St John’s Kirkland
1/8/2017, Epiphany 1A
In the beginning the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters and from them came all that would ever be. So it should be no surprise to us that today we find Jesus in the water himself, and the Spirit hovering once again. It all begins in the water.
Water makes Earth what she is. The oceans drive the whole atmospheric process that makes Earth a place where we can breathe and live and thrive. Just the fact that the solid form of water floats instead of sinks makes life as we know it possible. It is in the vast protective womb of the ocean that our earliest ancestors grew their first fins, and lungs, and eventually braved the land.
It is the slow work of millennia of waves and raindrops, and little streams that carved those heavy ancient rocks into soil in which roots could grow. We might not have always understood the immense scale of our world, or how ancient it is and how late we arrived; but even in the infancy of our species we understood that water means life.
There are truths we know deep down in our bones, that water is life, that there is something more to our world than meets the eye. But bones speak quietly, gently. And we human beings are loud and busy and complicated and we tend to make the simple anything but, and eventually meanings become fuzzy.
There is a joke that goes around church circles. A pastor was lamenting to his friends that his church is infested with mice. He was rather soft hearted and hasn’t been willing to use deadly traps but it seemed that no sooner had he trapped a mouse and relocated it to the local park than it was back and had brought a few friends along with it. The group nodded and shook their heads, old buildings sure attracted rodents. And then the Episcopal priest piped up and said “We used to have a whole slew of mice, even a few rats, but they are all gone, every last one!” The shocked group wanted to know how he’d accomplished such a feat. “Easy” said the priest, “we baptized them, haven’t seen them since!”
It’s sort of a church geek joke. But it isn’t necessarily off the mark. No sooner it seems do we baptize someone’s new baby, or confirm a youth group member, than they often vanish and are never seen again.
For a very long time baptism was indeed seen as “the end.” You got baptized and that meant you were saved. (The opposite of course also being true.) And really, if that were what baptism was about then Jesus’ baptism wouldn’t make any sense at all. John is thinking this way when he protests as Jesus enters the water “you should be baptizing me!” John doesn’t see beyond the washing away of sins that had traditionally been the place of baptism (cleansing) in Jewish practice.
But Jesus’ baptism isn’t a story about being saved, and neither is ours. If that were the case then we would indeed be doing something to save ourselves. Which God has made pretty clear is a bit beyond our pay grade. The whole new creation thing happened two thousand years ago in the waters of Mary’s womb when God became a human being, when God sanctified human flesh, all human flesh, by becoming one of us.
The early church’s first artwork was of Mary, with Jesus in her womb, because that was the moment of salvation for Jesus’ early followers. The Incarnation is what restarts the clock, what changes humanity forever.
Baptism is about something else. All four canonical Gospels include a story of Jesus’ baptism. The details change based on the audience the author was writing for, and what they were trying to convey, but the baptism itself doesn’t. Jesus’ baptism doesn’t mark an end, but the beginning. Jesus’ baptism is a commissioning it is the start of his ministry. It is, if you will, his ordination.
In the beginning the spirit hovered over the waters. And now the Word made flesh wades right in, no neat hovering for God this time. It’s messy mud and nibbling fish and hair in the eyes. The whole unimaginable complexity of God wades into the water as God has indeed waded into creation in the most intimate of ways, becoming creation. And there’s the Spirit, still hovering because that too is good and right. As in Genesis, Creation is named good, beloved in the person of Jesus.
And then Jesus gets about the ongoing work of creation.
If you have been baptized then you have been commissioned as a messenger of God, as a partner in creation. You aren’t at the end of your journey with baptism, but the beginning. You are ordained a minister of the gospel. You enter into the first, the largest, the most important ordained order in the Church. It is the one shared with Jesus himself.
Today all of us who have been commissioned in the waters of baptism are reminded of our task. We will repeat our vows in a very few minutes. We will be re-commissioned to take the ministry of Jesus out into the world that Jesus himself has made holy and that through us he seeks to make new.
This year St. John’s will offer an intergenerational class during Lent for all those who wish to make a formal rededication of themselves to their ministry with Christ.
Confirmation for those who were baptized as children and are now ready and willing to take on those vows themselves as adults, as full ministers of the Word.
Reception for those from other Christian traditions who want to commit themselves to ministry in this, the Episcopal church.
And Reaffirmation for those who, for whatever reason feel the need to publicly rededicate themselves to the Christian life. Bailey and I will lead this class and I encourage you, whatever your age, to search your heart. If you feel the need for renewal, for rededication, for strength to live out your ministry as members of Christ’s holy priesthood I encourage you to join us.
Those of us who have passed through the waters of baptism, and those who someday will all join with Jesus in the ministry of rekindling the fires of this world, of teaching her all over again that she is beautiful, and beloved. And of bringing all this holy creation back into relationship with its creator. Let us begin.