Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
10 January, 2016
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
I want to start right out this morning by saying thank you. First a big thank you to Jon on his last Sunday as our organist. Thank you for sharing your skills as a musician and as a cook. You have enriched our worship for sure and our fellowship as well. You will be missed. May you always know God’s love surrounding and holding you as you go on to whatever comes next for you. I also need to say thank you to someone who isn’t even here. My Friend Susanna who is currently serving a church in England. (Sermons that Work 1 Epiphany, C’10) As I prepared for today I read a sermon she wrote several years ago. That sermon helped shape my thinking and writing and so, thank you to Susanna. Susanna began her sermon with a line from a favorite poem of mine written John Masefield. “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky.” I remembered so many times of being drawn to water. Do you? I remember times when I lived near the ocean and walked along the shore, times when I lived near a river and was always aware of the murmur of flowing water in the background. I remember times in the high desert west when it was so dry that even a brief shower, bringing the smell of rain on dust, felt like a great blessing. You know, we really can’t exist without water. I’ve seen how persistent drought can turn high prairie grasslands back into sandy wastelands. The earth needs water to support life as we know it. In fact, our adult our bodies are between 50 and 65% water. Without water we would only survive 3 to 5 days. And yet, sometimes we have too much water. I thought about that as I drove to Georgia on Christmas day. At least half the trip I drove in heavy rain, waterfalls formed where ground water ran out of rock cuts along the interstate and by late afternoon I began to see areas of flooding. And really, we have no control over water. Have you seen the recent weather news from California? After years of drought heavy rains have brought flooding and mud slides. It’s fair to say that water can represent both hope and despair, both life and death.
All in all water, is essential, no way around it. And perhaps that’s why it is such a perfect symbol
for God’s grace in our lives. Have you noticed how plays a key role in scripture? There is the spirit of God in creation moving over the waters of chaos at the beginning of all time. There is the water of the great flood in Noah’s day and God’s promise to all humankind never to destroy the earth again. There is the Red Sea parting at the exodus and water flowing from rock in the desert. And there is the River Jordan where the Israelites crossed into the promised land and where Jesus himself was baptized at the beginning of his ministry. All these years later there is the water in our font symbolic of God’s grace offered to us in our own baptisms. Did you hear reminders of how water, and God’s grace, flows over us in today’s lessons? How about that beautiful passage from Isaiah? “Now thus says the Lord…who created you…I have redeemed you, I have called you by name…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” Let the passage flow over you like cool water on a hot day. We are reminded that no earthly thing can separate us from the love and comfort of God. What about our Gospel lesson? Water is there too, both literally and figuratively. John the Baptist, long years ago now, offered the people of his day a baptism of repentance. The Jews of his day were drawn to him , and to the water,
to be cleansed of unfaithfulness. He offered a simple message. Faithfulness wasn’t so hard really.
You soldiers, don’t threaten or extort, you tax collectors, don’t cheat. And all of you share what you have with those who don’t have enough. Some people thought that John was the promised Messiah but John had a different role to play. He introduced Jesus using images from that Isaiah passage .“But one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus’ baptism is a new thing entirely. Jesus’ baptism does more than forgive sins. Jesus’ baptism creates a new community guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
But there’s more. Jesus’ baptism announces that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When Jesus was baptized something surprising happened. The heavens cracked open and God’s voice was heard anointing Jesus’ mission and ministry. You know. We’ve been hearing it since the Feast of the Incarnation. God has come among us in the person of Jesus. God is with us now in a new way.
On one level I suppose this story of Jesus’ baptism is a kind of historical recounting of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But it is more too. It is a story that speaks a word to us. Oh yes, we have that reminder of the water of Baptism, that reminder of God’s grace in our font. We use it to bring others into the community gathered around Jesus. “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”, we say. But how seriously do we take it most of the time? Think about the promises we make at Baptism. We promised to continue the Apostles teachings and the prayers, to acknowledge our sins, to repent, and to return to the Lord. We promised to seek Christ in each other, to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for justice and peace. They are not just pious words, something nice to think about. We promised to do something about them, to work for them. And on our very best days we do. There are from time to time signs of God’s light shining in the darkness of our world. There is food donated to food pantries and gifts given for kids who might not otherwise get a gift. There are literacy programs for people who can’t read and after school programs to give kids a safe place and some help with their homework. There are programs that reach out to the homeless, the abused, and to recent immigrants. There are churches that welcome gays and lesbians, even people with tattoos, long hair and piercings. But we could do better, couldn’t we? It’s why over the course of the church year we remember again the story of our salvation and all that God has done for us.
We hear again and again that God cares for us, loves us deeply, and wants the best for and from us. We hear God’s promise, again and again, to be with us always, no matter what. That is our starting point. We are already loved. God is always with us. Always. This story of John and Jesus at the Jordan, this story we have heard so many times before, draws us on to keep the mission and ministry of Jesus alive. It’s good News after all, the very best news. So come to pray and worship then go on keep the news alive by speaking Gods word into a world that barely hears it, to live God’s word for others who need it. Share the gift that God has given you so other’s will also come to know God’s love active and real in their lives. I started with a poem. “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky.” The poet continues. “I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.” The Gospel is a lot like the call of the running tide. The call of the Gospel, the Good News, is a wild and clear call. We, the people of God, are called to spread that Good News, for God’s love and God’s compassion cannot be denied. Amen