1/9/2011 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- First Sunday after Epiphany - The Baptism of Jesus

posted Jan 11, 2011, 2:17 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 23, 2011, 3:25 PM by Terry Brady ]

Standing in the spotlight

Matthew 3:13-17


I think it is safe to say that the holiday season is over.  The New Year has been rung in and most of us and settling back in at work or   school. I was thinking back over the holidays and the time I spent with family and friends.  One of the reoccurring themes at each gathering was prayer.  And before you think that all my family and friends and very holy people who spend a lot of time in prayer, remember that most holiday gatherings come with opportunity to eat and therefore the opportunity to pray.  I feel I was especially lucky because this year I broke bread not just with family but also a few times with friends that I had not seen for some time. The only problem was that each time I, the ordained person, was expected to pray.  Apparently, my friends and family have not fully grasped the idea of the ministry of all the baptized.  Each time we gathered when it came time to pray all heads turned to me.   Sometimes I said yes, but sometimes I said no and actually managed to get someone else to pray.  

I give special thanks for those times because to hear someone’s voice lifted in prayer is very special indeed.  Whether it is a known prayer like “God is Good, God is Great” or a prayer that comes out of the words that rises to a person’s lips in the moment, each person brings something of who they are to the prayer. You hear a little of how that person sees the world and how they see God whether they see God as a loving father or the life force of the universe. It didn’t matter if they stumbled for the words or were as smooth as silk, each person’s prayer was an amazing gift.  And while you might agree with me, I suspect that the next time you are in a situation where there is a request for someone to offer a prayer,  there will be no rush to answer with people enthusiastically raising their hands saying - Me me. I want to pray.   It is a vulnerable to pray out loud in front of others.  It is almost like a spotlight is being shined on you.  It is much safer to stay on the sidelines.  

As I read this gospel this week, I realized that Jesus is not on the sidelines. He is in the middle of it all with the spotlight shining on him.  His baptism is quite the show. He comes to John to be baptized. First John objects saying to should be the other way around but then he consents and takes Jesus in to the river.  I can imagine that the usual crowds are around watching.  When Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open and a voice says "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."    I wonder if we could see ourselves in Jesus’ place – as the one being baptized by John.  Think about it. Coming to the river and making our request of John with crowd of people watching.   As we come up out of the water, we hear a voice – This is my beloved daughter.  This is my beloved Son in who I am well pleased.  How many of you are up for that?  How many are ready to head for the hills.  

I had to pause and think about whether this is something I would run to or run away from. We Episcopalians are not great at public pronouncements and recognition of our faith.  We aren’t big on making a show of our faith. I know that the challenge of being seen as a religious person was one of the reasons that kept me away from the priest hood for quite some time.  And yet just as Jesus’ life shows how to live, Jesus’ baptism at the river is what paves the way for all our baptisms and our work as the people of God in this world. If you have been baptized, you are in the spotlight.  You have been washed by the water of life.  You promised or promises were made on your behalf to put the whole of you lives in the spotlight of God’s gaze who looks down and says this is my beloved child in whom I take great delight. [1]  

If you have been baptized, it is too late to run for the hills.  But before you panic, remember how merciful God is and that it is God, not us, looking down and saying this is my beloved Child.  God is immensely merciful.  One of my favorite prayers from Thomas Merton acknowledges that even though we think we may be following God’s will, we may not be, but that we believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God. You won’t this kind of mercy anywhere else.  Another thing to remember is that the life of the baptized is a pilgrimage.  Our baptism “announces what we are to look like in the end.   It tells us who and whose we are and challenges us to do what is necessary so that we might become who we already are.  It is a way of life lived in an ever deepening and loving relationship with God and therefore one’s true self, that self created in the image of God.” [2]  Jesus’ baptism was just the beginning and is followed by many acts of healing, forgiveness, and teaching.   Our baptism sets on the path of living faithfully, worshiping with our fellow travelers, struggling, with the scriptures and asking how they speak to our lives, spending time in prayer listening to that still small voice in our hearts, turning back to god when we go astray, seeking the Christ in others and continuing to fight for a world that is just.  

This is the work of the baptized to live in God’s spotlight.   Even though we may not jump at the chance to pray out loud, God’s light is manifested in our lives in many other ways.  We do not stand on the shore and see what is going on from afar.  We are in the water with Jesus and God is with us, looking at us with immeasurable love inviting us into a different way of life.  We might be tempted to move away from the center and hang out at the shoreline, but God has a way of finding us there.    Yesterday afternoon, as I listened to the news of the shooting of congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, I thought that perhaps we cannot afford to be on the sidelines.  In a world where a congresswoman is shot as she spends time with her constituents, in a world where a man is attacked in the metro and no one helps, and in a country where we have so much and yet the poverty rate is close to 49 million people, we need to be in the spotlight.  I don’t mean praying out loud every time there is an opportunity or standing on the street proclaiming that you are baptized.  I mean engaging and re- engaging in this pilgrimage begun at our baptism, living in relationship to God.  So that we can remember exactly what that involves, I want you invite you to read together our baptismal promises which are so wonderfully laid out in our prayer book. Take up those prayer books and turn to pg 304, our baptismal covenant, which I want us to read out loud together.   We will skip the first three questions since that part is in the creed that we will say in just a little while.  We’ll start with the fourth question.   Instead of me reading the question and you answering, I want everyone to read out loud the questions and the answers because we are all in this.  We are all together in the river in the spotlight doing our best to live out this life in Christ.   


Let us begin. 

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?    I will, with God’s help. 


Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?  I will, with God’s help. 


Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  I will, with God’s help. 


Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help. 


Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?   I will, with God’s help. 


Let us pray : Heavenly Creator, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon your people the gift of baptism. Sustain them, in your Holy Spirit and give them the courage to persevere, and a spirit to know and to love you. Amen

[1] Nathan Nettleton

[2] Holy Baptism: A Guide for Parents and Godparents, The Rev Dr. John H. Westerhoff