Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
In this first Sunday after Epiphany we leave behind the stable and star, the shepherds and the wise men, and turn our attention to the life and ministry of Jesus, beginning by remembering Jesus’ own baptism.
Today is one of the occasions in the church year that the Prayer Book commends as being particularly appropriate for the sacrament of Baptism, and today we are particularly delighted to welcome Clara Rose Patrick into the Body of Christ.
We commemorate Baptism of our Lord every year for two reasons:
While Jesus’ baptism by John is referred to in all four gospels, it has also been a problematic story for Christians. Theologian David Lose refers to it as a “scandalous” story.
Christians have asked, apparently since time of the early church, why Jesus needed to be baptized, if he was in fact, the Messiah, the Savior
Judaism originated practice of ritual cleansing – the symbolic of washing away past life in preparation for new life to come. This might give us a clue as to why baptism was important – even necessary - for Jesus.
All four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism are unique. Luke’s version is interesting that it doesn’t include the baptism itself – reading closely we see that
Luke is interested in what happens afterward.
Luke tells us the important thing happened while J was praying. Prayer is what Jesus did, what Jesus taught us to do, as means of creating space away from the demands and occupations of life, to be quiet and open himself – ourselves – to the presence and the voice of God.
We can imagine Jesus stepping aside, after the baptism itself, as the water dried, to create a quiet space to ponder and cherish the moment, to open himself to God’s presence
It was at this moment, Luke tells us, that
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."
That image of “the heavens opening” is such a powerful & compelling detail.
It suggests that what has separated us from God is no longer, that God is no longer behind the firmament, up in the clouds, at a distance, but rather, here among us.
In that moment, I believe that something was made complete in Jesus:
I believe the experience of knowing God’s loving voice, after his baptism, not only confirmed, but completed something in Jesus that made him ready to venture forth to what lay ahead.
Let’s not miss, in the voice of God to Jesus after the baptism, the clear and close echo of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
When he heard God’s voice, Jesus knew in the depths of his being that he was loved, that he was chosen and claimed. He knew and felt God’s Spirit, God’s grace, inhabiting and directing him.
And here is the real point:
In our own baptism, God offers the same to all of us.
In Clara Rose’s baptism this morning, we recognize God claiming her as God’s beloved child.
Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich said "Salvation is simply accepting the fact that we have (already) been accepted."
God claims us.
God seeks to tear open all of the barriers and boundaries we construct to separate us from God.
G calls out that we are beloved, and moves to fill us with the grace that enables us to -
Pass through the rivers, that they will not overwhelm us,
Through the fire, that we shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume us.
As we know, Jesus’ path ahead was 40 difficult days in the wilderness. His path was then a ministry of love and forgiveness in a world of hate that wearied him, wounded him, and eventually killed him.
We believe, though, that his knowledge and experience of God’s love, received in his baptism, was the gift he carried with him, that enabled him to endure, and finally, rise again on the third day.
This first Sunday after Epiphany, this memory of Jesus’ baptism, and our own, is a reminder of God’s promise, and God’s call –
Do not fear, says the Holy One. I have called you by name and you are mine.
And, the Holy One promises, I will give you what you need
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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