Friday, January 15, 2016

Sermon: Holy Ground

The First Sunday after The Epiphany

(RCL The Baptism of our Lord, Year C)
A sermon preached at 
Christ Church Episcopal Grosse Pointe
January 10, 2016
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, January 10, 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Listen to this sermon here

One of the things on the
is to stand in Times Square
waiting for the “ball to drop.” 

While I’m not one who usually
seeks out crowds of people,
watching this happen on TV
gives me a glimpse of what it must be like.

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

Maybe that was the scene by the river
from our Gospel text today. 
People crowded the banks of the river,
filled with expectation. 
They questioned in their hearts,
peering over the heads of folks in front,
mumbling…“what is happening?”
“what is he saying?” “who is that guy?
Is he the one to make things better?”

As 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 how he answered their questions. 
As he yelled above the crowd,
those in the distance heard
only punctuated phrases:
I… water…Powerful One… Holy Spirit … fire!

The people strained to hear
what John was saying,
because they knew this message
was for all the people gathered –
and for all people yet to come. 
John answered –
not just for the oppressed,
not just for royalty,
not just for the Israelites,
not just for the Gentiles.
The message that John gave was for all people.

But the cryptic language they heard
just fueled the tension …
– wait, what? Someone more powerful?
And what’s that about Spirit and Fire?
They mumbled among themselves.
What is really happening here?

Which is what we do sometimes, too, don’t we?
When expectation fills us
about a certain event or certain leader
or certain solution or hoped-for answer,
we question in our hearts,
what is really happening here?

When we stand shoulder to shoulder at rallies,
or when making Crossroads meals,
or when lining up at the coffee shop. 
We chatter to each other nervously,
hoping to get a glimpse of who or what we think will “heal us” or “save us” or “fix us.”

And in the cryptic language of society,
through the din of the crowd,
we can’t hear the voice of the Holy One,
and that only increases our expectation
and questioning. 
We mumble among ourselves,
What is really happening here?

What really happened that day at The River
was something even John
could not fully explain, although he tried.
What happened was
beyond their control,
beyond their ability to explain.
What happened arose from God and
could not be channeled or
made to fit their preconceived notions.
It was a mystery.

Once all the people were baptized,
including Jesus, heaven was opened,
and the Holy Spirit was palpably present. 
And the people heard a voice saying,
“You are my Son, the Beloved,
with you I am well pleased!”

At that moment suddenly everyone hushed. 
The sound of the river shushed.
The stench of the crowd waft.
Time stopped.  (pause)
And for a minute that lasted for eternity, everyone knew they were
part of something big!
Witness to the opening of heaven!

What was really happening
was that God revealed God’s self, in Jesus.  What was really happening
was God revealing God’s true character,
Love for all of creation.

Through the opening of heaven,
God blessed Jesus.
Through the voice from heaven,
translated from Hebrew as “Daughter Voice,” God affirmed how much God loved
that One, that particular one,
identified as Jesus.

When that one individual from the crowd –
Jesus – submitted to God’s grace,
everyone realized their participation
in a 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.
Not just the oppressed, not just the royalty.
Not just the Israelites, not just the Gentiles. For all.

Today we witness the sacrament of baptism
in another one, a particular one,
Emmy Bachand.  In this sacrament,
we will see heaven open
and hear the voice of God
claiming Emmy as God’s child,
with whom God is well-pleased. 

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

And in those outward signs, we will know God’s inner grace.
Even though it is only Emmy baptized today,
the rest of us are never mere observers –
this sacrament totally absorbs us
and God surrounds us in every dimension. 
Something Bigger is happening here!

With Emmy’s baptism,
we announce her adoption as
one of God’s children into our Christian family.
With Emmy’s baptism,
we join in a sacred encounter,
with something bigger than ourselves:
when fully human meets the fully divine.

So today,
as Emmy approaches the baptismal font,
I invite you to take off your shoes and
stand in stocking- or barefeet. 
Use your bodily form to participate…
For we are all standing on holy ground
of the sacramental moment of Baptism.

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

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


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