Baptism of Our Lord 2010
First Trinity, Chicago
Psalm 29 (3)
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember the story of the Good Samaritan?
(tell the story):
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
"Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Most of Jesus' parables and stories were controversial in his day,
or at least surprising,
in that they often had an unexpected ending,
a shocker, a twist
a conclusion that would often leave the holier-than-thou religious folk questioning long held and deeply ingrained religious beliefs and prejudices.
They shook up how one viewed God and how one viewed one's relation to other people.
Of course, the parable of the of the Good Samaritan in Jesus' time
was controversial and shocking to the crowds,
and to the early 1st century Christian converts in that a Samaritan
(like many modern Americans) was an ethnic mutt.
And according to the popular, dominant religious groups and teachings of the day, the Samaritan was often considered unclean, unholy, less of a child of God, if part of God's family at all.
A Samaritan was a kin to a dog if you agreed with the dominant social and religious opinion of the day.
Becoming Christian, in 1st century Israel and Palestine, like today
(as radical as Christian teaching may be),
though it was supposed to make us all see each other as sisters and brothers,
didn't magically erase years of internalized prejudices
(even if one recognized them). It still doesn't do that.
And the issue of the Samaritans
(as well as Gentiles)
was a heated and much debated controversy in the early church,
even among the disciples
(some of you might recall the dispute between Peter and Paul recounted in the book of Galatians).
In my years of church visiting, I have heard sermons in baptist and catholic churches, conservative and progressive communities, alike, all equating the Good Samaritan to some group they might find...hard to like, or at least hard to relate to, attempting to riff off of the shocking nature of Jesus' parable:
I have seen the Good Samaritan become Gay or transgendered,
I've seen him portrayed as some other ethnicity or race,
as an undocumented immigrant,
as Jeffery Dahmer, Al Qaeda,
and, at a small SBC church in Milwaukee, a Democrat.
Sadly, I see in the parable echoes of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that continues as we worship this morning,
or perhaps the Catholic/Protestant conflict that also still persists in Northern Ireland today.
I'm sure you all can think of other parallel examples closer to home.
Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany.
We celebrated Epiphany “Day” Wednesday night along with Augustana Lutheran and Christ the Mediator right up the street,
observing the arrival of the Magi (or the We-Three-Kings-of-Orient-Are) at the location of the Nativity.
The word Epiphany,
from the Greek, Epi – Phaneia,
means an Appearance, or a Manifestation.
It can mean the projection an image onto something.
In modern usage,
and in modern cartoons, of course,
an Epiphany is an a-ha moment, a realization,
often pictured by a light bulb going on above the Epiphanized cartoon character's head.
In the Church calendar,
Epiphany and the “Season after Epiphany”
begins with 3 Kings Day
and the Magi's Astrological Epiphany about Christ's being “King”,
followed by the Baptism of our Lord (today),
and the Epiphanic voice from heaven declaring:
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”
and finally ending the 6th Sunday after Epiphany
with the Transfiguration of Our Lord
in which we hear another voice from heaven,
(in case we didn't get it the first time, or happened to be sleeping in). This time the voice will be declaring
“this is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
Certainly what has been long considered in the Church
as the big Epiphany today,
is God's declaration, while Jesus is praying,
that Jesus is God's son, the beloved.
Certainly the important part of the story, for the author of the Gospel of Luke,
is the voice from the heavens,
and the Spirit's descent on Jesus like a dove,
to the extent that Luke's text doesn't tell us whether the crowd heard the voice or not,
or, even who baptized Jesus in his Gospel.
But I think perhaps the bigger Epiphany
for those of us who have been hearing all this Jesus stuff for quite a while now,
is the Epiphanic experience
(in our reading from Acts)
had by Peter and John.
We come into the 8th Chapter of Acts in our second reading this morning.
The section that comes right before it
tells the story of the Church in Jerusalem being persecuted
and folks being brutally murdered by a fanatic religious sect
headed by a man named Saul.
The persecution elevated to such a degree, Acts tells us,
that the disciples were forced to flee from Jerusalem for a while,
but that they continued teaching and preaching as they went on their way.
moved by the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism
(and all the disciples on the Day of Pentecost),
went down to Samaria.
The people in Samaria, says the book of Acts,
took the risk of welcoming Philip,
at the time, a temporary immigrant refugee,
in flight from religious persecution,
and who was immediately considered shady and suspicious
for no other reason than his facial features and skin tone.
But they took him in anyway.
And upon his reception, and act of hospitality and love on the part of this whole community of “Good Samaritans,” Acts tells us,
demons were cast out, the lame were cured, and people came to a life-giving faith and Way of Life.
We read in Acts that upon hearing the news that the Samaritans had embraced the Good News, Peter and John were sent down to Samaria for a prayer session.
I think that the two of them (Peter and John)
were really not sent simply to pray for the people in Samaria,
to offer a kind of 1st century “Confirmation” or “Affirmation of Baptism”
as a follow up after Phillip baptized them,
But, rather, I think, Peter and John, out of suspicion and internalized prejudices and distrust of “those dogs” the Samaritans, as they were colloquially called,
went down to see if it was really true.
Samaritans? Really?? Could they, too, be beloved Sons and Daughters of God???
Of course the Epiphany, the ah-ha moment, the light-bulb-going-on to that answer, is: Yes.
Upon the embrace between Peter and John (ethnically Jewish Christians),
and the often often despised and distrusted Samaritan-”mutts,”
the Spirit was made manifest,
that is, the Spirit “Epiphanied”.
It came upon them,
a light was shone upon them in the darkness of human division and hate,
and united them as beloved children of God,
and (at least for the moment),
revealed to them that boundaries and divisions constructed by human beings mean nothing,
and ought to be disregarded
when one sees that the Spirit transcends all boundaries,
destroying them as she descends upon all people
in the form of the bird of peace—a dove,
telling us all: you are my daughter, you are my son,
you are beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Despite what many folks seem to believe,
Baptism, the Holy Sacrament of Water and Word is not meant to be fire insurance, or a get out of Hell Free Card—make sure they bury you with your baptismal certificate so you can give it to St. Peter as a ticket at the pearly gates.
Certainly “Jesus loves the little children or the world,” baptized or not.
Rather, baptism, when taken seriously, and Sacramentally, is a rite in which God makes radical promises to us, and we, in turn, make radical promises to God. It is a life long covenant. A commitment. A marriage of sorts.
Our baptismal identity, when lived out, makes us weird. And it might make us shocking.
That is, I think we should seem quirky and sometimes ridiculous in the eyes of folks who aren't people of faith—or perhaps even more so in the eyes of the established church.
I think our lives should be strange in the eyes of folks who follow other ways than the Way Jesus taught.
Baptism births us in to one great big dysfunctional family of sinners standing in the need of prayer, attempting to live an alternative Way of Life,
Our baptismal identity calls us to reject sin, death, and the devil—anything that would attempt to separate people from God and keep people from loving people. It calls us to love all people—even those we find most repulsive or the most annoying—a task that often seems insurmountable.
Our baptismal covenant calls us to see past human boundaries,
and to live in the Spirit that dissolves all that would divide us,
causing us to embrace the other and, in the face of a shadowy world, to proclaim Good News.
Baptism calls us to live as the Good Samaritan—a man who, himself, was never baptized.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, the Gospels tell us,
he was pushed into the desert,
tested and tempted,
and then thrown into a ministry,
in which Luke's Gospel tells us, Jesus' “mission statement” was:
“to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
I hope that you'll pray with me that we,
and as a congregation, would be encouraged, as we begin a new year,
that we might make the attempt to live out the mission
Christ grants all of us as God's children
to proclaim Good News.
May we learn to not simply tolerate but to embrace our neighbors, and those quite different from us,
May we learn to not simply welcome all people, but to love them,
May we genuinely and ardently seek to live in the Way taught by Jesus and inspired by the Spirit of God,
Trusting in the enduring promise, that (always):
you are God's daughters and sons,
you are beloved,
and with you God is well pleased.
May we all be sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.