Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
January 13, 2019 - First Sunday after the Epiphany:
The Baptism of our Lord, year C
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Today, as we recall the Baptism of our Lord, people around the globe – infants, children and adults - are themselves entering with Christ into the waters of his baptism, into the waters of the Jordan River. They will also enter into the servanthood that brings about God’s justice in the world, into the priesthood of all believers, into the Body of Christ, the Church. The Christian story will become their story.
At our Baptism, through water and the Holy Spirit, we become incorporated into his body the Church, and into his redemption; we enter into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God welcomes us in love, washing us in the waters of salvation, engulfing us in God’s covenant, and restoring us to our originally intended wholeness. We respond to God’s covenant with baptismal service, by living out the pledge that we have made, or that was made for us - our pledge that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, that we will love our neighbor as ourselves; that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and that we will respect the dignity of every human being. God promises that his Spirit and steadfast love will uphold us and empower us for this ministry.
Just as Jesus’ baptism links his identity (the “beloved Son”) with his mission or vocation (to “bring forth justice”), our own baptism reminds us of who we are and what we are about. Baptism marks a reorientation of our lives to be God-centered, a turning away from evil and a turning toward Christ. The whole body of baptized believers is called into a life of oblation, of lives offered to God in servanthood. We Baptized Christians are all called to live sanctified lives, to offer ourselves for God’s purpose, for God’s justice, to God’s people. We have all been given different gifts, and our particular Christian vocations are found at the place where our own gifts and passions meet the needs of the world. Everything we do in our lives as Christians springs from these baptismal waters.
I was baptized as an adult, at the age of 25. One of the Priests present held my hand and was practically jumping up and down with excitement. I didn’t really get it why he was so enthusiastic. And, even though at the time, I thought I was making an adult profession of my faith, looking back I’m not sure that I began to fully understand the meaning of my choice to be baptized until I was preparing for ordination. Only then did I begin to understand that my calling to be a Priest, to fulfill a particular ministry among you, actually grew out of my baptism into the priesthood of all believers, the ministry which we all share, as the Body of Christ.
The God who calls us into creation, into our very existence, also calls us into right relationship, with God, with each other. This is our true nature and purpose, and regardless of how it may have been distorted, in Baptism our right relationship with God and with each other is restored. As God’s people, we don’t hold our condition over others, but we invite them into this special relationship, this covenant with God.
Just as we today widen our circle of community to include many more Christians, God has widened the circle of salvation to include all the earth. This whole Epiphany season is about remembering our mission to spread the light of Christ throughout the earth, to spread justice throughout the earth, to peoples of many nations and languages, that they may follow the leading of the star to know the one true light. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that God needed to be born on earth in human form, to show us that God cannot be narrowly contained or defined, that God cannot be kept in a box. God can be anything, even one of us, and God can be anywhere for anyone.
While Jesus began his ministry among his own Jewish people, and at times seemed to see himself as a reformer of Judaism, it appears that he gradually realized that his ministry was more widespread. He healed and preached to people outside his culture and his religion, to let us Gentiles know that we too are heirs of the promises of God, of the New Covenant given through Jesus Christ. I am grateful each time we baptize a new Christian, not only because we get to welcome him or her into this community of God’s Covenant, but because it is an opportunity for all of us to remember our own Covenant, and to remember who we are as God’s people.
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant lifts the blessed bread and wine and invites the people to Communion with the words: “The gifts of God for the people of God.” This raises an interesting question about who are the people of God. Well, you say, “We are the people of God.” But who is “We?” Is it, we the people who are gathered here today? Is it we the people who are members of St John’s? Is it we Episcopalians? We Christians? We Americans? Or is it We people of the Earth? Aren’t we all people of God? Aren’t we all heirs to God’s promises and God’s gifts, if only we choose to accept them? All one must do to be included in his salvation is to place oneself within the circle, within the reach of his saving embrace, to simply have faith.
I think the lesson of the Epiphany story is that God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, and we need to leave room in our understanding for mystery, and for new revelations. God is bigger than we could ever perceive, and God’s mission is larger than we could ever imagine. I hope that we will model this understanding of God’s inclusive love for the children here among us, and help them to see themselves as part of God’s mission. I hope that we will offer to them the promise of new revelation, and the wonder of mystery. For just when we think we know what God is all about, a star appears to lead us on to a foreign land.