Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of Jesus Sermon (1 Epiphany)

Eternal Father, at the baptism of Jesus you revealed him to be your Son, and anointed him with the Holy Spirit, Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful to their calling as your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Church of Scotland)

God shows no partiality.

That is quite a statement that Peter makes in the Acts of the Apostles this morning - “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

One’s heritage. One’s blood lines. One’s nationality or ethnicity and maybe even one’s religion… None of that matters to God – but a life lived of faith – of awe and doing good.

The late Bishop Krister Stendahl insisted that from God's perspective, we are all minorities.

I think what is at play, is a humility, lest we be conceited and think we have it all because of wealth or race or religion, but no.

God shows no partiality and we all stand equal before God our creator.

That is true of baptism.

From the mightiest saint and to the worst of sinners, those who are baptized stand before God equally in humility for it is God alone who judges us. And all are welcome to receive baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Consider the Gospel of Matthew this morning.

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
John knows who is before him. This is Jesus. The Messiah. “I baptize you with water for repentance, I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire…”

John is ready for Jesus to come. But to baptize him? Jesus should baptize John. He is the one!

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
And Jesus has his way for righteousness sake and is baptized by John.

As he comes out of the water. the Spirit of God descends like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Such joy from heaven! And this happens to us too. At our baptism.

We are all equal in that water and that God is at work at that very moment, preparing us for what comes next. Blessing us with words of joy as we are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own.

In his book Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives, the Rev. Ronald Rolheiser takes it a bit further. He writes of preaching on Jesus’ baptism one year and remarking that the words God speaks over Jesus — “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” — are words that God speaks over us, every day of our lives. He was later approached by a young man who had heard the sermon and was both moved — and distraught — by the priest’s words. Father Rolheiser writes:

“[The young man] had not been to church for some time but had gone on this particular Sunday because he had, just that week, pleaded guilty to a crime and was awaiting sentence He was soon to go to prison. The sermon had struck a painful chord inside him because, first of all, he had trouble believing that God, or anyone else, loved him; yet he wanted to believe it.

Secondly, and even more painful, he believed that nobody had ever been pleased or delighted with him: ‘Father, I know that in my whole life nobody has ever been pleased with me. I was never good enough! Nobody has ever taken delight in anything I’ve ever done!’ This man had never been blessed. Small wonder he was about to go to prison.”

Then Rev. Rolheiser recalls how different his own family experience was:

“When I left home as a seventeen-year-old boy, my father and mother blessed me. They made me kneel on the old linoleum floor of our kitchen, placed their hands on my head, and said the ritual words of Christian blessing. In effect, however, what they were saying to me was: We love you, we trust you, we are proud of you, and we send you off with our full spirit. You are our beloved child and in you we are well pleased. I suspect that had the young man I spoke [with] had been blessed in the same way by his parents, or by anyone else significant to him, he would not have been on his way to prison. To be unblessed is to be bleeding in a very deep place.

“So much of our hunger is a hunger for blessing. So much of our aching is the ache to be blessed So much of our sadness comes from the fact that nobody has ever taken delight and pleasure in us . . . When has anyone ever made you the object of delight? When has anyone taken . . . delight in . . . your beauty, your intelligence, your person? When have you last felt that you are someone in whom others, and God, take pleasure and delight?”

In Baptism, God claims us as his own, not matter who we are, expressing his delight in us as his own beloved daughters and sons. From the waters of our baptisms, God then sends us forth to be a source of blessing (of joy and love) to others: the work of reconciliation and forgiveness revealing to others that they are loved by God; the work of justice that honors the dignity of every human being as made in God’s image; the work of peace that realizes God’s vision for the world God so lovingly fashioned.

On this feast of the Lord’s Baptism, may we hear God’s expression of joy in his beloved Son as addressed to us, as well and, with gratitude, may we seek to be God’s “blessing” to all. For the Holy Spirit has been given to us in baptism, to live out that blessing in our lives to the world. For God shows no partiality and looks to us to bear such faithful witness in our words & deeds.

“Let us honor today the baptism of Christ and celebrate well…for nothing gives so much joy to God as the conversion and salvation of human beings, for whose sake every discourse and every sacrament exist, that you may become like lights shining in the world, a life-giving force for other human beings; that as perfect lights standing beside the great Light, you may be initiated into the light of heaven.” (St Gregory of Nazianzus) 


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