My sermon for Epiphany 1A, the Baptism of our Lord.
I remember it like it was yesterday. April 9, 2009. Eliza, our first child, was born on the seventh. It was Maundy Thursday (we have excellent timing, you know. Our first child was born in Holy Week and now we’ve moved over Christmas), and we were getting ready to take her home. The day started rather inauspiciously. I had slept at home, in order to put the finishing touches on the nursery. On the way to Thomas Hospital, I was stopped at a seatbelt check point. My insurance card was expired, but the officer was kind enough to let the shaking in fear new father continue on his way. As evening drew close, the final tests were complete, and I brought the car seat up to strap in the tiny newborn for her first car ride. We had absolutely no clue what we were doing. Did her legs go here? No, that didn’t seem right. What about this way? Nope, not that either. It was in that moment that I realized that children really should come with an instruction manual. I didn’t know the first thing about raising a child. I couldn’t even manage to put her in her car seat properly. I could feel the dark cloud of fear and doom creeping ever closer as one of the nurses helped us figure out where Eliza’s legs were supposed to go, when she looked up from the car seat, handed us a card, and said, “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call. We are here to help.” And just like that, I felt at peace. I realized that there was a whole community of people ready, willing, and most importantly, able, to help us navigate this new world.
I may be reading a bit of myself into this Gospel story, but I can’t help but think that maybe Jesus was feeling the same way as he made his was down from Nazereth to the shores of the Jordan River. He knew that he was going to be baptized by John – he even knew that it was the right thing to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” but I suspect he wasn’t quite prepared for what was going to happen next. Somewhere along the way, maybe he muttered to his Father in heaven, it’d sure be nice if there was a manual for this Messiah thing.
See, a lot has happened since we last left Jesus. Two weeks ago was Christmas, if you can believe that. We heard the great stories that we have all come to know and love. Luke’s account gives us Mary, Joseph and their donkey, the Inn Keeper, angels, and shepherds. It makes for delightful pageants, and I’m sure that glad tidings of great joy rang out here at Christ Church just as they did at Saint Paul’s in Foley. In John’s great prologue, we heard flowing and cosmic language about the Word who was with God and was God and came to dwell among us. It is a story of God’s unending love of creation that God would send his only son to be born for us and live among us as the light of the world.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name. The baby, then eight days old, was circumcised and formally given the name that the angel had given to both Mary and Joseph. Jesus, God saves, was nothing more than a newborn in that moment, and yet today, only a week later, we find him as a fully grown man of 30. We’ve skipped over the Wise Men who followed the star in order to pay homage to Jesus and offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We missed the flight to Egypt when Jesus, only a toddler, was taken by his family to exile in Egypt in order save his life from the slaughter of the innocents by Herod. Much to my chagrin, we didn’t even hear from snarky tween Jesus who at age 12 stayed behind in the Temple after his parents had left to return to Nazareth after the Passover Festival. Not that there is much of it in the Gospels, but we have skipped over all of Jesus’ character development.
Had we heard those stories, we might realize that from very early on, Jesus knew that he was different. He was hungry for instruction in the faith. He was eager to pray. He was content to sit in silence. For years upon years, he waited to find the fulfillment of his ministry. For decades, he worked in the carpenter shop, waiting for a word that would call him to service. Finally, that day had arrived, and as he made his way to the place where his cousin, John, had been baptizing anyone and everyone for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus readied himself for the task at hand. What would this Messiah thing be like? How would he know how to act? What to do? What to say? Even as he approached John, there was this moment of awkwardness and trepidation. John, clearly uncomfortable with what was about to happen, balked at the idea. “Who am I to baptize you?” He asked. “Let it be so for now,” Jesus replied, barely sure of what he was saying. Even as he went under the water, I’m not sure Jesus really knew what he was doing. There was no sin that needed to be washed away; no repentance that needed to happen; and yet, there was something that needed to happen. The time had come; it was his moment to make a definitive commitment to the life for which his Father had sent him. And so, down he went, into the muddy waters of the Jordan River.
As the waters broke open above him, so too did the heavens. The water, still trickling past his eyes, obscured, if only for a moment, the vision of the Spirit descending upon him with power and might. The whooshing of the river was still ringing in his ears as Jesus heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And just like that, Jesus was at peace once again. There was a community ready, willing, and most importantly, able to help him navigate the ministry that was ahead of him. Let’s not sugar coat this, however; the very next thing that happens is the Spirit, one of those helping hands, will fling Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of temptation and soul searching. Three years from now, as Jesus prays in a Garden just outside of Jerusalem, his Father won’t take the cup from him. But together, they will accomplish the work of salvation, the plan that had been in place from the very beginning. Through the person of Jesus: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will bring about the salvation of the world.
Maybe you can relate to all this talk of dis-ease. Today is a day not unlike April 9, 2009 or that fateful morning when Jesus made his way to the banks of the Jordan River. Something new is happening here. There is no instruction manual for the adventure we are about to embark upon. It is quite possible that none of us have any idea what we’ve signed up for, but there is good news: we are going to walk this path together. And just like that, there is peace. Together, as the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, we who are ready, willing, and to varying degrees able, will support one another in the ministry that lay ahead. Together with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will take our place in God’s mission to bring into right relationship every man, woman, and child with one another and with the God who created them, loves them, and wants only the best for them. Together, we will work to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.
On April 9, 2009, the symbol of togetherness was a business card and a nursing staff willing to answer our questions. In the middle of the Jordan River, it was the Spirit descending as a dove and the voice of the Father claiming his only Son. Today, the symbol of our togetherness is the renewal of our baptismal vows; promises made and renewed every time a new member joins the ranks of God’s family. In these promises we make a commitment to God and to one another to join in the work at hand. So, without further ado, let us stand together and renew the promises of our ministry together.