Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Proper of the Day: First Sunday After Epiphany; the Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Christ, by Edward Burns Jones

This week I continue to serve as supply clergy for St. Thomas's Episcopal Church in Vernon NJ. We celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord today, with renewal of the Baptismal Covenant at 8 and three baptisms at 10! It was a wonderful worship celebration. The kids from Sunday School came up to stand around the Font so they could see. Afterward i had the disctinct honor to give Holy Communion to Ashley, the newly baptized adult. What a great day for the Church!

Here's what I offered at 10:

St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, Vernon NJ

Epiphany 1 2008 (BCP) 10 AM

Isaiah 42:1-9; Ps 89:20-29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Hasn’t the weather much of this past week been wonderful? A bit bizarre, though. It was over 60 degrees in Manhattan and Bayonne midweek, and we actually had thunderstorms on Friday afternoon. I was out on the street running an errand with my umbrella and I happened to notice the water streaming out of the gutters and into the eaves and then down the storm drains. I imagined all that water flowing out into the Hudson Rover or Newark Bay. Bayonne is unique in that it’s surrounded on three sides by rivers. It’s not quite an island like Manhattan is, but it’s close. Before the bridges went up, life in Bayonne was defined by those rivers, the mighty Hudson and the much less dramatic Hackensack. I remember growing up in Toledo and loving to go downtown to the riverfront. The Maumee River rises pretty far to the west, in Ft. Wayne, IN, and meanders its way across northwest Ohio, though Defiance and Napoleon, and empties into Lake Erie at Toledo. Part of the Miami and Erie Canal was built along the Maumee back in the 1830s or so, because it’s an impassible river – most of the time it’s shallow and muddy and the only boats that can get through are flat bottomed ones – rafts, really.

When I lived in Indianapolis, I used to love to take Old US 24 along the river during the leg from Ft. Wayne to Toledo. At various places you drive right along the old canal route. Some parts of the canal channel are still flooded, and at other places you can see the grassy depression in the ground where the channel was only partially filled in. In Lucas County, where Toledo is, there are a whole series of parks along the river. At one park during the summer you can ride a small boat that goes through a working lock right on the river. You get in the little flat-bottomed boat, at one end of the lock, and the boatmen use long poles - used to be donkeys, but I don’t think they do that any more – to push the boat into the lock chamber. There are these big wooden doors that close behind you, with another set in front of you. The lock chamber itself is lined in stone, and you can see the high and low water marks from the river water out the windows of the boat. Before you know it, you can see the walls moving around you – the boat is rising! Once the water levels equalize, the doors in front of you open and you have been lifted several feet up the river. It’s both soothing, because there’s no motors or anything loud – and amazing, that the power of water could do all that, when harnessed correctly. I think my own love for water and rivers comes in part from the way we celebrate our history along the river in Toledo. The Maumee is certainly not like the Hudson, or like the Hackensack for that matter, or like the Nile or the Thames or even the Jordan. There are all kinds of rivers, from tiny and fast streams to the wide, deep, and slow. Human life has often been defined around rivers, it seems, and there is something about them that continually fascinates us and pulls at our hearts about them.

Today is a very important day in the life of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church. All Sundays are important, of course, and we do well to come together every Sunday to celebrate the amazing things God is doing in and around Vernon. But today is even more special, because today we welcome three new members of our Christian family. Brynn and Taylor and Ashley are, in just a few minutes, going to be baptized. You probably figured out that something like that was going to happen because we have all the stuff ready. Today is a second birthday for Ashley, Taylor and Brynn. Because today they will be born again. Few of us except the parents of these three were witnesses to their first birth. But all of us are going to witness this second birth. Neither Brynn nor Ashley nor Taylor will look much different, except perhaps a bit wetter. But let me assure you with every fiber of my being that they will be different. They will be adopted daughters of God in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that adoption is more powerful than anything that might happen in a court of law. Because what happens today can never be undone. No matter what happens in the life of Brynn or Taylor or Ashley from here on out, they are God’s children. [We will seal each of them with sacred oil and that will mark them as Christ’s own, even after the oil is washed off. The oil will come off with a little soap and water, but the claim by God as his own children will be with these two for the rest of their lives.]

It’s appropriate to celebrate this today because it’s also the day when we remember that Our Lord also was baptized. Unlike, us, He didn’t need to be. After all, Jesus never sinned. He never was separated from God or from his fellow human beings or from the world like we are. The word “baptism” means “washing” or “bathing.” John the Baptist was baptizing people at the Jordan River in Israel as a sign for those he baptized that they were committing to a new life, and that their old lives were washed down the river. So naturally John was puzzled when Jesus showed up and requested baptism. John may not have known exactly what was going on, but he knew enough to realize that it was he who needed to be baptized – washed, made clean – by Jesus and not the other way around. But Jesus says a puzzling thing. He says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was saying that it was God’s will that he, Jesus, should be baptized. Not to wash away sin; that part is for you and me and Brynn and Taylor and Ashley. But hear again what the voice from heaven says: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” The baptism of Jesus is nothing less than the public acknowledgement by God – in a very dramatic way! – that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. At the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus is marked as God’s own forever. He’s filled with the Holy Spirit so he can fulfill all righteousness - so he can do God’s will - by his life, ministry, and death.

God’s will for Jesus as his life unfolded was to do nothing less than reconcile everybody to God. And he of course did that, and by doing so, changed the nature of baptism forever. Jesus is baptized at the beginning of the Gospel, and we are commanded to continue to baptize at the end of the Gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” What we are about to do today is part of God’s will, God’s plan for the universe. God wants all people to be reconciled to him, and that includes you and me and everyone. When we are baptized, God sends the Holy Spirit to inspire us. “Inspire” literally means “in-spirit” after all. Just like Jesus was inspired at the beginning of his public ministry, each of us is inspired as well. Each of us is part of God’s will, God’s plan for the universe. Like Jesus, each of us has some part to play, something to contribute, to the ongoing work of God in the world. Each of us is in-spired to do that work, that ministry, as God’s children. Individually we have gifts and talents – time, talent and treasure – that God gives us. If we are listening to that inspiration of the Spirit, we learn over time what God would have us do with those gifts, what ministry God calls each of us to do. It might be as simple as being right where one is, living one’s life, raising children, going to work, being a witness for Jesus by one’s very life. For some others it might be more direct, perhaps participating in something here at St. Thomas’s or some direct service to make this world a better place. For some few, it might be ordained ministry, which is just a specialized form of ministry no better than, just different from, any other ministries any of us offer to God.

For all of us, our ministries, whatever they are, our calling, flows directly from our baptisms, when each of us was implanted – inspired – with the Holy Spirit as a seed or a spark that can never be extinguished. And even though that spark is present, we may not know how to hear it or what to listen for. The bright lights of the world may overshadow the Light of Christ that lives inside each of us. And that’s where the Baptismal Covenant comes in. The Covenant which we and Ashley make when we’re baptized, or is made on our behalf if we’re children like Taylor and Brynn, commits us to certain thoughts and actions and patterns of life that can help us discover specifically what God would have us do. It isn’t a contract, which has terms and conditions. It’s unconditional. We are God’s beloved, period. Our joyful response to that realization is to commit ourselves to the Covenant, which outlines how to grow up as God’s children in the world. We don’t do it to earn God’s love, because we can’t. God can’t love us any more than God already does! We can’t earn salvation. It’s God’s free gift to us. And we can’t pay God back for salvation either. But we can pay it forward. We can, by our words and actions, make God’s love for us known to everyone. That’s the spirit of Epiphany, the season we’re in now – the urge to spread the Good News, not because we have to, but because we want to.

And the Baptismal Covenant helps us figure out what that might look like. It’s for both individuals as well as communities. Not every son or daughter of God is going to be gifted to be able to do everything in the Covenant equally well. But I do think that every Christian community, if it is healthy and strong in the Lord, will exhibit aspects of all the promises of the Covenant. I think the calling of St. Thomas’s in the next weeks and months is to reflect on the Baptismal Covenant and see what that means for the community, just like each individual believer is called to do so as well. What things do you feel called to do strongly? What things may you be doing now that seem of lesser importance? That’s the kind of reflection the Covenant can help with, for you and me in our own daily lives and in the life of this community as well. That’s God’s will. That’s fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus did it not only at his baptism but throughout his life and ministry. We who are God’s children by adoption and grace are called to do the same thing in our own lives. Ashley and Brynn and Taylor are called to do it in their lives. The rest of us are too. It’s both the privilege and the challenge of baptism.

Brynn and Taylor are going to be enrolled in the Baptismal Covenant by their parents and godparents. Ashley will do so of her own free will. Taylor and Brynn don’t have much to do today. But we and their parents and sponsors do. We’re going to promise to make it possible for Ashley and Taylor and Brynn to listen to the Holy Spirit that in a few minutes will be implanted – inspired - in each of them, so that they can grow into the full stature of Christ that God intends for them. So they, too, can fulfill all righteousness and pay God’s love forward into the world. Neither we nor they know what that’s going to look like for them yet. But our job is to do everything we can to make that possible for them. That includes things the Covenant calls all of us to do, like regular worship, participation in the life of this or another worshipping community, and the other promises we’re about to make or renew. My prayer is that all of us, candidates, parents, sponsors, and all the members of St. Thomas’s, will take our promises seriously and to heart today. We renew those promises several times a year just for that very reason.

My friends, what we do today isn’t merely pouring a little water on foreheads of little babies. What we do today is more than simply declaring their names. It’s more than just “getting them done” at the church. What we do today is exactly what happened to Jesus at the Jordan River Not all rivers are broad or flowing and deep, or cold and bubbling and clear. Our river is not mighty Hudson, nor the muddy Maumee, nor the brackish Hackensack. No, our river is far more grand than any of these. Today, our river is a bowl on a pedestal right here in the midst of St. Thomas’s church. Today, a voice from heaven will make a stunning announcement. And you know what? God isn’t going to say it just to Brynn and Taylor and to Ashley. God says it continually to each of us and to this community of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church: “You are my sons and daughters, my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

Come, let us gather at the river!



Troglodyteus said...

Our baptism can never be undone.
However, we can choose to cut the bond
and then we are in deep doo indeed.

Troglodyteus said...

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

RFSJ said...

True,but God will never abrogate iton his own. We can choose to walk away from it, but we can always come back to it.


Troglodyteus said...


I am not so sure that we can always come back. Ezekiel talks about a righteous man.

Ezekiel 18:24
But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

Then there is Paul.
Hebrews 6:4-7 (NKJV)
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away,[a] to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

What does this mean?


RFSJ said...


say more about what you're thinking here, because I'm not sure I get it. Thanks!