Baptism of Our Lord – January 8, 2017
Waters of Life
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
The twelfth century Benedictine mystic, and woman of many gifts Hildegard of Bingen said of baptism: “Rivers of living water are to be poured out over the whole world, to ensure that people, like fishes caught in a net, can be restored to wholeness.” Amidst the brokenness of our lives and of our world, God’s deepest yearning is that we will respond to the eternal call to be well and to be whole, as individuals, as a beloved community, and as a world.
We are baptized with the substance of water. Water is essential for life but it also has the power, over time, to wear down layers of rock and create the deepest of canyons. Water carries the potential for death. It can also wake us up and usher us into a new way of being, into a vocation as a people of Christ in which we are to live no longer for ourselves alone but for the sacred work of making Christ’s presence known in the world by daring and caring… choosing consciously to dwell, continually, in Christ’s healing, transforming love, and to witness to that love in the world.
There is a meme circulating on the internet showing a picture of a baby girl talking excitingly into a telephone saying to her friend, “So today in church, a guy in a dress tried to drown me! …and all my family did was stand around and take pictures!” On the face of it baptism may seem like a simple, quaint ritual. For babies and small children, baptismal promises are made for them by parents and godparents. It is then the job of the adults to bring the child up in the love of family that is a manifestation of God’s love. To grow up in the baptized life is to learn to witness and to work for healing, justice and reconciliation in the world. Baptized life is both a blessing and a challenge. In it we are invited to work with God, with the raw elements of ourselves, to grow into ever greater fullness of being. We are to deepen in awareness of ourselves and, to grow compassion for others, and to be strengthened to witness with all that we are, gifts, flaws and all.
I want to share the story of an Army surgeon who was working on his issues of anger by attending an anger management program. He describes how, at the end of a long day, he went to the supermarket for groceries. The man was very pressed for time as he had a lot to do when he got home. He quickly filled his cart and got in the check-out line. The woman in front of him had a cart containing a little girl and only one food item… which you would think… would allow for a speedy check-out. But instead of a quick check- out, the woman lifts the child out of the cart and hands her over to the cashier. There was a lot of “oohing” and “aahing” over the child. The man watched impatiently as the two women gushed over the little girl.
He was quietly going berserk thinking “What the heck are they doing in line?” “I have a lot to do!” “Why don’t you get going.” He could feel his anger rising. But then he caught himself. The man did not leash out in anger. He recognized what was going on inside and made a clear distinction between what he was feeling and what was going on around him. He named the feeling of “anger.” By naming the feeling he was able to start exploring what else was going on inside… he recognized his fear… fear that if he didn’t get everything done… that if he didn’t accomplish everything that he needed to do… there would be terrible consequence and, of course, everything would fall apart. The man got in touch with the fear that was beneath his anger… and by doing so he was able to see himself, and the situation before him with fresh eyes and a clearer heart. He eventually looked up and saw that the little girl was kind of cute. When the woman and the child finally left, the man said to the clerk, “That was a really, really cute little girl.” The cashier beamed, “Well that is my daughter! My mother brings her over twice a day. My husband was killed in Afghanistan. This is the only way of having some time with my daughter.” The man did the work of pausing, reflecting, getting in touch with… and naming… the truth that he was experiencing. In so doing, he was able to welcome the larger truth in his midst. Instead giving in to a knee jerk reaction that might tear down those around him, he was able, in a small way, to help build-up and participate in the poignant mix of love and loss of which he was a part. He was living into his commitment to live larger, even in this small act of reflection and in a gesture of caring. Imagine if everyone on earth were to live into such a commitment!
Today we are gathering around the font of living water to remember Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River and to remember our own baptisms and the promises we have made to live as a people of Christ. We come to the river, to the baptism of Jesus that was to be his entrance onto the world stage. We know about his birth but know little about the thirty years that have brought him to this moment with John at the Jordan, a moment that marks the beginning of his ministry that will last a mere three years. John was a man of the wilderness and it is to the wilderness that Jesus comes to be baptized.
In the day, movements of social protests emerged from the wilderness, on the fringes of society. One might say that, as Jesus asks John to baptize him, and that by stepping into the river, Jesus is signing his own death warrant. Jesus’ baptism declares his readiness to lead the revolution of touching lives, changing hearts, and impacting the world… that is God’s eternal and revolutionary dream for peace and well-being on earth. In baptism we commit the whole of ourselves to participate with Christ in the ongoing work of growing in God’s love and of building up God’s dream of healing and wholeness for God’s people everywhere, and for God’s good creation of which we are a part.
In her essay “Thin Place, Deep Water”1 Debie Thomas has written:
New Testament scholar Marcus Borg suggests that Jesus himself is our thin place [where the boundary between the mundane and the eternal becomes permeable.] [Jesus is] the one who opens the barrier, and shows us the God we long for. He’s the one who stands in line with us at the water’s edge, willing to immerse himself in shame, scandal, repentance, and pain — all so that we might hear the only Voice that can tell us who we are and whose we are. Listen. We are God’s own. God’s children. God’s pleasure. Even in the deepest water, we are Beloved.
We are baptized into fullness of life in Christ, baptized into a timeless fellowship, into a blessed body of God’s beloved. Whether we are baptized in a river or at a baptismal font, we are commissioned through living waters to live into our baptismal calling, to immerse ourselves in a vocation of that has been described by the great man of spirit Henri Nouwen to be: “… to convert the enemy into a guest and create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” To quote Peter Marty, “Not God in the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference.”2 Through the mighty waters of baptism we, the beloved, cross the threshold of ever more abundant life… for growth, healing and transformation for ourselves and the world… as we are equipped, strengthened and empowered in baptism to see with new eyes and love with more spacious hearts.
Let us pray:
God of the land,
God of fire
God of the thunder and of powerful waters
God of the table and the welcome
With glad hearts we offer the whole of ourselves
knowing that you take delight in our quirks and foibles,
in our strengths and in our gifts,
You take delight in seeking out and saving the bereft and bruised
you take delight in your beloved everywhere… without exception.
Help us to live into your beloved delight
so that we may know your presence at the table and in one another.
Strengthen us to live into our vows and promises to participate
with you in the work of building up your people, healing broken
systems and restoring the creation you have entrusted to our care.
We ask this in the name of your son Jesus the Christ
your beloved one in whom you delight, and who invites us to ever newness of life.
Blessing at end of service:
May the peace of our Savior Christ go with you, wherever Christ may send you.
May Christ guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May Christ bring you home rejoicing at the wonders you have been shown.
1 http://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1232 2 Peter W. Marty, Christian Century June 8, 2016
2 Peter W. Marty, Christian Century June 8, 2016 pg. 3
3 Adapted from Common Prayer: A Liturgy of Ordinary Radicals