The Baptism of Our Lord: January 13, 2019
In just a couple of weeks we have jumped some 30 years in Jesus’ life, from his birth, then his naming on January 1 when we celebrated The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (you see it’s not just New Year’s Day), to The Epiphany and the visit of the Magi, to today, his Baptism. We have gone from infant to adult, from his birth to the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry, leaving out all of those intervening years.
We do have one account of Jesus as a 12 year-old in the temple, but even though we may have curiosity about what kind of child Jesus was—have you ever wondered if Jesus ever gave Mary a hard time—we won’t spend too much time there speculating. The Gospel writers want us to clearly see that Jesus was born, chosen and sent for a purpose. Today’s celebration then, is to help us claim our own baptismal identity and see that we too are born, chosen and sent for a purpose.
Born. We just spent the 12 days of Christmas, from Christmas Day up to The Epiphany, echoing the hymn of the shepherds – “Glory to God in the highest.” I hope we discovered the message that Jesus’ birth was no accident. It was a dramatic unfolding of a tapestry showing forth God’s desire to be in relationship with all of creation. God acts in history. I realize the sweeping theological implications of what I am about to say, but I am going to risk it. Part of what we discover in the birth of the Christ is that in God’s amazing providential love, even under circumstances that may confuse us, no birth is an accident. I am not saying that every birth story unfolds in a manner God wills it, but no birth is an accident. In other words, no person is an accident.
Hear again the words of Isaiah: “…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…Do not fear, for I am with you…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” This is true for each of us and for all of us. One of our responsibilities as we claim our baptismal identity is to help each person among us discover that she or he was born for a purpose and is of infinite value, loved by God beyond our wildest imaginings. In so doing you will discover that you too were born for a purpose. What might that be?
Chosen. “…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.’” In his baptism Jesus is beloved and God is well pleased, and he hasn’t even yet started his ministry!! God’s favor comes before he does anything.
Too often we go about life trying to earn favor, to prove our worth. Unfortunately we often feel like we have to do that with people, even those closest to us. I am here to tell you, however, that you do not have to do that with God! In baptism we already have God’s favor. God is already pleased. When the water was poured over you at your baptism, God was saying– “you are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We cannot impress God; we cannot earn God’s love; we get no brownie points. The love is given and we are Christ’s own forever. You were chosen for a purpose. What might that be?
Sent. This is Jesus’ inauguration day, the beginning of his public ministry. Even though we sometimes used to do private baptism, except in an emergency it is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing in Christianity as private believing. Jesus was baptized to be sent. This is where the rubber hits the road, for we are baptized to be sent. It is what the word “apostle” means – “one sent.” Martin comes forward today in Confirmation in order to be sent, to live out his faith in the world as one transformed by the Spirit’s love and hope. Our call, no different than that of Jesus himself, is to give our life, so deeply secure in the embrace of God that we will be resolute about bringing healing, freedom and hope in collaboration with God’s vision of justice for the world God has made.
In the birth of Jesus we might say that God hit the streets. We take our faith and go into the streets of our living. In that sense faith is more a verb than a noun. You will remember that Jesus asked if a city built on a hill can be hidden, or if you would light a lamp and put it under a basket so that no one could see that light. I do not want to stretch this too far, but private baptism can lead to private thinking, which can lead to private believing, which can lead to private Christians, that is, those who may believe but keep it unseen and hidden. You are sent for a purpose. What might that be?
Faithfulness is meant to move us through life so that even when we find ourselves in darkness, and there is plenty of that to go around, we who are the beloved in God’s Spirit will be a source of light to touch and change the world with God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Each of us must be able and willing to tell our faith story, just why it is we are disciples of Jesus, and why it matters. That’s why we baptize and confirm. Our baptismal identity is to infuse everything we are and everything we do.
Jesus was born, chosen and sent for a purpose. You were born, chosen and sent for a purpose. And especially Martin receiving the bishop’s laying on of hands today, you were born, chosen and are sent for a purpose. The joy of life is in knowing it and living it if you have the courage and will to do so.
The Feast of the Epiphany: January 6, 2019
As we conclude the Christmas season today in our celebration of The Epiphany, sometimes known as The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the lessons reveal to us people who could dare to imagine. Imagination is creative. It takes what we know and what we hope for and projects it into a future not yet foreseen. I recall a conversation with a U.S. Episcopal bishop many years ago who was adamantly opposed to the ordination of women. It became apparent that his objection was less theologically based than one might have expected. It was more that he just could not imagine a woman in that role. We cannot do what we cannot imagine.
Isaiah, St. Paul, the Magi – they were all imaginers to the full. They could see the present for what it was, along with the challenges with which they were faced. Yet they could also see the future in grace-filled visions. They knew God was with them and that God already held the future. That was the key.
We too often shrink from creative solutions to things. Being cautious we tend to merely tinker with what we already know. “Going boldly where no one has gone before” works on Star Trek, but going exactly where others have gone before is the pattern for most of us. Now that’s not always wrong, but our Scriptures call us to faithful risk-taking. In times of anxiety, especially when the future is filled with unknowns, we often find it a time to entrench, to batten down the hatches, to circle the wagons – choose your favorite metaphor – when in fact the moment is crying for a new boldness and sense of adventure. Now is such a time for us, for our Diocese and entire Episcopal Church, and gosh yes, for our country.
In the faith story we inherit, the people of God put their imagination in service to God. Someone has said that prayer is precisely that – imagining with God! Through this prayerful imagination God speaks, makes his will known in the community of the faithful, and a revelation comes. A messenger is heard. What if Mary, Jesus’ mother, had played it safe? What if the Wise Men had said gee, the journey is just too long and too tough? What if St. Paul had decided to stay home and ignore the voice that called him into an entire new way of being faithful?
In today’s reading, Isaiah imagines a whole new future for Jerusalem and its people. The Wise Men found themselves compelled by astrological forecasts of all things, and followed a star. They risked a long journey in search of a King whose significance was beyond even their own understanding. Paul imagines a grand plan of God revealed in Christ to bring all people to himself, unified in the person of Jesus. He took risks and resistances were overcome.
I wonder if we remember the amazing words of the baptism liturgy when we pray for the one just baptized: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” God works through our imaginations! It is one of the gifts of our baptism for which we pray. It is God’s hope for Harriet being confirmed today. What we cannot imagine we cannot do.
If we are to carry out God’s desire for our life individually and even corporately as a parish church, we must hook our star to the star of Christ. Being fearful is easy and the pundits around us are constantly trying to manipulate us with fear tactics. If we give in and allow our anxiety to rise above what is reasonable and even creative, then we tend to move to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy to mere survival. But God is about creativity and life. Whatever God is calling forth from you, the people of God at Good Shepherd, you have an opportunity to imagine what that is and even, if you are so bold, to imagine a whole new future for yourself. This kind of trust, faith if you will, is not built on certainties. It is built on the promise of God that is the core ingredient of hope.
So when we pray for someone who is sick, we are to imagine him or her well. If a married couple cannot ever imagine the possibility of joy in their relationship, then they probably will not experience it. If a congregation cannot imagine an invigorated and committed people with empowered mission being offered in the Spirit, vigorous life-giving worship that captures people’s hearts, than they will never attain it. If a country cannot imagine a Congress that can actually get along and get something done that is constructive for the good of all, then it will not occur. If the world cannot imagine peace, it will not be realized.
I recently read of a man who had lost his job and was down on his luck in every phase of his life. He was in danger of losing the things he loved the most and could have given up and thrown in the towel. But instead of that, he went around to people on the street, collected food stamps and got a group of folks together to feed one another and the homeless of his town. He cooked a turkey on the street in an old file cabinet drawer. To do such a thing required his imagination and a bold desire of the will. We have a God who throughout Scripture proclaims to ancient peoples and to us, do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. To God they are diseases of the soul when we allow them to control us.
Today is Epiphany time. It is a time when our hopes and dreams can be revealed. We begin by bringing our gifts, our very selves, to the manger, even this altar, with all we have to give. In this act we give ourselves to Christ himself and ask to be renewed in the power of the Spirit. Imagine yourself faithful. Imagine yourself whole and full of love. Imagine God at work in and through you. Imagine God calling you, yes you, and say in response, “Yes God, we will imagine a new world with you.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.