January 13, 2013: It’s More than Just the Water


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
The Baptism of the Lord

When was your latest epiphany?  Some seem mysterious, divine – others, well. A friend who owned a Cadillac dealership watched a family and their friends overtake the showroom, circle a luxurious, high-end Cadillac, hold hands and pray aloud. When they finished they found him to report an “epiphany,” a sign from the Lord. God has just told them to tell my friend he is to give them that Cadillac. My friend, a deeply spiritual person, received a different epiphany – interestingly, one that didn’t involve a new Cadillac.

Epiphanies, moments of new insight – don’t reveal new truth, but what’s been there all along. God didn’t change plans, dump His chosen, and start anew with Jesus. Jesus fulfills and manifests God’s full will.

After his baptism, Jesus is praying. God interrupts his petitions – but since it is his Father, it’s okay. God will sometimes interrupt prayers – to send us a message, if we are polite enough to listen. For Jesus heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends, and God says, “You are my Son, the beloved.” Years ago I read Henri Nouwen’s book The Life of the Beloved. When I remind you that you are God’s beloved, I didn’t just make this up. I got it from Nouwen, who got it from Luke, and Jesus’ baptism. People too often hear, “You are worthless; not enough; you’re a failure.” Some critics are quick to comment on what we’ve done wrong, but never mention when we do something right.

Another voice, one quieter and more intimate, also speaks. This voice speaks truth that turns lives around. Jesus hears that voice – “You are the beloved, and on you my favor rests.” Jesus is sent as God’s love song to us. Since baptism unites us with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, then God’s words are for us, too: “You are my beloved, too.” Pay attention. This is who you truly and authentically are.

Fr. Nouwen says God’s claim on us in baptism is like Eucharist, as we take, bless, break and give bread. God takes us, or chooses us. We are so beloved Jesus gets in muddy, dirty waters of sin and failure, not because he needs to. He chooses to be with us, enter our lives – when we are broken, fail, give up on ourselves and God. Jesus says, “Wherever you are, I choose to be you.” Sinners, like us – people who are different, disagree with us, or are not nice to us – God takes us all. We are chosen not because we are special, or do something to earn God’s favor. We are chosen because God says so, chosen to be sent as vessels so others will hear, “You are my beloved. God says so.”

Chosen, we are blessed. A blessing is a benediction – and a benediction is “good speech,” saying good things to others and about them, even when they’re not present. The world says, “Prove you are worthy.” God says, “You are my beloved. I declare you worthy – You are favored.” Awakened to our blessedness, we are able to bless others. We are blessed and sent to help others experience the blessing – “You are God’s beloved. God says so.”

Being God’s beloved does not exempt us from life’s brokenness, hardships and harsh realities. Some days we may wonder if God remembers us, let alone loves us. Never lose the blessing and grace of your baptism. In baptism I ask parents to name their child. That’s silly – we all by now know the name; it’s printed in the worship program, and we don’t need to tell God. It’s a faith statement, to remember God has us in mind before we are. God gives us an identity and a dignity no one should abuse. Life is ours, not by accident or biology, but by the intention and will of the Creator. In those times when we feel broken, we most need to remember we are united with God in Christ. We are broken, yet we know God is always with us. Listen to God, “You are my beloved, forever.”

We are broken people, broken to be “wounded healers” as Nouwen says – to the world. From Jesus’ wounds he heals, and so do we. Our lives are not perfect. As Christ is given to us in brokenness, so we are given to be epiphanies of God’s love to and in this world. Baptism is more than a rite, or how much water we should us, or what age we are baptized, or to as an insurance policy that gets us to heaven – Scripture is silent on that. Stories of Jesus’ baptism manifest how God takes all who will be taken, forever, blessing us even in our broken places – to be signs to others, “No matter what has happened or will happen to you, you are God’s beloved, too.”

Can you see that we are epiphanies, given so God’s love, light and grace can shine through us – and God can change lives? Others can experience they are God’s beloved, as we live as God’s beloved life to them. That makes us epiphanies.

I don’t want to startle anyone. This could be noisy. So look and make sure the person beside you is awake. Now, I want us to say together – “I am an Epiphany.” 1-2-3: “I AM an epiphany;” and again, “I AM an Epiphany.”  Yes, you are. Maybe that’s why Jesus believed baptism was for him, too – to show us such love as to be with us, an epiphany of God’s irrevocable love for all. When epiphany completes its work in us and the light comes on, all we can do is help others hear and come to know they are God’s beloved, too.


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