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Epiphany I The Baptism of Our Lord January 7, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
EPIPHANY 1: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Year B
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, January 7, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
A wind from God
swept over the face of the waters
bringing order out of chaos . . .
          and so the creation began.
The Holy Spirit
sweeps over the waters
of the baptismal font
bringing order out of an unformed life . . .
          and so a new life, a new creation,
                   in Christ begins.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
Not John’s baptism of repentance
          as Paul told the disciples in Ephesus.
          John’s water baptism
          was merely a preparation
                    for something greater –
          for “the One who was to come.”

the One whose water baptism
pours out on those who receive it
          the gift of the Holy Spirit . . .
The waters of the baptismal font
no matter how large or small the font . . .
are  deeper
and more powerful
          than the waters of the river Jordan
                   at fullest flood,
          than the waters of the stormy ocean
                   at highest tide  . . .
for baptism into Christ
transforms a life,
re-orients a life,
commits a life to God,
to be lived in
          the pattern of Jesus . . .
          in humility,
          fierce kindness,
to be lived not for self
but for God
and the well-being of all God’s creation.     
Jesus’ own baptism by John
transformed the meaning and effect
of baptism
          for all who follow after . . .
More than a rite of repentance and cleansing,
it becomes
the conferring
          of a core identity
God’s call
          to mission.
There have always been
differing opinions
as to how much Jesus knew
          about himself
at the time of his baptism.
The four gospel accounts
themselves vary
in what they suggest.

Matthew’s description
“Jesus came from Galilee
to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.”
          for the purpose of being baptized . . .
And in Matthew,
John draws back:
“I need to be baptized by you,
          and do you come to me?”
To which Jesus replies,
“Let it be so now;
for it is proper for us in this way
to fulfill all righteousness.”                   [Mt. 3.13-15]
          “I know what I’m doing
          and this is what needs to happen
                   in God’s plan.”
. . . suggesting
          full knowledge of
          himself and his mission.

The much briefer account
we heard today from Mark
“In those days
 Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan . . .”
          not came to be baptized
          but came and was baptized . . .
and there was no questioning
by John
and no indication from Jesus
of any purpose
          such as:
          “fulfilling all righteousness.”
Mark’s account
would not seem to rule out 
that Jesus came to the Jordan
in search of a future
                   he did not yet clearly see . . .

There’s no definitive answer
to this question of
how much Jesus knew about himself
and when he knew it. . . 
We don’t know whether
the shout-out from heaven:
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased . . .”
confirmed something he already knew
or was a startling revelation
that opened his mind
to understand
what had heretofore been
          only hints and guesses . . .
But since we know Jesus
          to have been God incarnate,
God choosing to experience human life fully
          in all its complexity,
it seems likely
that part of that experience
was walking, like us,
this second path:

the way of gradual growth
in self-knowledge and understanding,
the way of
recognizing and turning
          from any false values
          imposed by family, culture, society . . .
the givens with which we began . . .
to embrace the glorious freedom
          of God’s Children, God’s Beloved.
For followers of Jesus,
baptism is our irrevocable turning
from the old self
to the new . . .
But it’s not a completion,
it’s a new beginning . . .
and the formation of the new self
          will be a lifelong process.

Immediately after
the voice from heaven spoke,
the Spirit which descended on Jesus
at his baptism
drove him into the wilderness . . .
there to
ponder what it would mean,
being God’s Son,
          God’s Beloved.
And in his pondering,
to face temptations,
false images
          of what his life
                   could be
                             if he surrendered to them . . .
and to choose to
reject those attractions,
and so discover
his true self
and his mission.

We, too,
in the wilderness
          of this confusing and perplexing life,
are surrounded by temptations
          to surrender our baptismal freedom
          for a new captivity
          to the forces that would rule us and our society:
                    consumerism, prejudice,
                    indifference to the suffering of others,
                    our own worst impulses:
In the words of the baptismal rite’s
“the evil powers of this world
that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,
“the sinful desires that draw us
          from the love of God.”         
                             [Holy Baptism, BCP page 302]
And that is why,
in this lifelong process
of living into our baptism,
we renew our vows
on the four baptismal occasions
of the Church’s year . . .

to remember again
          these guideposts
                   for the journey,
to strengthen again
          our will to follow them,
to encourage one another again
          by acknowledging with one voice
          our shared commitment
                   to this life . . .
          (we are all in this together)
and to confess again
that to live this life
we will always need God’s help.
By our baptism,
God has brought us
out of error into truth,
out of sin into righteousness,
out of death into life.        
                             [Eucharistic Prayer B BCP p. 368]
By our baptism,
God has joined us to Christ
and to one another,
and called us to Christian ministry.

Baptism is the fundamental
and most important ordination . . .
the ordering of a life
in this ordered society called the Church,
for the purpose of
serving the world in Jesus’ Name. 
The foundational ordination:
not as deacon, not as priest, not as bishop,
but as baptized,
for it is all the baptized
who make up
the present day incarnation
          of the risen Christ,
the Body of Christ
          in the world
                   in this place and time . . .
The ordination vows
of deacons, priests and bishops
          are extensions of the baptismal vows –
promises to live those vows
in such a way as to
build up the whole Body of Christ
          for the ministry we all share.

The baptismal font at the door
of the place where we come to worship,
reminds us all,
as we are gathered in,
who we are:
          God’s baptized,
          God’s children,
          God’s beloved.
Reminds us all,
as we are sent out,
that we go out
          to a baptismal life of service,
the ministry of the gospel
          that has been entrusted to us
                   for the life of the world.
So, on this Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord,
let us prepare ourselves
to renew our baptismal vows,
the most important promises
we have ever made,
or will ever make.