Friday, January 18, 2008

Sermon: Baptism of Jesus

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

The baby Jesus of last week who was manifested to the gentiles on the feast of the Epiphany, has become the adult who was manifested again, this time at the River Jordan with John the Baptist. John at first refuses to baptize Jesus, recognizing the Son of God before him, but consents when Jesus asks him to do it and John baptizes Jesus. Jesus who was born as one of us, who was baptized as one of us, invites us to see these events not as voyeurs looking on from afar as if these events have no real meaning for us, but to see them connected to our own lives, when God was present with us, in birth, in baptism…

Think of that baptismal moment when Jesus was baptized, the intimate connection of the Trinity. The voice of God the Father speaks, the Spirit descends like a dove as Jesus rises out of his baptismal waters, this is my son the beloved, with whom I am well pleased. No matter what your age, no matter how or when it happened, on your baptismal day, the God who had knit you together in your mother’s womb, proclaimed God’s love for you on that baptismal day. When your parents and godparents named you before God in baptism, the Spirit came upon you at your baptism and indeed God was well pleased! And on that day, you were sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

The season of Epiphany, of Christ made manifest to us and the world as the Son of God, is also the season of invitation to make Christ’s life manifested in us. As Evelyn Underhill put it, “The first point about Epiphany is that all are called and welcomed and accepted. Our own adoration and deep certitude, if God in his mercy gives us that, is never to break our brotherhood with those who come longer journeys by other paths.”

The story of Jesus baptism is laced with the words of Isaiah. The servant of the Lord, whom we heard about in the first reading. The servant of the Lord, brings forth justice, opens the eyes of the blind, and brings out prisoners from the dungeon, sharing the light with those who sit in darkness. This is our baptismal calling. This is the path that Jesus took. This is the path that the Spirit of God leads us on to make him manifest in our lives.

So how have we been God’s servant? Promoting justice, sharing that light and love with this world that so badly needs it. With war and terrorism, with threats and finger-pointing, with a slow economy and lay-offs abounding, it seems that times couldn’t be worse. Now is the time for us, with the authority of our baptism to speak in God’s name, to live as Jesus has showed us and to know that we are loved by our God. For as we are marked as Christ’s own forever, we are reminded on this celebration of Jesus baptism, to recommit ourselves to the meaning of our baptism, to live out the Good News of Jesus in our lives.

I am reminded of the movie The Apostle starring Robert DuVall. Duvall portrayed 'Sonny', a traveling evangelist, who grew up attending African American church services, absorbing their spirit to make him a persuasive preacher despite his sins. After he leaves town because of an altercation, he prays that God will call him to a new ministry. At a lake on the way, he rebaptises himself, takes on a new name and moves on to begin his new ministry in Louisiana. What strikes me about the movie and the character, is that as he starts over again, he wants to start off right, so he rededicates himself to God, rebaptizing himself in that river and goes about his way.

Every year after the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over and we begin a new year, we stop and remember the baptism of Jesus and recall our own baptisms even if we don’t remember them. And as we stop today, we are called to renew that baptismal calling that is inside of us, not by being baptized again, but by recalling the words of our baptism, and trying to live out those baptismal vows in our lives as followers of Jesus. In just a moment we will renew our baptismal vows, but it is more than that simple act, we are also invited to live the vows out in our lives…

By taking part in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread, in the prayers, to resist the evil all around us, and repent and return to the Lord when we sin. Through our lives by word and example, we are called to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and we need to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. That is how we start today to live out of our baptism, of following Christ, of helping to make Christ manifest in our lives and others…

I know of a college graduate who was looking to do something meaningful with her life when she found out about the Peace Corps. She now teaches English in Mozambique. A fellow priest heard about a need for chaplains, and became an army chaplain and has just finished his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Every evening on her way home, an elementary school science teacher passed a launderette. The scene was always the same: While parents did the mountains of laundry, their kids played video games, stared at the laundry’s television, raced around the long narrow aisle playing bumper carts until a mom finally had enough. Like every inner-city educator, this teacher’s biggest challenge was getting students interested in reading outside the classroom. What she saw at the launderette sparked an idea. With the enthusiastic help of the launderette owner, the teacher gathered a collection of 50 books — ABCs, picture books, books on science, books that had everything to do with fun. Just before the “after dinner rush” at the launderette, she set up the books on tables provided by the owner. The surprised parents had never seen their children talking so animatedly about books before. One night, one of the library “regulars,” came running up to the teacher. With a huge smile, she announced, “I remembered the words you helped me with last night!” and spelled the four words that they worked on the night before. The happy little girl hugged the teacher. [From “Home work cycle” by Georgina Smith, Guideposts, September 2006.]

Each embraced the calling that they heard, each are living out their baptisms. As one author put it: “Today’s Gospel proclaims that there is one important thing…to hear the voice that says “this is my child, the beloved with whom I am well pleased” as underlying the whole of life.

To live out your life in this identity is the calling each one of us has.” Indeed, may we all hear that voice too from Isaiah:

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

Today our ministry begins anew. Amen.

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