
We worship with smell, with the incense we use at our Wednesday evening Mass.
We worship with taste, with the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
We worship with sight, with the beauty of the art on our walls and in our altar and in the hangings here.
Even in the baptism of Hadlee today we will use our sense—with those basic elements of water and fire (in the candles) and oil.
And in our icons and religious art.
And in this way, we are paying specially homage to the Eastern Orthodox roots within our church.
In Eastern Orthodoxy, icons take special place in the worship service.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, ikons are pictures which are sacred because they portray something sacred.
They are a “window,” in a sense, to the sacred, to the otherwise “unseen.”
They often depict Jesus or Mary or the saints.
But they are seen as something much more than art.
They are seen as something much more than pictures on the wall.
They are also “mirrors.”
And that is important to remember
That term Ikon is important to us this morning because we encounter it in our reading from Pauls’ Letter to the Colossians.
In that letter, in the original Greek, Paul uses the word “eikon” used to describe the “image” of Christ Jesus.
Our reading this morning opens with those wonderful words,
“Jesus is the image of the invisible God…”
Image in Greek, as I said, is eikon.
But eikon is more than just an “image”.
Ikons also capture the substance of its subject.
It captures the very essence of what it represents.
For Paul, to say that Jesus is the
ikon of God, for him, he is saying that Jesus is the window into the unseen
In fact, the way ikons are “written” (which is the word used to described how they’re made), God is very clearly represented.
But not in the most obvious way.
God is represented in the gold background of the ikon, which is the one thing you might not notice when you look at an ikon.
That gold background represents the Light of God.
And that light, if you notice permeates through the faces of the subjects in the ikon.
So, when we look at any ikon, it our job to see God in that ikon.
God shining through the subject whose face we gaze upon.
God, who dwells always around us and in us.
For me personally, I do need things like icons in my own spiritual life.
I need help more often than not in my prayer life.
I need images.
I need to use the senses God gave me to worship God.
All of my senses.
I need them just the way I need incense and vestments and bells and good music and the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
These things feed me spiritually.
In them, I am actually sustained.
My vision is sustained.
My sense of smell is sustained.
My sense of touch is sustained.
My sense of taste is sustained.
My sense of hearing is sustained.
And when it all comes together, I truly feel the holy Presence of God, here in our midst.
I have shared with you many times in the past how I have truly felt the living presence of God while I have stood at this altar, celebrating Holy Communion.
I have been made aware in that holy moment that this truly is God is truly present and dwelling with us.
The Sacred and Holy Presence of God
is sometimes so very present here in our midst.
I can’t tell you how many times I have gazed deeply into an icon and truly felt God’s Presence there with me, present with a familiarity that simply blows me away.
And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, who are called to love others as we love our God, when we gaze deeply into the eyes of those we serve, there too we see this incredible Presence of God in our midst.
In other words, sometimes the ikons of God in our lives are those who live with us, those we serve, those we are called to love.
This, I think, is what Paul is getting at in his letter.
We truly do meet the invisible God
in this physical, visual, sensory world—whether we experience that presence in
the Eucharist, in the hearing of God’s Word, in ikons or the art of the church
or in incense or in bells or in those we are called to serve.
For years, I used to complain—and it really was a complaint—about the fact that I was “searching for God.”
I used to love to quote the writer
Carson McCullers, who once said, “writing, for me, is a search for God.”
But I have now come to the realization—and it was quite a huge realization—that I have actually found God.
I am not searching and questing after God, aimlessly or blindly searching for God in the darkness anymore.
I am not searching for God because I have truly found God.
I found God in very tangible and real ways right here.
I found God in these sensory things around me.
Certainly in our Gospel reading for today, Mary also sees Jesus as the eikon of God.
Martha is the busybody—the lone wolf.
And Mary is the ikon-gazer.
And I think many of us have been there as well.
It’s seems most of us are sometimes are either Marthas and Marys,
But, the reality is simply that most of us are a little bit of both at times.
Yes, we are busybodies.
We are lone wolves.
But we are also contemplatives,
There is a balance between the two.
I understand that there are times we need to be a busybodies and there are times in which we simply must slow down and quietly contemplate God.
When we recognize that Jesus is truly the image of God, we find ourselves at times longingly gazing at Jesus or quietly sitting in his Presence.
But sometimes that recognition of who Jesus is stirs us.
It lights a fire within us and compels us to go out and do the work that needs to be done.
But unlike Martha, we need to do that work without worry or distraction.
When we are in God’ presence—when we recognize that in God we have truly found what we are questing for, what we are searching for, what we are longing for—we find that worry and distraction have fallen away from us.
We don’t want anything to come between us and this marvelous revelation of God we find before us.
In that way, Mary truly has chosen
the better part.
But, this all doesn’t end there.
The really important aspect of all of this is that we, too, in turn must become, like Jesus, ikons of God to this world.
In that way, the ikons truly become our mirrors.
When we gaze at an ikon we should see ourselves there, reflected there.
We should see ourselves surrounded by the Light of God.
We should see the light of God permeating us and shining through us.
We should become living, breathing ikons in this world.
Because if we don’t, we are not living into our full potential as followers of Jesus.
So, let us also, like Mary, choose the better part.
Let us be Marys in this way.
Let us balance our lives in such a way that, yes, we work, but we do so without distraction, without worry, with being the lone wolf, without letting work be our god, getting in the way of that time to serve Jesus and be with Jesus and those Jesus sends our way.
Let us also take time to sit quietly in that Presence of God.
Let us sit quietly in the presence of God, surrounded by the beauty of our senses.
Let us be embodied ikons in our lives.
Let us open ourselves to the Light of God in our lives so that that Light will surrounded us and live within us and shine through us.
And, in that holy moment, we will know: we have chosen the better part, which will never be taken away from us.