The Rev. Hannah Hooker’s sermon Year B The Baptism of our Lord
Happy Epiphany! As you’ll notice we’ve welcomed the Wise Men to our Nativity Scene. We have entered the season in which we celebrate all the ways that the Incarnate Christ is revealed to us, made known to those of us who couldn’t be present at the birth itself.
One of the ways that God reveals the truth about who Jesus is, is through His baptism, in which God announces, “this is my son, my beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.” And so this morning we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.
This week, God made himself known at St. Mark’s in some humorous ways. Because in the winter in Arkansas, we are reminded of the power of water.
While gathered with friends to celebrate the New Year, several of us were tiptoeing around the kitchen one morning, so as not to wake a friend who wasn’t feeling well. Suddenly we heard our under the weather friend thundering down the hall to announce that the pipes at the dentist’s office had frozen and burst and she didn’t have to go – and was feeling much better!
The next day, I arrived at St. Mark’s to discover that half of our parking lot was a sheet of ice – but it hadn’t rained. Knowing that the temperature would stay below freezing for several days, we left our sacristy sink to drip. Well for those who might not know, the sacristy sink, called a piscina, does not flow into the sewer system like other sinks. It goes into the ground so that consecrate wine can be returned directly to the earth. Our pipe, however, rests light on top the ground between two hedges out front. When the ground froze, there was nowhere for our dripping water to go but out into the parking lot. Lesson learned!
We know the power of water in other ways in other seasons, as well. This summer, we witness one of the deadliest hurricane seasons in years. And just last spring, closer to home, we rallied together to support our brothers and sisters in Pocahontas as they endured a devastating flood. And most of us have been affected one way or another car accidents in the rain.
Not everything about our relationship with water is negative. But it is in these moments when we feel so small and helpless compared to the massive titan of water, we can relate to the peoples in the Bible. The destruction of the world by a flood aside, our story describes the formless void before creation as vast water over which God blew his Spirit.
The church has interpreted that aspect of creation in one of the Eucharistic Prayers in the Enriching Our Worship series, and you’ve heard be say from that altar, God “laid the foundations of the world and enclosed the sea when it burst out from the womb”
God’s people seem to have always considered water to be something that was before us and will be after us, something that can create and destroy.
Both physically and theologically, this power to create and destroy gives water a cleansing property. Out with the old, in with the new. We bathe our bodies with water. We know the refreshing presence water can have at the dock of a lake, at the beach, at a spa. We know the way that a river can wash away debris and leave its shores clean and innocent and renewed.
So it’s not hard to imagine that when God was trying to decide how to show his people the impact of Christ in their lives, the power of moving from the old way of like to the Kingdom of God, what he came up with was water.
Like the water we use to symbolize it, baptism cleanses us from sin. This doesn’t mean baptized people never sin, it means that we participate in the Body of Christ through which our sins are forgiven and we are no longer bound by them, and we dwell in God’s unending grace.
Like the water we use to symbolize it, baptism destroys our old world and plants us fresh in the Kingdom. This may be hard to understand if you’re new to the idea of sacraments or if you, like me, were baptized as a small child. And all of us struggle to hold onto the idea of new life in baptism when our faith is tested. But the truth of baptism is that we are different afterwards. Even on our worst days. Even when we doubt.
This is the way with sacraments. As married folks will tell you, you can be together for years but it’s still different when you’re married. And most of us here know that while we’re the same old person walking back to our pew as we were walking down the aisle to communion, we’re a little different. And sometimes in our lives, taking communion can make a big difference.
It’s the same with baptism. Our candidate for baptism will look the same this afternoon as he did when he woke up this morning, if perhaps a little wetter on top of the head. But he will not be the same.
As we begin this season of Epiphany, in which we slowly come to understand the impact that Christ’s incarnation has on our lives, I invite us to join with our newest baptized member in considering what being part of the Body of Christ has meant for us. The power of our own baptism. When we are in tune with our baptismal covenant, do we hear God’s voice a little more clearly, calling and directing us through life’s tough choices? Do we feel God’s comforting presence more strongly when we suffer loss and grief? Do you see the world differently? With more beauty and hope, noticing God’s fingerprints on every aspect of creation?
Consider how you respond to the revelation of Christ through your own baptismal vows. Like water, our commitment to discipleship through baptism can pour through the world, cleansing and renewing everything in its path. This is the power of baptism, the cause of our celebration today. I hope it warms up soon and we can enjoy the season of revelation without so much frozen water. But for now, I’d like to invite our candidate for baptism up the font along with his sponsor, so we can start this season out right.
Photo: Frozen Niagara Falls, Credit: Canadian Press