January 10, 2016
Alison Montgomery Fischer
St. Paul’s Episcopal - Bakersfield
Isaiah 43:1-7, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.
May the words of my lips and meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord. Our rock and redeemer.
Today, we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus and our own Baptismal covenant through this Holy sacrament. The symbolism and usage of water in the Isaiah and Luke scriptures for today are vivid and complex. Our Assistant Minister, Deb, described the baptism as a boat that not only navigates us through the rough waters of life but also to lift us up and carry us to shore.
The Book of Common Prayer defines sacraments as outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. Baptism is a holy sacrament which is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. The waters of baptism are God’s way of identifying us as a sacred member of God’s family and the Church. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ and our baptism strengthens the relationship that the Holy Trinity desires from us. We are called, identified, and named as Christ’s own. Does our baptism cause us to become perfect individuals with wonderful lives? No, we are human and that is impossible. However, our baptism does mean that God’s love for us is perfect at all times. Baptism reminds us that when life exhibits the brokenness of our world and that Christ is with us at all times; especially through the sin, trials, and sorrows and that there is a rainbow after the storm.
Let’s take a moment of personal reflection, if you have been baptized, how often does this sacred act cross your thoughts? As I have prepared for this sermon, I have surveyed friends and family about their own baptismal experience and found the answers to be varied and interesting. The overall consensus was that it is not an event that is of much remembrance or a major part of our identity. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only young teen who was a little disappointed in the act of baptism and naïve enough to think the water would make me feel immediately different. We are told that the baptism is one of the most profound religious experiences of our lives, but I remembering thinking the only difference was that now my hair was frizzier from the sacred dousing. For some reason, I thought that as a newly baptized member of the church, I would feel lighter or holier or at least be given a glimpse of the divine. If only I had had the capacity to understand grace in a more mature manner.
The Gospel of Luke tells us how Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. John the Baptist wore cloaks made out of camel hair, ate locusts and honey, spent a considerable time praying in the desert, and was viewed as a type of wild card in society. He was preaching for people to be baptized to cleanse themselves of their sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. John’s father, Zacharias, was a temple priest and John was well acquainted the ritual cleansing prior to entering the temples. John chose to travel out of the temple and minister to the people in their own environments and it is with John and his rogue ministry that Jesus chose to engage and worship.
Up until this point of Jesus’ life, we really don’t know much of what Jesus had been up to. The gospel begins with his birth and then skips ahead to age 30. There is speculation that Jesus and John had a long friendship and had grown up with each other so this was not their first encounter but we are not sure. There are theories that Jesus had spent time meditating and doing yoga in India, perhaps he had been busy honing his carpentry or labor skills, and some believe he had been traveling to other major cities and participating in discussions about how to change the social structure of the Roman Empire. We do know that the Gospel writers did not perceive what Jesus was doing prior to his own baptism to be significant enough to be included in the Gospels. Jesus’ baptism is where he is identified to be our Messiah. This is the event that changed the course of his life and the course of history.
Baptism is derived from the Greek “baptizo” which is defined as “being immersed”. Now, this can be interpreted both literally in figuratively in the religious act of baptism. We are immersed into a new life with Christ and we are symbolically cleansed with the baptismal waters. The baptismal font is placed at the entrance of the church to remind us that our journey with Christ begins with baptism and our vows should be the core of our actions and thoughts both inside and out of these doors. Baptism provides us a new life and identity that is something that should be in the forefront of our being, not just a moment that we think about once a year when we repeat our baptismal vows or remember fondly when we think about joining the church.
Through the act of baptism, we are given rejuvenation through a lifelong process. Although we participate in baptism at the beginning of our faith journey, the moment of our baptism encompasses our past, present, and future. God is taking into account all of our trials and victories, our sins and our holy moments, our sorrows and joys and celebrating our precious lives with Grace.
Isaiah tell us “Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called your by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned and the flame will not consume you.” God does not promise a perfect and easy life but we are promised grace, peace, strength, and companionship. We are promised that when we are experiencing struggles that require strength from the very depths of our souls, God is there cultivating these dark times so they may be used for Glory to others at a later time. Baptism provides the grace to start anew when we turn down the wrong path and shut the enemy out of our lives. Our baptismal covenant rejuvenates our lives so that we ourselves have the grace and strength to experience the waves of life while celebrating our participation in something much larger than ourselves. Writer, Rachel Held Evans, reminds us that God uses the same power to cleanse and rejuvenate our lives as was used to raise Jesus from the dead.
Meditating through Isaiah 43 has been extensively calming to me at the time of year. It is a year ago tomorrow, that I received a phone call while I was getting ready for church. The week before, my older sister, Amy, had suddenly fallen ill and was hospitalized. The phone call was telling me that Amy was now in a coma and I needed to come home to Texas. Prior to leaving town, we stopped by the church to hand off the food pantry keys. It was the day of our congregational meeting and Grace Hall was packed. The meeting was stopped and there was a call for prayer for Amy and our family. Jay and I were enveloped with loved, encouragement, and support. Amy went home to our creator later that week, and we were uplifted with divine care from our St. Paul’s family as well as our Texas and Michigan families in Christ which helped us get through this significant loss. This love and support will be something my family and I will be forever grateful for. I have proudly watched our congregation respond in the same manner to other congregants through times of trial and sorrow; which is the church living up to our Baptismal vows and God’s hand being extended to us through human form. I must add that during this time period of Amy being in ICU and leaving this earth, I recall feeling a sense of peace and strength that I can only attribute to God’s hand and the power of prayer. Although devastated, the waters did not consume me or our family and for that, I am also truly grateful.
Through research for this sermon, I learned that when Martin Luther was experiencing dark and stressful moments, he would touch his head and say “Martin, be calm, you are baptized.” How powerful of a reminder is that? Be calm, our Holy Trinity is with you. Be calm, God has a divine plan for you. Be calm, there is a community of believers that will support, love, and encourage you. Be calm, because where we are going after this life is greater than we can possible comprehend.
Our baptism is a reminder that we are not navigating this life alone. Yes, it means that we a child of God and that the Divine’s presence is in our life, but it also means that we have this community of believers that are our sisters and brothers in Christ that become our family as we journey through this life together. The community of the church is God’s abundant blessing in our lives to provide the necessary human interaction and support so that we may live a life in Christ. Through this community, is where we find the support needed to survive our trials and sorrows in life. It is through the church community, that we are held accountable for our behavior and encouraged to walk the righteous path. It is through our church community that facilitates the opportunity to minister to others and be a part of their faith journey and walk. We are given an opportunity to be vessels for the Holy Spirit and this opportunity is not one to be taken lightly. We have an obligation to each other and to God to keep our collective body as healthy as possible.
Today, we will be reciting our baptismal vows as a reminder and celebration of this Holy Sacrament. We will recite these vows in a public manner just as we did during our actual baptisms. If you have not taken these baptismal vows yet, I encourage you to meditate on this sacred covenant and pray for guidance to know if this is where the spirit leads you. These vows are our promise to uphold our end of the baptismal relationship with God. This is where we promise to God that as Christians, we will strive to live on a more righteous path that we will renounce evil and sin and recognize that God desires more from our time and energy. We are promising that we will live as Jesus commanded, by providingjustice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity to all of God’s people both inside our church walls and out. Our baptismal vows mean that we are to strive to have healthy relationships and communication that is void of gossip and passive aggressiveness and filled with grace, appreciation, and respect. Let us spread the Good News with our words and actions with our baptized identities as the forefront of our being. When we are anxious, let us be calm and remind ourselves that all is well because we are God’s children and beloved and God is well pleased.