Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon for Epiphany 1 - Baptism of Our Lord

Photo Credit: Cosmo Eskridge
Good Morning!

As we said earlier,
this morning  it is still the season of Epiphany—
“the time after the Epiphany," if you prefer.

The season began this week on Tuesday, 
as we celebrated the arrival of the magi, 
those sort of mysterious rulers 
“from foreign lands” 
bringing gifts to Jesus in his infancy. 
Rulers, bowing down to a baby, 
following a star,
humble leaders before a humble child…

As we move even more deeply into the season this morning, in addition to a piece from the first story of the creation from Genesis, and the story of Paul in Ephesus in Acts, we read about Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. 


John has sure come up quite a bit this year, hasn’t he? 


This season, this time after (or of) Epiphany will eventually conclude in a a couple of months, with the Transfiguration - the story of Jesus on the mountain, with a couple of the disciples, where once again we’ll hear a voice from the heavens affirm, 

“This is my Son, the beloved…” 


Some of you may remember from previous epiphanies in previous years that the word “epiphany,” 

means something like “to show upon”

sometimes like a projector shows a movie on a screen revealing to us something new onto an old, beat up canvas that we’ve seen a million times, or that was in front of us all long, 

sometimes like the light that shines within that gets out through the cracks in our lives, and in our being, but shines brightly into the lives of those who surround us… 
(Sometimes the stories of our flaws and struggles are sources of healing and light for those with similar flaws and similar struggles). 

sometimes epiphany is the lightbulb that turns on over the roadrunner or the coyote when they get a really good idea—a moment of clarity, or insight, or epiphany. An aha-moment.

Whatever direction the light shines, or how it appears, the theme seems to be that 

the light “appears,” it “shows upon”—

even the light that shines from within seems to at the same time, somehow be “beyond us” something greater than us, shining in us, through us, enlightening, transforming, illuminating… 

Whatever direction the light shines 
or how it appears, 
It happens, 
by grace—

A gift. 

And our response to this gift of light, 
our response to grace, 
say the scriptures, 

well… our responses vary—

as do our accounts of what actually happened. 

Sometimes we don’t even see what happened. 

We often miss epiphanies.

They can be quick and quiet. 

And even forgotten. 

For example: 

The voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism 
in one Gospel account is heard by everybody, 
in another account perhaps only by Jesus himself—
Another says “You are my Son, the beloved…” 
another says it was actually in the bodily form of a dove

It’s unclear who did see it or did hear it.

Or didn’t.

(and on and on)..

as soon as the epiphanic happened, 

accounts of the epiphanic moment, of the epiphany, 


And, well,  

that’s fine. 

That’s fine because the epiphany was not about doves or voices—

the Epiphany, rather, 
was the insight, 
the illumination, 
the message about Christ…

The epiphany was the epiphany. 

“This is God’s son,” with whom God is well pleased—

a message we often affirm about Jesus in the saying of the Creeds,
(although some of you sometimes cross your fingers—that’s okay too!)

and a message we affirm about each one of us when we baptize one another—

you, we say, are a daughter, a son of God. 
We light a candle and say
“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

—no matter how we sprinkle 
or dunk 
or immerse 
or splash
you in or with water. 

Regardless of wether it’s me 
or a Catholic priest 
or an Evangelist
or some random person you met at lake Michigan—

the ritual and the account of the ritual might change, 
but the epiphany remains—
Christ is God’s son, 
you are God’s son, you are God’s daughter, 
you are a child of God. 

And somehow, in that Epiphany in itself, 

God is well pleased. 


A quick note on the creation account from Genesis 1, our first reading this morning: 

The thing I love most about this story, the one in Genesis, in contrast to the accounts about Jesus’ baptism (and later in this season, the Transfiguration), and in contrast to the account of the baptism in the Spirit of the Ephesians…

The thing I love most about the Genesis story,
is that nobody could have possibly been there
to write it down. 

With all the arguments and debate and emotion 
that arise around this story in particular, in the public sphere,
it is the least likely story to have had a witness present
who was watching and that could then write it down,
according to the story itself. 


to be fair, 

in my experience, 
that’s kind of how faith works a lot of the time. 


Although this season is bookended 
with stories of dazzling light 
and decent of the Spirit, 
and voices from the heavens,

in between, epiphany seems to be smaller, 
or less dazzling, 
or happening with a quieter voice. 

Epiphany can happen and nobody notices. 

Sometimes it’s only by looking back at life, 

and at our life experiences, that we can better see:

Beauty did emerge from that chaos, 
light did finally shine in those shadows, 
times I now hold sacred did eventually form from the void, 

a human family did find one another, 
and rise up from the dust together,
despite their differences, 
up from the division and hatred 
and violence that surrounded them, 

Certainly, it seems, God’s Spirit was moving over the face of the deep, after all, certainly it seems God did speak into the void…

God did speak, it seems, 
and something sacred did happened, 

A new creation, 

A new existence, 

A new humanity…

The Spirit moved over the face of the waters, 

called us again God’s children, 

and pushed us to speak 

and to prophecy, 

to hold all things in common, 

and to give to each according to his or her need. 

In Genesis, at Christ’s baptism, in the story of the Acts of the Apostles, 

sometimes it is immediate and obvious, 

sometimes it takes years to see the Spirit blowing over the face of the deep, 

running in the water, 

and breathing through each person gathered in this room. 

In this moment, 

at this time, 

right now. 


I am grateful for the work of the Spirit at this place. 

I feel that I see it often, 

but really, it’s in reflection each day, 

looking back and looking forward, 

in prayer and mediation, 

that I need to ask for eyes to see and ears to hear, 

to take time to be made aware of how the Spirit is moving in a special way here at First Trinity. 

And when I take that time, 

for me, the insight, that epiphany is always there: 

the Spirit is moving. 

It’s also informed when we have visitors. 

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to remind you of something special you forget because you’re in it day in and day out. 

For example, when students visit, or even when others visit—from cities or from suburbs or from other countries (remember our friends form Brazil? They were awesome—weren’t they?), 

When folks visit, often this activity of the Spirit, this gift is re-affirmed. 

This is a sacred place, and the Spirit is present in a special way here. We really are a church for those who wouldn’t go to church. We are the people who often wouldn’t go to church, but here we are in church! We’re also a lot of other things—but as an example…

It’s a gift we have been trusted with, for the good of this community, but somehow, for so many, 
we are also a sign of hope for the Church, 
and even an example (Yes, us! With all our flaws and cracks—literally and figuratively)—we are a sign of hope and an example of what “could be”… A sign of possibility… By grace, you make a difference far beyond these walls. 

(Of course many of you know that, and that’s why you’re here). 

I thank God for this place, for everyone here, and for this special gift. 

On that: 

Today I am honored to take part in installing our new officers—the officers that our members (you) elected this past Fall.

We give thanks for them, some new and some returning, 

and we ask for the Spirit to be upon them, 

and upon us, 

as we work with them to participate in the work—the mission and ministry—of the Spirit in this congregation, 

the work that began by Grace long before any of us were born, 

and by Grace will go on long after we are gone. 

I’m grateful for this new work of the the Spirit, 

and I ask God to give us ears to hear and eyes to see where and how that Spirit continues to lead this community in the Grace of God. 

After our hymn of the day, I will ask our new officers to come forward as we give them our blessing, 
affirming their call for this year, 
and promising to work with them, in the Spirit, in this season of Epiphanies and lights—
shining from above, from within, 
and in ways we won’t fully understand for decades, but that perhaps we’ll see looking back.

May God shine through our lives, 
our brokenness, 
and in the love we share in community. 


[Sing Anthem as Hymn of the Day] 

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

That's how the light gets in.

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