Sunday, January 12, 2014

Epiphany 1 + Year A + The Baptism of Jesus

Epiphany 1 +A          12,  January AD  2014           Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+

Isaiah 42:1-9                                                                                                              Psalm 29    Acts 10:34-43                                                                                                         Matthew 3:13-17

There once was  a young man who was going into his "confirmation" interview with a semi retired priest.  He first asked the young man how many sacraments there were and to name them.  He then started his questions on Baptism and asked, "What happens to the baby when the water is poured on its head?"  The young man was so nervous by  this point that he blurted out, "it cries!!"


Epiphany--Baptism.  Those are the themes we enter this morning.  But beyond entering we encounter God as God intended it.  God the "big tent" Creator if you will.  Jesus the "big tent" savior.


Have you ever heard the expression: "I had an epiphany?"  Perhaps you've used it yourself.  An epiphany often happens when something that previously was puzzling or difficult to "figure out" becomes clear.  Remember the question and response:  get it? got it? good!" Holy Scripture is replete with such incidences when one of God's people "gets it"  and we again see one of the most profound of those in today's gospel.


Last Monday,  we began the second oldest liturgical season in the history of the church, that of Epiphany.  Only the period between Easter and Pentecost is older in Church tradition.  It=s name, AEpiphany@ is Greek because it is in the church in Greece that the feast was first celebrated.  What does it mean?  Does anyone know? 


It means Amanifestation@.  Light shining in darkness.  God's love overcoming the hatred of this world. If you will: revelation, proclamation and invitation. It speaks of God manifesting His power, His presence, His mighty actions in the world.  It may not seem that significant to us until we see what it is about.  It is about mission.


In the West, the tradition is to remember the three perhaps holy wise men, who along with many others of that day believed that something significant was about to happen in the world.  Some believed that a great one was to arise, a king or deliverer.  We do not know for sure how many of them there were.  We assume three because of the three gifts.


In the Eastern Church the focus is different.  If we should go to Tarpon Springs, Florida for the Epiphany festival, after several hours of liturgical prayers and singing, the time comes when the water is blessed.  It is the center, the high point of the celebration.  The Eastern Church focuses on the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany.  What makes Jesus= Baptism so important? Because it is the archetype, the model for all baptisms, yours and mine.  In fact scripture only speaks of one baptism!  Ephesians 4 says " There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.."  It isn't your baptism or mine.  It's God's and Ours.


Theologians consider the baptism of Jesus the inauguration of his Messiah-ship if you will.  His commissioning for ministry.  Almost like an ordination. Before this time Jesus was presumably growing  in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man as Luke chapter 2 puts it.


Very early in the Bible, we have God's Name being proclaimed. Perhaps as early as Seth and Enoch in and later Noah in Genesis.  Some theologians call the charge God gave Adam, then Noah and lastly Abraham; covenants.  Like the covenant of marriage and the covenant of baptism. They are sacred charges between God and human beings. From the beginning God desired to bring the whole world back to himself. 


The prophet Isaiah wrote: " And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord  … these I will bring to my holy mountain. and give them joy … Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” and  later he writes “‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other’” (Isa. 45:22).  I wonder if you knew that.


.So what happened?  They stuck to themselves.  Those other people don't need God.  He loves us--our God!  So in the fullness of time God sent his Son.  As a gospel  parable says: "perhaps they will hear my Son."  Have we heard him?  As we go through the baptismal covenant this morning, let us sincerely, individually, seriously look at what we are saying.  It's not an "I do" it is an "I will"--"we will".  We are a part of that mission.  We are EPIPHANY people--not just the clergy but ALL of the baptized.


What does Baptism mean to you?   What does YOUR baptism mean to you?   Is it something that just "happened a long time ago that really has no influence on my life today?"  Martin Luther said,  that baptism is "the daily garment which the Christian is to wear all of the time."   Today,  as we commemorate the baptism of the Lord Jesus, let us ask God  that each of us may find new depth of meaning in our own baptisms,  a new way of helping us to live each day in the life of God in His Son,  Jesus Christ, as Alittle Christs@ to the world, for that is what we are called to be. In the 1928 Prayer book service of holy baptism there is a "rubric" instruction for the parents to hand the child to the priest.  Small parental problem, there is not a rubric to tell the priest to give the child back!  Accidental?  I think not.  We are given to God in baptism.  We now belong to Him!


The manifestation of baptism is Christ in us the hope of glory.  I want to explain something to you about our "sacraments".  We name two primary and five secondary.  Sacrament is from the word "sacramentum"  and it refers to the oath Roman soldiers took to Caesar before going to war.  Every sacrament of the Church refers to an oath: the sacramentum.  Yes, we take oaths personally or in another's name with infants, at baptism.  We take oaths at confirmation, We take oaths at marriage and ordination.  The thing about the Christian "oaths" is that Christianity is the only religion where God takes the oath first and God will not break the oath although we surely will.  The oath of Jesus begins in the covenant of salvation and proceeds with "signs".  Every sacrament has at least one sign.  What do signs do?  They tell you something, a message, or they point to something, a direction.  So it is with sacraments.  They all speak of God's love for us in his son Jesus Christ.  In that sense, we can say they are signs of love, manifestations, epiphanies of Christ living in us and our living in Him.  They are our commission and we are God's army of peace, love and redemption. God doesn't make "secret disciples."  He makes "ambassadors or Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20)  But we must own our commission…our co-Mission! If not we then who?  Epiphany is a recall to action, love and faith.


A priest  once called on a man who was baptized but not a believer.  The man frequently attended church; he had been baptized many, many  years before.  He was showing the priest  around the house, and he  pointed out his framed baptismal certificate, saying , "I was baptized in our church, you know."  The priest  replied, "Ah, your baptismal  certificate.  Very good.  Tell me, when are you going to cash it in?"


Baptism is like a check from Almighty God with your name on it, but you must endorse it or it cannot be cashed. 


What is our mission and purpose? As St Paul wrote: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do". Ephesians 2 


In a moment we will reiterate the Covenant of Baptism.  Let us take these to heart, not reading from the Prayer book only, but reading from the heart.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is this:  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness ] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ " .2 Corinthians 4:6


In the hymn: "God Himself is with Us" we read:


Thou pervadest all things;
let thy radiant beauty
light mine eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers
eagerly unfold them,
to the sunlight calmly hold them,
so let me quietly
in thy rays imbue me;
let thy light shine through me.


Let that Light of the face of Jesus be our face to him, to one another and to the world.


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