Rev. Molly F. James, PhD

Grace Episcopal Church
10 January 2016
1 Epiphany

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

May God's Word be spoken. May God's Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Good morning, friends. It is a joy to be here today. While I frequently have the privilege of standing at the altar or sitting in a chair for weekday masses in the chapel, I do not often get to be here on a Sunday morning, so it is a particular joy to do so today.

I am particularly glad to be with you on this, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. This is one of my favorite celebrations for many reasons. Not the least of which is that our daughter Katherine was baptized on this feast. And I also love it because it affords us an opportunity to renew our own life in Christ. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is an opportunity to let the old be washed away to begin anew. A fitting theme for this community at this time. It is a new year, and we are beginning a new stage in the transition of clergy leadership. Although it may not feel so “new,” as the faces at the altar and in the pulpit for the next bit are rather familiar - Jerry Carroon, John Mitman, Joe Pace, and me. But it is new in that it is an opportunity to put the last six months behind us and go forward in a new way, and into a new life together.

This theme of baptism and new life is also fitting for us as individuals, as we are just 10 days into a new calendar year. It offers us a space to reflect on how we might deepen and strengthen the covenant we made at our baptism.

It is important to note that our baptismal vows are referred to as the Baptismal Covenant. This word Covenant is important. Covenant means a mutual agreement, a mutual promise. Just talking about them as our baptismal promises or vows is a little bit risky as it means that we might get stuck thinking of them as one sided - as a checklist of what we have to do or believe, when in fact they are a part of a covenant. There are promises we make AND there are promises that God makes.

We start the covenant with the Apostle's Creed, we start with our statements of what we believe about who God is. While these are familiar words, they should not just be hurried through. They matter a great deal. We believe in God the Father who created heaven and earth. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died and rose again. We believe that God is present with us and at work in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And then we get to the questions, which are about how we will live out our faith. We promise to continue in the Apostle’s teaching, in the fellowship and the prayers. We promise to do just what we are doing right here and right now. We promise to gather together, to be in Christian community, to show up so that we might be fed in Word and Sacrament to be God’s people in the World.

Then we promise to renounce the forces of evil and to return to Jesus whenever we fall into sin. There is a lot packed into this question. That phrase "return to Jesus" is really the heart of it because that phrase is meant to remind us of the promise we made at Baptism. We promised to turn to Jesus and accept him as our savior. This is the part where it is easy to think it is all about us. It is about us, and it is no small thing to turn to Jesus and accept him as our savior. It means a willingness to turn our lives over. It means a willingness to trust in God. But note that we are accepting Jesus as our SAVIOR - not our friend, not as a nice guy, not as our advisor, not as our personal assistant (although he can sometimes serve those roles in our lives). We are accepting him as our SAVIOR and that makes all the difference. It means that Jesus is God. It means that he has a presence and a power in our lives that no one else can have.

The words of Isaiah provides a beautiful description of what it means to have Jesus as our Savior - a beautiful description of the promises God makes as a part of our Baptismal Covenant. In Isaiah, the Lord says, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. 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."

There we have it. That is what God promises us. God promises to be with us through it all. Note that God does not promise us an easy or carefree life. There will be waters. There will be fires. There will be times that we are afraid. Times when we feel that the waters are rising. There will be times that are challenging and painful. BUT, and this is the most important BUT. God promises that we will NOT be overwhelmed. We will survive. We will make it through to the other side, and God will be with us, every step of the way.
This is the promise that God offers all of us. Baptism is our opportunity to say yes to that promise - to accept Jesus as our Savior. Baptism is our opportunity to accept that offer and to promise to live our live in such a way that the whole world might come to know the reconciling, redeeming love of God.

And that is why we move on to the rest of the questions. The other questions are about how we live into the reality of God's promise, God's presence in our lives. Being a Christian is about believing in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit - it is about saying yes to God's promises AND it is about living in such a way that we share that promise - that abiding love of God with the world. Note that these questions are not just personal, individually focused questions. They are questions about what it means to live in community.
Will we proclaim the Good News as we have known it in our own lives? We all have stories to share. Stories of the way God's love has been made manifest in our lives and lives of those we love. The world needs these stories. Especially when the news is full of violence and betrayal, of people behaving in selfish and harmful ways. We need the stories that remind us that reconciliation is possible, that love is stronger than hate. So share your story- with your family, with your friends or even with someone you haven't met before. The world needs to hear your story.

And then we are asked if we will be about the work of justice and peace? Will we seek and serve Christ in others? Will we respect the dignity of every human being? I don't know about you, but I think these questions are the hardest. I think they are the hardest because they truly call us to be our best selves. They call us to live a more selfless life, as Jesus did. They call us out of the easy comfortable place where we get to put our own needs first, where we get to spend our time with people we like and people who agree with us. Those questions ask us to go out into the world - out into the places and into the lives of people who annoy us or who we disagree with. They ask us to take a risk and to bring the reconciling love of Christ with us.

So, I hope that today, as we renew our Baptismal Covenant together, we can be grounded in our faith, in this community, taking to heart the promises of God and God's redeeming love. I hope that we are inspired and strengthened to go from this place to share our stories and to do our part to help make this a world a place where the dignity of every person is respected.

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