Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo, January 13, 2019

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The Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

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

The Sermon

Sermon for 1 Epiphany C 1-13-19   COA The Rev Patrick J Wingo Jesus and John the Baptist are standing in the Jordan River, and Jesus says to John, “Do you have to dunk me all the way under? Can’t you just sprinkle some water on my head?” And John replies, “Oh, you must have me mistaken for someone else. I’m John the Baptist—you must be looking for John the Episcopalian.” Every year on the first Sunday after January 6, the day of Epiphany, we Episcopalians, along with most Protestants and Roman Catholics, celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. This is because we are near the beginning of the church year, and Jesus’ Baptism signifies the beginning of his public ministry. It is a day that is appropriate for celebrating baptisms in our own church community as well, and we will do so today when Margaret Blair Reath is baptized in a few minutes. And indeed, while Jesus was almost certainly dunked all the way under, Margaret Blair will get sprinkled. And what is astonishing is that over the centuries people have fought vehemently over that theological point. Yet these controversies have something to do with how people find meaning in ritual, and the importance of doing the things that we do today. A bishop who briefly taught me during a January term in seminary once quoted Dr. Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and Viennese psychiatrist, who suggested that human beings are dominated neither by wanting power nor pleasure, but instead are dominated by what he calls “the will to meaning.” He suggested that spirituality is a response to our “deep-seated striving and struggling for a higher and ultimate meaning to existence.” So the question for us then, is what defines our lives? Our job? Our social status? Are we defined by who our friends are? The house we live in? The car we drive? What is it that gives us meaning? Several years ago, before we were ordained, Sara-Scott and I were asked to lead a week-long summer work project with high school and college students. The project was in a small town in Alabama, where there was a non-profit restaurant whose sole mission was to help train mentally challenged people to work in the restaurant industry. We all worked alongside these beautiful folks all week long, and reflected during the evenings about what we were doing. Most of them had Down’s Syndrome, and one particular man could barely talk, but filled up any room he was in with the biggest smile you have ever seen. The only times I heard him speak all week were when he came up to someone, usually several times an hour, and said “You and me. You and me.” Even though he had a limited capacity to talk and to understand certain things, he understood completely the meaning behind human connection. As I later reflected on our week, in that simple phrase—you and me—I came to understand how we Christians define ourselves, and the connections that happen when we enter into the community of the Church through Holy Baptism. We didn’t read it in our Gospel lesson for today, but after Jesus was baptized he went into the wilderness, and the gospel writers give to us the rich story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. Jesus also was harassed by the religious authorities of the day, and of course he suffered terribly when he was arrested and crucified. It was at the moment of his baptism, when he saw the dove descending on him and heard the voice from God, that he was given the assurance that all of us need, that we will never be alone, that God goes with us and comforts us in the dark and painful times in our lives, and even in death. In that moment, God says to Jesus, You and me. You and me. And indeed, Jesus is saying the same thing to us as he seeks out John to be baptized. In his baptism, Jesus confirms for us that his experience can be our experience. He wanted to be baptized because it puts him in solidarity with us. His very humanness is right there in the middle of this very divine-sounding experience. He was not some kind of magician walking around with a halo. He was as human as we are. He was a man who went down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River, felt it pour over his skin, and came up out of that water with a new resolve to do God’s work in the world. Jesus was one of us, he can relate to us, and be with us in our human condition, and his baptism is the confirmation of that. So in his baptism Jesus says to us, You and me, you and me. The message of baptism, at least as we Episcopalians tend to think about it, in its simplest form, is “You belong.” You are a member of the Body of Christ, you are marked as Christ own forever. You belong. And not only do you belong, but you also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is among us all, helping us to grow in Christ together, helping us to care for one another, compelling us to find meaning in a hurting world by serving that world in Christ name. As baptized people we say to each other and to the world, “You and me. You and me.” So there are all these connections, all these relationships that get expressed in Baptism. We call it Christian initiation, and it is certainly that. But is also is a way that we are bound to one another, to Jesus, to God. It is God’s way of building pathways to our Creator, to our Savior, to each other. All the “You and me” moments that define Holy Baptism ultimately become “we” moments. And it is also a way that we are connected to the world, because in Baptism we have been given a life-defining gift which also defines how we relate to those who do not know God or follow Christ but are still God’s beloved children. That is what is so important about re-affirming our Baptismal Covenant. It reminds us of our connections to all of Creation through baptism. In just a moment, as part of this liturgy in which a little baby will be brought into the Body of Christ, we will agree again to continue to practice our faith through prayer and learning and receiving communion. Our doing that can change the world. We agree to resist evil and consistently repent, or turn back toward God, when we sin. Our doing that can change the world. We agree to tell people, with our words and by how we live our lives, about how God works in our lives. Our doing that can change the world. We agree to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our doing that can change the world. We agree to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Our doing that will change the world. Baptism is a lovely event for any person, and of course especially babies. But make no mistake, it is a radical, world-changing event as well, because in it we are connected to God, to Jesus, to one another in ways that have eternal significance, ways that give life meaning. Why baptize babies, people sometimes ask—they don’t know what is going on. Because ultimately baptism is about what God does, how God connects, how God moves, how God loves. In this rite we are reminded that God is giving every single one of us the ability and the responsibility to do things that make the dream of God for the world a reality. You and me, we, all of us, sprinkled or dunked, old or infant, weak or strong. Baptized people. Loved by God. God-lovers. World-changers. That’s what today is about. And it all started in the Jordan River, when Jesus was dunked down into the water, for you and me. For us.