Baptism of Our Lord 9 January 2011
(Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17
“Light for a Darkened World”
The tragic shooting event that took place in Arizona yesterday had a numbing effect on many of those who attended the 5:30 worship service last evening. Since then the news has been non-stop. “Vitriol” has become a household word in less than 24 hours. Talk of civility in the midst of passionate disagreement has come to the forefront in a most catastrophic way.
I dare to suggest that each one of us plays a role in similar situations more immediate to our lives. And so the need, the urgent, necessary, essential need to hear God’s Good News from this pulpit this morning.
Today we begin eight weeks of the Epiphany season, eight weeks to celebrate the manifestation, the “showing off” of Jesus to the world, as was done when the wise men arrived at the stable.
As the early followers of Jesus discovered, Jesus outruns all our explanations of who Jesus is; yet we bear witness to him. Our own conviction is that Jesus is the Beloved of God; Jesus is the Word made Flesh; Jesus is the Light of the world. But after all the talk of Jesus, there is now the walk. And so we are called to a new righteousness, to bold conviction, and to a new way to be in relationship with others.
An Epiphany story:
In the days immediately surrounding Christmas, for a woman who was visiting here in town, her holidays weighed heavy upon her because the day after Christmas was the 4th anniversary of her daughter’s death. Later in the afternoon of December 26, this woman realized she needed the comfort of a quiet church and the solace of a lighted candle. She simply wanted to light a tiny votive candle and sit in prayer before it, remembering her daughter in a special way at Christmas.
She began walking the streets here in Gettysburg, checking out several churches in the downtown area. What she found may come as no surprise to most of you. She found locked church doors, so she went back to the home where she was staying. The people there asked if she had stopped at St. James. She said she had not and so decided to go out again and try one last church. When she got here she found locked doors, also, but then she saw some people, finding out they were here for an AA meeting. And one of them invited her in, and showed her into this worship space.
The woman then realized we don’t have votive candles to be lit, so she took one of the candles from the altar, and lit it, and sat before it—and there found the quiet prayer time and peaceful comfort in front of a lighted candle— light in a darkened church; light for a weary heart.
This is a story that can simply make us feel “warm and fuzzy” or it can be much more.
Notice the person who offered hospitality to this woman is a person we too often push to the margins of society: drunkards, addicts, low life. Notice, also, the person who accepted the hospitality is a person we too often feel uncomfortable around—someone who is sad when everyone else is having fun; someone who doesn’t get over the loss of a loved one as quickly as we want them to.
This past Thursday I attended a funeral of a longtime friend. For me, it’s always such a different experience to sit in the pew for a funeral. The epistle text was that powerful Baptism text from Romans 8, and it came thundering into me in a way I may never have experienced before: “If God is for us, who is against us? (31b). For I am convinced that neither death no life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation , will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (38). I heard these verses for the first time.
This is baptism’s true claim. We hear it toward the very end of the Baptism Rite, (Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.) It’s the same claim we hear as a voice from heaven as Jesus comes up out of the waters of the Jordan River.
God’s power for life is stronger than our leanings toward the power of death.
Water. Words. Community. Presenting a child for baptism. Offering a person back to a God who models the cross. Inviting a child to listen for a voice calling in the night; putting a person at risk to leave family and friends to speak clearly a truth for which one can suffer. We have been invited into the risks, and by God’s grace, accept these risks with our own lives.
Jesus is baptized by a man who speaks truth to power. Jesus is baptized by a man who calls for repentance, a call to a whole people to change their historic direction, not only their hearts. Jesus comes, as does everyone else, from the center of society to the river to meet John at the margins. And immediately after he is baptized, Jesus is taken by the Spirit into the wilderness, further to the outskirts of society.
Yes, we are claimed, securely claimed, and we are sealed in Baptism; and we are sent.
Baptism didn’t beam Jesus up out of a weary world into a garden of bliss. Rather, Jesus entered more deeply into a world in need of justice and civility, and compassion and repentance. And Jesus entered with a freedom that comes from knowing he was deeply loved. That freedom is ours!
We have been claimed and freed to become light for others, with bold conviction. A new way to be in relationship with others—behind locked doors, beyond locked doors; in darkened spaces with a lighted candle, in a darkened world with the light of our lives. The Light has come. Amen.