First Sunday after Epiphany: what will we do?

Genesis 1: 1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11

Dear child of God,

We are gathered today for worship, a worship that includes baptism. Our prayer book tells us that baptism is, by water and the Holy Spirit, full entrance into the life of the church. Those words sound much neater than the reality behind them. The life of a Christian is not always easy. “Church” can be very messy, and the world is a very scary place. We will need the light of the Christ candle every day of our lives. We need it now. We may one day struggle to remember that darkness will never overcome the light of Christ. The world does not support our deep knowledge of this truth.

Life is usually a lot more complicated than the way we display it, isn’t it? So, too, is the power of the act of baptism, the sacrament that says we accept the grace of Jesus. We accept this grace for ourselves and for everyone in whose baptism we have participated. These waters of baptism stretch all the way back to the nothingness that existed before creation. Out of swirling darkness, God created the earth and all that is in it. God’s spirit hovered over the deep and breathed life – life – into creation. Our connection to “the beginning” is this breath of life in the Holy Spirit.
This is what we heard this morning from the book of Genesis:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

God has been waiting for this very moment, for us to gather in His presence, since that beginning. At this moment of baptism we give ourselves wholly and fully to Jesus, who is one with God and the Holy Spirit. Physically, we are handed from our parent or godparent or guardian or doctor to a priest. Actually, we are taken from human hands into God’s, where we will die. We die to this world, an old life. We are not of this chaotic world anymore (although we live in it). Jesus claims us as his own, forever.

Somewhere along the way we will forget what we have promised. We will forget the power of being claimed by God and by Jesus Christ. We will think that we can “do church” and “do Jesus” on our own. It is at such time that it would be good to ask ourselves a very tough question. We heard the question today, in Acts: “Into what, then, were you baptized?” Into what were we baptized? John the baptizer’s baptism? No. John says that he is not worthy to tie the straps on Jesus’ sandals. Into whose baptism? The world’s? I sure hope not.

It can be really hard to be claimed and held by Jesus. We do weird things like give thanks for being made in God’s image. We show up at church to worship and honor and praise God, and to receive the body and blood of Christ. So fortified, we are sent into a cold, hard world. Christ has never let go of us and never will. It can still be really, really hard to be part of Christ’s body, the church. We get upset about things that don’t matter too much, like the temperature in the building and the location of flowers in the yard. We harbor resentments about things like candles and coffee hour and those things that we’d rather not do. We do worry about how to keep people safe and how to keep our building open. We personally spend more money on coffee, wine, movies – what is it for you? – than we give to our church. The waters of baptism, of new life, are churning to take hold of us again and again and again.

We might one day say that we are more spiritual than religious. We will sleep late on Sundays and find God in nature – both good things to do – sleep, that is, and to find God in nature – but we might do those things rather than struggle through our faith with one another. God means for us to work out our faith with one another, with God at the very center. Jesus called us to form together in community, with the Holy Spirit reminding us of her breath of life. Being the body of Christ is who we are. It is what we have promised to God and to one another.

There are many “weird” things that we Christians do other than worship. We show up and visit each other when we go to the hospital. We show up with soup and conversation when we come back home. We pray for one another, which, by the way, changes everything. We even pray for people we don’t know, and for needs we know nothing about; that’s okay, because God knows. We build churches in out of the way places, and then we fill them with disciples. We fill them with ourselves and with one another and with people who don’t know God. We bring people to the opportunity for new life. We might laugh together. Cry. Pull weeds. Just sit with one another when that is what we need. We do none of these things on our own. The waters of baptism are deep within us: death, new life, and the seal of being Christ’s child forever.

We have a huge challenge facing us at St. Peter’s. We are going to talk about budgets and business in a few weeks. We will do this, quite intentionally, within the context of worship. Everything that we do is about God and the transformation of Jesus Christ that began, not only in our baptism, but “in the beginning,” in that primordial beginning.

I ask you to ask yourselves and one another and especially God: what, God, would you have me do? What, God, would you have me give to this church? How, God, are you calling me to be part of this particular Christian family? We need to ask these deep questions of ourselves and of one another in the context of this faith and faithful, claimed-by-God community.

Into whose baptism are we living? How, and where, and in what way are we called to live into the baptism of Jesus Christ?
I see spread before us potent symbols of font and water, icon and fire, oil and incense, bread and wine. These symbols are full of life and force and power and cannot be comprehended with one quick glance. We must circle around them, looking and gazing with a sense of expectation and thrill because we know of their beauty, and we understand their danger.
–Br. James Koester
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

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