Friday, January 18, 2013

Sermon: Baptism


Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord, Year C
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, January 13, 2013
For Readings, click here
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

One of the things on the list-of-things-to-do-in-my-life is to stand in Times Square waiting for the “ball to drop.” 
This year, I was so excited to actually make it to midnight
(well, in New York) to watch the throng of people
doing just that. Some day I will be there, too. 

Everyone is filled with expectation,
everyone is questioning in their hearts what will happen next,
or what will happen this coming year. 
It’s a happy event that involves crowds, uncertainty, and a messy, shoulder-to-shoulder community where I imagine I would just feel part of something  bigger.

I wonder if that was the scene by the river from our Gospel text today. 
The people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts.
The crowd filled the banks of the river. All the people mumbled… 
“what is happening?”
“what is he saying?”
“who is that guy? Is he the one to make things better?”

Their feet slipped on the river bank,the mud squished between their toes. 
The tension rose and the throng pressed close to John,
to hear clearly what he was yelling.

John answered to all of them. 
For all people – gathered there and those yet to come. 
Not just the oppressed, not just the royalty.
Not just the Israelites, not just the Gentiles.
The message that he gave was for all.

He yelled above the din of the crowd. From a distance, they heard:
I… water…Powerful One… Holy Spirit … fire!

All that cryptic language they heard just fueled the uncertainty, the expectation …
– what? Someone more powerful?
They mumbled among themselves. What is really happening here?

Which is what we do sometimes, too, don’t we?
We are filled with expectation about
a certain event or certain leader or certain solution;
we question in our hearts, “what will happen next?”

We comment on our Facebook page, we twitter our questions, 
we stand shoulder to shoulder at rallies,
or when making casa maria sandwiches,
or when lining up at the coffee shop. 

We chatter to each other nervously,
hoping to get a glimpse of what we think will
“heal us” or “save us” or “fix us”  

And all that cryptic language we hear
where someone yells above the din,
only increases our expectation and questioning. 

We mumble among ourselves, What is really happening here?

What was really happening that day at The River
was something that even John could not explain.
A kind of religious experience took place in front of them
that was beyond their control. 

It arose from God and could not be channeled or
made to fit their preconceived notions. It defied explanation.
What was really happening at the river that day was a mystery.

See, once all the people were baptized, and
when Jesus 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 down from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

At that moment, all the people hushed. 
The sound of the river hummed. 
The stench of the crowd waifed.
Time stopped.
There was this feeling of being part of something big!

The opening of heaven! The voice of heaven!

What was really happening was that God revealed God’s self,
in Jesus, and taught the people about
God’s true character, which is Love. 

Through the opening of heaven, God blessed Jesus.

Through the voice from heaven, 
God affirmed how much he loved that One,
that particular one, identified as Jesus.

What was really happening was that one individual
from the crowd – Jesus – submitted to God’s grace. 

And everyone who witnessed that One who submitted to God
realized their participation in that sacred moment; that “something bigger.”
They realized that the heavens opened and
the voice of God spoke not just for Jesus
but for them, too. For all people:

Not just the oppressed, not just the royalty.
Not just the Israelites, not just the Gentiles.
What was really happening that day was for all humanity. 

Today we witness the sacrament of baptism in another one,
a particular one, CC.  In this sacrament,
we see the heavens open and the voice of God claiming CC as his son, with whom God is well-pleased. 
As Christians, we believe that Baptism as a sacrament. 
What is a sacrament? It is,
“…an outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace,
given by Christ as sure and certain means
by which we receive that grace.”

In the sacraments, God uses
ordinary things to become holy things. 
In the sacraments, we touch the mysterious
inner world of our soul.
In the sacraments, we will see the outer, ordinary signs and
we will feel the inner, sacred effect. 
While we may only see the outward signs and symbols,
the important work of God is taking place
without our doing, inside of us.
The outer signs that God uses are our senses
we see, we hear, we taste, we touch and feel.

We see the water in the font, fire in the paschal candle, 
baby in the arms of the priest, and
we hear the sounds of the splashing water, words of the liturgy, 
tunes of baptismal hymns, and
we smell the wax of burning candles, the scent of community near us, 
the oil of the chrism, and
we taste that single drop of water as it runs from the forehead, 
down the cheek to the lips of the baptized. 
We feel the cool water as its deep wetness soaks into every pore of our being.[1] 

Even though it is only CC baptized today,
the rest of us are never mere observers –
the sacrament totally absorbs us and God surrounds us
and dances in every dimension. 
Something Bigger is happening here!

The inward and spiritual grace revealed in this sacrament is
a.      Our union with Christ in his death and Resurrection. 
b.     Our own birth into God’s family, the church.
c.      Forgiveness of sin (which is our own self-imposed sentence of separation from God)
d.     AND the beginning of a new life in the Holy Spirit

With CC’s baptism, we announce that he is adopted as one of God’s children
and is claimed as Christ’s own.

The sacrament of Baptism is a pure gift from a pure God.

When we open our eyes, our ears, our hearts,
when we experience or witness a baptism,
we are standing on the holy ground
of sacramental moment, a sacred encounter, something bigger.
It is a moment when the fully human meets the fully divine.

So today, while we sing,
“We know that Christ is raised,” hymn 296, and
CC approaches the baptismal font,
I invite you to take off your shoes and
stand in stocking- or barefeet.  PAUSE
Use your bodily form to participate…
For we are all standing on holy ground
of the sacramental moment of Baptism

Baptism – it is indissoluble.  It cannot be undone. 
Permanent. Unbreakable.. Binding.
Enduring. Everlasting. Eternal

Can you see it? Can you hear it? 
The heavens are opening today! The voice of God is speaking!

Today, we hear, CC! 
WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED!                       Amen

[1] This section inspired by The Rev. Jeanne Finan’s fine book Remember Your Baptism: Ten Meditations  (Cowley Publications, Cambridge MA, 2004)

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful beautiful sermon, Vicki! And thanks for crediting my book. I appreciate that.