Year B — The Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany)

Commentary for January 8, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 1:1-5
There are, of course, a number of opportunities to address “beginnings” on this Sunday. We are still newly arrived at the beginning of the year. Genesis, the book of beginnings, opens with the beginning of our world. There is water here, though the dark and formless void seems more inhospitable and un-tameable than it does inviting and life-giving.

Baptism — the presence of water — will mark the beginning of both the ministries of John and of Jesus. Note also the presence of the Spirit at each of these beginnings; what “beginning” might the Spirit seek to make in the lives of the church this year?

 Psalm 29
The “voice of the Lord” — a demonstrable, if somewhat unexplainable sense of presence — manifests in a number of unusual ways, according to the psalmist. Of course, there is water (think of the vast expanse of the ocean, as well as the roar experienced when standing near a waterfall.)

But there is also the cedar-ripping, oak-baring power of a storm in the forest, and the skipping/jumping/prancing euphoria of calves and young oxen loosed in the field. There is fire — a brilliant but dangerous display. There is the earthquake. As Elijah would learn, there is silence, as well (see 1 Kings 19:11-13, though not explicitly mentioned here.)


Where do you hear the voice of the Lord?

 Acts 19:1-7
I’ve never known exactly what to make of this encounter of Paul with the Ephesians — except to note that, again, we have the presence of the Spirit of God noted in association with baptism and the message of Jesus. (Oh, and there’s some business with laying on of hands, speaking in tongues and prophesying, as well — but, who wants any of that in our worship services?)

 Mark 1:4-11
Baptism — repentance — fresh start — new things — Spirit of God — the Beloved — well pleased. 

‘Nuff said.


Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a kid, if you were shy or failed to answer an adult’s question, they would usually say, “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

As we think about the Baptism of Our Lord today, perhaps we could ask ourselves, “Has the cat got our baptism?”

What I mean to say is: “How impact has baptism had on my life?” “What difference did a few drops of water and some words make?”

In any discussion of baptism, the thing most people think they “know” is really the least important.
People “know” that you have to be baptized to get rid of original sin. Some people spend a lot of energy arguing there is no such thing as Original sin, and others worry about babies who die going to Hell if they haven’t been baptized, and all of it is mostly beside the point.
This serious misunderstanding of the sacrament turns it into bot of divine Hocus-Pocus; of human beings casting spells that require God to act in a certain way, in this case, allowing the Baptized into heaven.

It is because of this understanding of baptism that people sometimes ask,Why was Jesus baptized, since he was a sinless, perfect being, he had no sins which needed forgiving?”
This is an upside down and turned around picture of God’s love. We try to earn it, or we feel unworthy of it. We try to figure out what we must do to deserve it; we try to pay for it.

This reminds me of a story I have told before, the story of Harvey Pinnick. Harvey, back in the 1920’s, bought a little red spiral notebook and began jotting down his observations about golf and life. He never showed the book to anyone but his son.

In 1991, Harvey gave the book to a writer he knew and asked him if he thought it was worth publishing. The writer showed the book to an editor at Simon and Schuster Publishers. They called and spoke to Harvey’s wife, saying they had decided to publish with an advance of $90,000.

Several days passed and Harvey Pinnick had not responded to the message. 
 

Finally, Harvey spoke to his writer friend and said that with all his medical bills he just didn’t see how he could come up with the $90,000 to get the book published. The writer had to explain to Harvey that he didn’t pay Simon and Schuster; Simon and Schuster paid him!

All too often, we’re like Harvey Pinnick. We misunderstand the message of the Gospel. We think we have to do things to make God love us when the message of our baptism is just the opposite; God loves us just the way we are.

Baptism is a message to us that our sins are forgiven; sins: past, present and future. Baptism does not forgive our sins; God forgives our sins. Baptism tells us that our sins are forgiven.

Yes, God loves us just the way we are. God also loves us too much to let us stay that way. Forgiveness of sins is not all that is going on in Baptism.
Look at our second lesson, the reading from Acts. At first glance, it looks like a bit of theological silliness; baptized in name of Jesus only, so what?

Well, if baptism is in the name of Jesus only, then it touches on forgiveness of sin and a commitment to follow Jesus, but it leaves out the most important part, the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, with the giving of the Holy Spirit, we are in a dynamic, organic, growing, pulsating relationship with God almighty.

We become enmeshed with God. God is in us, we are in God, we are the Body of Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are NOT far off and distant from God, simply seeking to keep God from sending us to Hell through magical religious rites and our accumulated list of Good Works. 

NO! We are part of the Divine Presence in the world. God has made God’s dwelling to be within us.

Writing in Christianity Today, Pastor Paul Bocca talks about how some people find a genuinely Christian life boring. Going to church, doing the liturgy, reading the lessons, hearing the sermons, doing the rituals, serving on committees, etc. etc.

It’s boring! This is why so many find their way to TV ministries and huge mega-churches that are entertaining and exciting.

Pastor Bocca then turns this boring accusation upside down – by admitting it, and then reminding us of another meaning for the word boring.

He says Christianity is boring. It is like the slow movement of a drill; slowly, laboriously digging beneath the surface of our lives. The continuing cycle of Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, the Christian message and life in community bores ever deeper and deeper into our souls, until, we begin to realize the truth of the words spoken over us in baptism. 

That we are a beloved child of God, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to follow Christ, we are to love one another unconditionally, we are forgiven and called to forgive others, we are ambassadors for Christ.

This boring life of faith is begun at baptism, and is not completed until the day we die. We live each day in remembrance of our baptism, in remembrance of the fact that God loves us with a love so deep, so wide, so complete that nothing can separate us from that love.

And when we remember that, we will take our baptism back from the cat, we will loose our tongues to sing God’s praises and free our hands to do God’s works in the world.
Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany)

  1. Boring Baptism. Sounds like a good sermon title 🙂 But seriously, a great image that I'll be pondering the next time that I do a baptism (was hoping to have one this week but sadly parents couldn't get the day off work)!

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