4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Sermon Title: Heaven Sent by the Rev. Dr. Linda Flatley
Our happy new year barely lasted a week when chaos ensued. Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus the Word, pre-existent, in the beginning bringing order out of chaos. We celebrated our unity in the Sacrament of Communion and prayed for peace in the world. Then on Epiphany the day the church celebrates God’s revelation to the Magi and all nations that Christ is the Light of the World violence erupted in our nation’s capital and the Capitol building. Epiphany 2021 will go down in infamy.
What did God reveal to us as a nation on January 6? We are still processing and coping with the trauma of that event. You’ve read many conflicting reports and seen images of Christian symbols in the insurrection of January 6. Reporter Jeff Goldberg writes “it’s chaos was rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by echatological anxiety” I would agree that we are in end times. The age of the Spirit and end times begins with Jesus Christ.
The good news that we’re here to focus on today, and I’ve talked with a few of you about, is this: the truth of these matters and events has now come out into the open, into the light, out of the darkness and into Christ’s Light. Christ’s Light shines on all of us and especially the 74 million people who are disappointed by this election result. Joe Biden won! We cannot dismiss the events of January 6 as unrelated to whom we are as followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus dealt with similar powers and principalities. Jesus was heaven sent to prepare us for a new way forward: His Way of peace, grace and truth. Since Jesus’ day movements and churches have re-invented themselves into other versions of themselves, PCUSA included. That can be a good thing as we expand our circle of concern and influence and include all people, all ethnicities. Jesus has gone ahead and leaves us with the Spirit to guide us. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20.
In this season of Epiphany light we follow our Jesus star of guiding light. We are a Christ-centered church and Jesus is our Savior, no-one else.
With that said let’s take comfort from our gospel reading this morning in knowing that in obedience and all humility Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. Why did Jesus do that? John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was without sin, yet he submitted to John’s baptism. Then the heavens erupted not in chaos but in affirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s son. And the Spirit “like a dove” a symbol of gentleness, purity, grace, freedom descended upon him. God speaks directly to Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Did anyone else hear? In other gospel accounts the audience listens in. The writer of Mark makes this scene all about Jesus. Jesus decides that this was the time, 30 years after his birth, to pick up his cross. This was God’s timing too affirmed with the Father’s words and action of the Holy Spirit. This was a personal experience for Jesus as the crowd around him witnessed his baptism. Many of us have had those moments, watershed moments, touchstones I call them when we experience God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit personally. These thin places are given to reveal God to us, our epiphany moments.
I came across a poem this week by American poet J.R. Powell. He was one of
the Fireside Poets of the 19th century. The poem is entitled “The Present Crisis” and written over one hundred years ago!
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide
In the strife of Truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right
And the choice goes by for ever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Speaks to our present crisis and the importance of the decisions we make. Jesus made the decision to be baptized after a life-time of discernment through prayer and promptings and now was his time. He identified himself with John’s movement. John the priest, John the Baptizer who was not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, John the voice of one crying in the desert, that John who had come to prepare the way, in a long line of prophets and events that had prepared the way.
God clearly identifies Jesus as Son and approves. The seal of approval is the Holy Spirit. Now, as in the beginning, all three persons of the Trinity are together working together to do the work of all three. That my friends is the power and authority Jesus has which we too can access when we make a decision for Christ’s Way, Truth and Life.
Baptism for us is in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we believe is a once-and-for-all sacrament. It doesn’t need to be repeated and we don’t need a second baptism to receive the Spirit. One baptism, One faith, One Lord of All is what we in the PCUSA confess. We celebrate the newly baptized with sponsors and witnesses, family and friends and a fete. We experience God’s grace in a visible tangible way with water, the sign of the cross, the laying on of hands, and the love and blessing of those present as we are welcomed into God’s kin-dom.
A visible sign of God’s invisible grace which at special times bursts into our lives bidden and unbidden.
After Jesus baptism Jesus goes out into the wilderness for forty days and only then begins his ministry in Galilee which we’ll focus on next week.
I would love to sprinkle you all with water today as you remember your baptism and are thankful. Pray with me a prayer of thanksgiving:
God of heaven and earth, you call us to come in humility before you
bringing the offering of our very selves.
As you revealed Jesus to be your Son in his baptism at the hand of John,
so you claimed our lives in baptism, that we might die to sin
and be raised with him to new life.
By your Spirit, confirm in our hearts the witness
that Christ is Savior of the world AND our Lord.
Accept all we have and are, O God
in the service of Jesus Christ,
and strengthen us with your Spirit’s power,
now and forever. Amen.