The Baptism of Jesus – January 10, 2016

Reading 1:  Reading 2:  Reading 3:  Reading 4: 
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The Baptism of Jesus – The First Sunday after the Epiphany – January 10, 2016

By Bruce G. Epperly

January 10, 2016

The Baptism of Jesus celebrates the sacramental character of life. Baptism reflects God’s grace bestowed on us in every season of life but specifically focused in certain key moments of life. The baptism of infants is sheer grace, given without any achievement on our part. In the spirit of process theology, this points to God’s universal aim at beauty and wholeness. While the shape of God’s aims differs from person to person and situation to situation, one thing that is non-negotiable is God’s tender care for each person and indeed each moment of our experience.

The baptism of Jesus points to the dialogical nature of grace. God calls and we respond. God initiates each moment, providing possibilities and the energy to achieve them, but the nature of this embodiment is in our hands. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. His openness enables God to act decisively in his life, revealing his status as God’s beloved child. The rituals of the church mediate grace, open us to new possibilities, and can become catalysts for our own epiphanies, encounters with the ever-active, ever-present God.

Last evening, December 15, 2015, I watched the Republican Presidential Debates. I believe that the debates would have been enhanced had each candidate taken seriously the words of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is well aware of the contingency of life. He knows that life can be difficult and he is speaking to a people that have experienced political collapse. Yet, he chooses to speak words of confidence and trust. God is faithful and will outlast any threat. This does not suggest a particular political policy, but it does remind us to respond in terms of our “higher angels” (Abraham Lincoln) rather than succumb to fear-based policies. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you….Do not fear for I am with you.”

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that in all things we are in God’s hands and nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even in the dark valley of terrorist threat, God is our companion, calling us to faithful rather than fearful behaviors, on the personal and communal levels.

Psalm 29 asserts that the God we trust is awesome and creative. God’s energetic power radiates through all creation. God will outlast our fears and foes. Awakened to God’s extravagant presence, our lives are illuminated. We receive life-transforming epiphanies.

The passage from Acts connects baptism with experiencing God’s Holy Spirit. Baptism does not create God’s Spirit, nor is God’s Spirit limited to our rituals. Baptism, and other spiritual practices, awakens us to God’s Spirit and release wisdom and energy. Our sacraments channel the sacramental energy that is present everywhere in the universe.   They become focal points that enable us to be more receptive to the energetic grace of God. Miracles, acts of energetic power and illumination, may occur when we open to God’s vision for us.

Luke 3 describes the heavens opening up at Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ own epiphany-illumination. Baptism opens Jesus to his full humanity and relatedness to God. He embraces his identity as God’s beloved child. The glory of God, the experience of humanity at its fullness, is manifest in Jesus’ baptismal encounter. For us and for Jesus, baptism is the beginning of a holy adventure in which we “grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and humankind.”

Today, let us remember our baptisms and the sacramental nature of life. Our worship, as Whitehead asserts, is an “adventure of the spirit,” opening us to epiphany after epiphany in companionship with the living God.