Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sermon: Baptism of Jesus (Jan. 10)

“I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old, I rejoiced to see the day you were baptized to see your life unfold.”
This hymn written 25 years ago beautifully sets our understanding of baptism within the context of our life.

I always think of the voice behind the hymn both as my own, looking upon my children, and God looking upon my life for just as a parent knows they will be with their children forever, so it is also true with our God, who is always walking with us, even if we don’t know it.

I think of the words from our first reading, Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

It is God who created us, redeemed us, knows us each by name. The ever present Spirit of God is present from our borning cry to our baptism and all our life.

Think of Jesus’ own baptism: when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

To hear such words, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" sets his life and ministry off on the right foot even when his next steps will lead to the wilderness and temptation.

And don’t we all long to hear someone say to us, "Thank you. You did well. You have made me happy. I love you."
I think of a woman who no matter how hard she tries, there is no pleasing her mother. Every effort to help make life easier for her mother, every attempt to bring joy to her mother's life, is met with criticism or cynicism. Since she was a little girl, she has longed to hear her mother say to her, "I'm proud of you. I love you."

I think of a young man who loves everything about her: her smile, her wit, her intelligence. But he is out of her league. She has always been kind and friendly to him, but he cannot work up the nerve to ask her out. He's waiting for the right moment, but the moments have been there - he's just been too afraid to realize them. He will never hear her say, "You're a good guy. I love you."

I think of a Mom and Dad who struggle to stay afloat in the storm surge of the hurricane that is their teenager. But they constantly keep watch, always there to pick up the pieces, always ready to come to the rescue, always prepared to make everything OK. They love their child with all their being and always will -but nothing would make them happier than to hear their teenage son or daughter say, "Thank you, Mom and Dad. I love you."

Today, Jesus hears those words from his Father in heaven - and, in the waters of our own baptisms, God has spoken those same words to us. We are the beloved of God with whom God is well pleased; for God claims us as his own. The voice of the Father - our Father - speaks to all of us in the sacrament of Baptism; the Spirit of God descends upon us, enabling us to give to others the love, God joyfully gives to us. [Adapted from The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes.]
Just think that when we were each named and presented to God in baptism; we were adopted, grafted in to God’s family, and in that baptism is a gift.

For as John said, “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Indeed we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. We are cleansed and given a new life in Jesus’ name. It is that same Spirit and fire that touches all that we are, from our beginning to our end. As St. Ephraim the Syrian of the fourth century wrote:
See, Fire & Spirit in the womb that bore you
See, Fire & Spirit in the water where you were baptized
Fire & Spirit in our Baptism
In the bread and Cup, Fire and Spirit.
It is a gift that enlivens us, and reminds us just as Isaiah did that God dwells with us, in all our steps, has been with us from our birth to our baptism and continues to be with us, and is in the midst of our communion, of bread and wine, God is there in Fire & Spirit. And that same fire and Spirit will carry us to God on our final day.

Today (at 10:15 AM), Brooke Elizabeth Bennett will join us in being part of God’s holy tribe, and the fire and Spirit will be given to her, and we will recognize in her as we are reminded ourselves that God is at work in our lives and has given us things to do.

In this time after the Epiphany, when we are to manifest Jesus to the world with our lives, even as we continue to learn and grow in what it means to follow him, for the gift of Jesus, who came down for us at Christmas, we will share with the world, by making his love, his joy, his light manifest in our lives, and the Fire and Spirit will guide us…

To that ministry and to our God we live our lives today and every day, so let the light of God shine forth in your lives, by the fire and Spirit given to us at Baptism for God is present in our lives.

As that hymn (that we sung) put it:
In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young, I’ll be there to guide you through the night, complete what I’ve begun. When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes, I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old, I rejoiced to see the day you were baptized to see your life unfold. Amen.

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