The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Jesus, 7 January 2017

January 7, 2018 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11

On the first Sunday of the year, the baptism of Jesus is celebrated.  In my own congregation, we will focus on the magi (the feast of Epiphany), while remembering Jesus’ baptism some thirty years later at the Jordan River.  Water is essential to life, yet water is potentially a source of conflict as a result of drought and climate change not to mention the danger of rising seas to seashore communities such as Cape Cod where I live. We celebrate creation and re-creation as we consider the waters of baptism and the waters of the Spirit that refresh and renew us, body, mind, spirit, and relationships.  

Process theology has much to say about creation as relational and emerging.  God is constantly creating and is bringing forth new life throughout our cells and souls, and every aspect of the universe, human and non-human.  Divine creativity encourages human creativity and agency, supportive of our own growth and the well-being of our environment and other people. As an ecological theology, process theology affirms that caring for and giving thanks for water is central to our spiritual practices.

The first creation story from Genesis affirms God’s constant creativity.  Although it appears that creation begins with the ordering of chaos, I suspect God’s creativity is always at work, without beginning or end, and that there was no first moment of creation.  God’s creative process unfolds from the macro to the micro and the simple to the complex. Creation is good, blessing is original, and ongoing divine creativity and inspiration is inherent in our lives and the world.  Sin, which many falsely describe as “original,” is, in fact, derivative, the result of turning from the divine vision toward destructive ways of life, chosen in alienation from God’s vision of wholeness. God creates in and through the waters of life.  God’s word and wisdom vibrate bringing evolving order to the universe.  Ever-present and ever-active divine wisdom is just as present in water molecules as in human souls.  All is good in its emergence form divine artistry.

Psalm 29 describes divine glory.  We live in a wondrous and wild universe in which heaven and earth declare the glory of God.  God’s glory and energetic power move through all creation.  In awakening to divine glory, we experience the world in terms of what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes as “radical amazement.”  Amazement and appreciation are the most fitting responses to the works of divine creativity.  While beauty may be tragic at times, in the words of Alfred North Whitehead, all things are created in and aimed toward beauty.  In the spirit of the First Americans of the Southwest USA, we can proclaim, “with glory all around me, I walk; all things begin in glory, all things end in glory; all things share in divine glory.”  As God moves through creation, glory energizes and inspires, as the Psalmist notes, the non-human and human world alike.

Acts 19 describes the glory-filled baptism of God’s Holy Spirit.  Water is sacred and inspirational when consecrated for God’s purposes.  God’s Spirit awakens a dozen Ephesian disciples to new tongues and prophetic language.  Could these twelve disciples have been the founding members of the church at Ephesus?  Could their mystical experience have been catalytic in the spread of the gospel in Ephesus?  

Mysticism is inherent in a spirit-filled universe.  God moves through the sighs too deep for words and at times these spiritual insights may burst forth in ecstatic hymns and super-sensory awareness. This is not supernatural, but a heightening of consciousness and a deeper sense of the causal relationships of life.  The world is filled with magic and mystery and possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.  God’s lures are more than we can ask or imagine.

The baptism of Jesus describes another mystical experience.  Jesus journeys to the Jordan to hear John’s message.  While Jesus may not have had anything to repent, his baptism appears to be a rite of passage, marking the first steps in the transition from private to public ministry.  When Jesus comes up from the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, filling him with power and purpose.  He receives an infusion of divine energy and guidance.  He receives a word of loving affirmation, “you are my beloved child.”  Was this the first time Jesus explicitly heard the divine blessing and vocational call?  

Jesus’ baptism invites him to embrace his vocation as God’s messenger, teacher, and healer.  Jesus’ vocation is unique to him, and sets him apart as God’s healer and savior.  Yet, Jesus’ vocational consciousness awakens us to our own unique vocations to be God’s companions in healing the world.

This affirmation – you are God’s beloved – is God’s word to all of God’s children, whether or not they are baptized.  Grace comes to all of us.  There is no division between chosen and lost; all are chosen through God’s life-giving love and energy.  Today’s readings call us to affirm “I am loved,” “God loves me,” and “God has a vision for my life.” Indeed, we are loved because we are God’s children, not in spite of who we are or what we’ve done.  Like a newborn baby, we don’t need to achieve anything to be loved.  Our baptismal affirmation applies to every person.  All lives matter, our life matters; all are beloved.  This has obvious interpersonal and political implications.  Those whom God loves must be treated with grace and affirmation, and given full opportunity to realize their divine potential.

Rejoice in the waters of life.  Let each morning’s shower be baptismal and refreshing. Let us cherish creation and protect the waters of life. Let each day’s refreshments give us new life and birth us into God’s new creation.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA, on Cape Cod.  He also serves as a professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of 45 books, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure, Angels, Miracles, and Mysteries: A Progressive Vision, and Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job. He may be reached for conversation and engagements at