A sermon for the Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord from The Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs
“And 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.”
If you had to choose a grammatical theme for today’s liturgy it would be verbs. The verbs are everywhere, even before we arrived this morning. Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, remembering the Wise Ones’ star-led journey to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child. This wasn’t just the noun, “journey”. These Magi from the East walked, rode, lumbered, followed, struggled, wondered, climbed, descended, sought and wandered until they arrived, some two years after Jesus’ birth, at the home of the Holy Family, where they knelt, and worshiped. Worshiped the manifestation of God with us, Emanuel. That’s what Epiphany means—to make manifest—to show.
But that was yesterday. Even as the rest of the world has taken down the tree, gone back to work, (or stayed home from work and shoveled snow) and prepared to enter the post-holiday doldrums, the Church has barreled full speed ahead through the Christmastide of twelve days straight into the season of Epiphany, stopping along the way to observe the feast days of Thomas Becket, St. Stephen and St. John the Evangelist; also the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. And today, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. (And oh, Lent is just five weeks away. Whew.)
So like the Magi, the Church is on the move. The calendar symbolizes the dynamic nature of the faith journey; a path marked variously by joy, mystery, wonder, and challenge. Say what you will about the life of faith, it is not static—it is never still. Even stillness isn’t still. Within the most solid rock subatomic particles move in relationship with one another. Every relationship in creation, from atoms to our relationship with God, is dynamic because it involves engagement of one with another. Otherwise, it’s not relationship. Creation moves. It’s all about the verbs.
In the beginning, God. We never see God as still. In the beginning, God created. God as Spirit swept, over the waters, bringing something new from nothing, from chaos. God spoke, ‘Let there be…’ And it was. Creation was the first Incarnation—the first joining of matter and Spirit to create everything that exists. And everything that is now, is descended from—and connected to–what was from the moment God loved it into being. The very water we will use to baptize Grayson Savastano this morning is materially connected to those first milliseconds of Creation.
The water we use today is connected to the Red Sea through which God led the Israelites from Egypt. It is connected to the River Jordan in which John baptized Jesus. It is connected to the water that was transformed into wine at the Wedding at Cana. That’s a pretty amazing genealogy. And yet there it is, flowing through the great Story of our creation, liberation and salvation by a dynamic and loving God.
In Mark’s Gospel we see the dramatic and transformative movement of the Spirit as Jesus emerges from the water of the Jordan: the heavens are ‘torn apart’ and the Spirit descends upon him like a dove. And again, God speaks: “You are my Son, the Beloved…” In a reflection of those first moments of Creation, something new has emerged from the water with God’s creating word—Jesus’ ministry of healing, teaching and challenging authority as he begins his journey to the Cross.
It is this journey that is reflected in the baptismal liturgy. Grayson will be symbolically immersed and then raised from the water into new life as a member of the household of God, mirroring Jesus’ dying and then rising again. The Holy Spirit is present, blowing and flowing in and through this community, as Grayson becomes a new creation—a Christian.
What does that mean? What does it mean to be reborn by the Holy Spirit? Look at the verbs.
The first verb in the Baptismal Covenant is “believe.” A common way of looking at belief is to see it as adherence to a set of tenets or articles of faith, but a more dynamic translation of the term “credo” (from which we get the word, ‘creed’) in this context is to give one’s heart to something. “I believe in God the Father…’’—I give my heart to God…to Jesus Christ…to the Holy Spirit. I give my heart to the God who is three in one and whose very nature is to create, to love, to give.
And flowing from believing are the most important verbs in the life of a Christian: to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in breaking bread, and in praying; to persevere in resisting evil, to repent and return to God; to proclaim the Good News; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being.
These are vitally important verbs. They are the words that should mark us as a community throughout a world that is in many ways in chaos. They are words that we are called to live into every day as Jesus’ hands, feet and voice in the world, helping God to bring God’s dream of reconciliation, healing and wholeness to fruition.
To be a Christian is not simply to be a Christian; it is to Live as a Christian. It is to journey like the Wise Ones journeyed to the Christ Child: to seek, follow, wonder, struggle, wander, love, and give. And, like the three Magi, it is to do it in company with one another, because no Christian journeys alone.
What baptism does is to bring us into a dynamic relationship with the community that vows to support us, thus expanding family in the way that Jesus redefined it
when he looked around at his followers and friends and declared, “THIS is my family—these are my mother and brothers and sisters.” Christianity is relationship—not just with God but with each other.
As Grayson’s new extended family we will pray that God will sustain him in the Holy Spirit and that God will equip him with the gifts of curiosity and discernment, courage and perseverance, joy and wonder. It is these gifts that we are called to help Grayson develop as he grows into the full stature of Christ.
We promise to support Grayson’s family as he faces the challenges and the joys of living a life of faith. He will learn, through God’s grace and in the embrace of his community, that God’s blessing at baptism is irrevocable—that there is nothing he can do that will separate him from God’s love and presence. He will learn a lot of verbs: like give, thank, love, and grieve. Like take, eat, drink, and forgive. And as he learns these verbs and lives into them in his journey of faith he will himself become a kind of epiphany—a showing of God’s light to the world.
May that light –the same light that shone upon the beginning of time; the Light of Christ that came into the world marked by a star over Bethlehem—may that light illuminate, sparkle, radiate, reflect and shine through Grayson and all of us now and always, Amen.