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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ January 9, 2022

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

This past Thursday, on January 6, the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. Wise men come from far away to bring gifts to this new king. The feast of the Epiphany proclaims that this new faith is for all people from all over the world. It is a feast of God’s love, light, and inclusiveness.

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our first reading is from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. God is telling God’s people in exile in Babylon and is also telling us not to fear, for God has redeemed us. God has called us by name. We belong to God. When we passed through the waters of the Red sea to freedom, God was there. God will be with us through all our challenges and trials. We are precious in God’s sight. God will gather all the exiles from all over the world and bring them home.

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts. So much is happening. Just a little before this passage, the new faith has been growing so fast that the apostles find they cannot do the work of preaching, teaching, praying, and at the same time make sure that the widows and orphans and others in need are taken care of. The apostles call together this new and growing community of Jesus’ followers and ask them to choose “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit, and  of wisdom,” to minister to the needs of the people at the margins.  These seven men, the first deacons, were Stephen, Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor,  Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch. The apostles pray and lay their hands on them. This is how the first deacons were chosen and ordained.

Soon after this, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. An angry crowd stones him to death. Saul, who will later become the apostle Paul, looks on and approves this murder. A severe persecution begins against the church in Jerusalem.

In the midst of all of this, God calls Philip to go to the city of Samaria, home of the Samaritans, who were despised by the Israelites because the Israelites felt the Samaritans had departed from the true faith. Philip shares the good news with the Samaritans and they want to become followers of Jesus. So Philip baptizes them. Word reaches the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that many people in Samaria are flocking to the new faith. They have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.

The persecution that is going on does not stop the church in Jerusalem from sending Peter and John to Samaria to reach out to these new converts and support them. Peter and John lay their hands on these people and they receive the Holy Spirit. The church in Samaria could have been seen as different from and inferior to the church in Jerusalem. But this did not happen. God guided the Jerusalem church to reach out and welcome these new followers of Jesus in Samaria into full membership in this new community of faith and love.

We remember how Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, after two respected religious leaders walk by on the other side of the road, goes to help the man who has been robbed and beaten and left at the side of the road, bleeding and half dead. In those days, Samaritans were looked upon as the worst of the worst, and Jesus tells us this is the one who is the good neighbor.

When Peter and John go to Samaria, they do not treat the new Samaritan followers of Jesus as the worst of the worst. They put all of that sad history behind them. We can imagine them recalling Jesus’ parable and reminding themselves that all people are beloved children of God. When Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they treat these new followers of Christ with love and respect and welcome them into the fold. As followers of Christ, we are called to heal divisions, to be “restorers of the breach,” as Isaiah said. We are called to turn brokenness into wholeness, division into unity.

In our gospel, Jesus is baptized. He is praying.  The heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord in the form of a dove, the sign of peace. And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In this scene, Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, is beginning his formal ministry among us. As we read the gospels, we will be absorbing everything he says and does so that we can follow him more and more faithfully.

Our readings today have some powerful themes. Isaiah reminds us that God brings us out of exile, all kinds of exile. The exile of illness. The exile of addiction. The exile of depression. The exile of pandemic. God brings us together to form Beloved Community. God loves us. God is with us in everything.

Our reading from the Book of Acts inspires us with the reality that, even in the face of persecution, the church in Jerusalem sees God at work in the midst of a formerly hated group of people in Samaria and sends Peter and John to lay hands upon them so that they, too can receive the Holy Spirit and be full members of the new community of faith. Division and brokenness are transformed into unity and strength.

In our gospel, Jesus begins his formal ministry here on earth.

Nothing, not even persecution, can stop God’s love. God loves us so much that God has come among us to be one of us. The season of Epiphany is a season of light and mission. We spread the light and love of Christ as we reach out to help those who need God’s love and care.

May we follow Jesus. May we walk the way of love and light, May we share his love and light with everyone we meet. Amen.

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

Genesis  1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ  January 12, 2020

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Our opening reading is a glorious poem from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. The people who have been in exile in Babylon are coming home. The new society of peace, compassion, and justice is described.  The passage also described God’s servant. We as Christians think of Jesus as that servant. But scholars tell us that this description of the servant can also apply to God’s people. 

The servant and the servant society are here to bring peace. The servant is gentle. He does not break a bruised reed. The servant brings forth justice. With God’s grace, the servant nation is a light to the world. The servant nation opens the eyes of the blind and frees the prisoners.

Our gospel today is the baptism of our Lord as described by Matthew. This year, I have been thinking of Jesus and John the Baptist in this amazing encounter. We know that their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were relatives, and thus Jesus and John were also relatives, Back in the old days we used to think of them as cousins, but the truth is we are not sure of their exact relationship.

Soon after she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus, Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who had become pregnant even though she was way past childbearing age. At that time, the baby John the Baptist, who was in Elizabeth’s womb, jumped with joy at the presence of Jesus.

Now they meet again. John has been with the Essenes studying, and he is now called to offer people a baptism of repentance.  Jesus comes from Galilee to John at the river Jordan. Imagine how they felt. They had both studied the scriptures. They were aware that John the Baptist was the forerunner described by the prophets, and that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Imagine your relative who is the Messiah coming to you for baptism, This is why John tells Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him.  But they accept what they need to do to fulfill the scriptures. John baptizes his relative. The Spirit of God descends like a dove and alights on Jesus. God speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” This is the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. I wonder how John the Baptist felt at this moment. He has just baptized the Savior.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we see the result of Jesus’ baptism and ministry. A centurion named Cornelius is described as “a devout man who feared God.” He is a faithful Gentile soldier, a commander of 100 men, who is generous and kind to all and who supports his local synagogue even though he is not Jewish. An angel of God has told Cornelius to send to Joppa, find a man named Peter, and ask Peter to come to his home. While the messengers from Cornelius are on their way to find Peter, Peter is having a vision.

Peter has been a faithful Jew all his life, He has kept the dietary laws and has been faithful in observing every part of the law. He goes up to the roof to pray and God gives him a vision of all kinds of food. Then God says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter replies that he cannot  do that because he has never eaten anything that is unclean according to the law. God tells him that now everything has been made clean. There are no more barriers. Every barrier has been removed. Just then the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ house.

When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls down before him and worships him. Peter tells him to get up, saying, “I am only a mortal.” Peter finds out that all of Cornelius’ family and friends have gathered at his house to listen to what Peter has to say, and he realizes why his vision of the foods is so important. He shares this with Cornelius and the people gathered, and he  tells them that, as a faithful Jew, he was not supposed to associate with Gentiles, but he has learned in the vision sent by God that nothing is profane or unclean. Peter says,” I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears[God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” Then Peter describes the ministry and message of Jesus. It is the ministry of the servant described by Isaiah.

While Peter is sharing this message with the people at Cornelius’ home, the Holy Spirit falls on all the people, and Peter and his team realize that they should baptize these people. 

The message is that Jesus is the Savior of all people. This is the first baptism of Gentiles in the Book of Acts. This is the sign that the new faith is for everyone. God loves everyone.

The Epiphany season is the season of light, love and mission. With the baptism of the first Gentiles to join the new faith at the home of Cornelius, the new faith began to spread around the whole world. We are called to help to share this good news. God is a God of love. God has a big family. God is a lover, not a lawyer.

Each of us in our daily life shares the good news of God’s love. Some of us do that in words. Some of us share the good news through our actions. We don’t say a whole lot. We just show God’s love to others. Some of  us do both.

As members of the body of Christ, reaching out to share his love, healing, and  forgiveness with others, we are part of the servant nation spreading the love of God in the world. May we be the eyes of Christ, looking at others with compassion. May we be the hands of Christ, reaching our to others to meet their needs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. We are his living body here on earth, sharing his love with all the people we meet. Amen,

Trinity Sunday Year B RCL May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Trinity expresses our human experience of God in three persons—God the  Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier.

God the Creator. God created the world, from the tiniest subatomic particles to the galaxies; from the most delicate, tiny flower to the planet Jupiter. As theologian Mary Daly has noted, when we create anything—whether it be a safe haven for a child or a refugee or a rescue pet; whether it be a symphony, or a book, or a cathedral or a painting, or peace between two countries or two members of a family—when we create, we become co-creators with God.

God the Redeemer. Jesus who has come among us to save us from our brokenness and make us whole. Jesus is God incarnate, God embodied, God enfleshed. God walking the face of the earth, teaching us and healing us and making us whole, helping us to be born again into a new life based on love of God and love of others.

God the Holy Spirit. As David Brown has said, the Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Wherever conflict becomes peace, the Spirit is at work. Wherever creative work is done, it is done with the energy of the Spirit. So we see that God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier are constantly working together to make us whole and to heal a broken world.

Theologian John Macquarrie talked about Being and about God calling things into being. He wrote that in any big project, such as the writing of a book or the creation of a building, there is the vision, the plan, and the realization of the plan. We have the vision of the building; we draw the plans in very careful detail; and then we carry out that plan.

God has a vision for the world— a world full of peace and harmony. Jesus is the plan. The Greek word logos means plan, model, pattern, blueprint. Jesus is the pattern for human life. The Spirit is the energy who carries out the plan. The Spirit is at work in us and in the world to realize God’s plan of peace and harmony.

Theologian Robert Farrar Capon, a favorite of David Walters, David Brown, and many of us, writes about creation in his wonderful book, The Third Peacock. Capon makes it clear that each created thing is an object of God’s infinite love, and that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in the work of creation. Thus, in the creation of, say, chicken number thirty-four thousand eight hundred forty-two, all three persons of the Trinity are cheering each other on, laughing and joyfully celebrating the wonder of creation. God’s love in bringing this wonderful, unique, beloved creature, chicken number 34,842, into being.

In our first reading for today, Isaiah has a vision of God, whose power and glory are almost terrifying. Stricken by his sinfulness, Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Then, doing for Isaiah what Christ would later do for all of us, God cleanses Isaiah from his sin. When God calls, Isaiah is able to respond to that call.

In our reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul is reminding us that, because of the love of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, we have become as close to God as a child is to his or her mother or father. In fact, we are so close to God that we can call God Abba, “Dad” or “Daddy,” “Mom”, or “Mama”. We have received a spirit of adoption, and we are God’s children in the closest way possible. If we think back to the reading from Isaiah, with the angels flying about in the temple, the glory of God shining forth, the smoke and the sheer power of the transcendent God, our becoming God’s beloved children in this intimate way is almost mind-boggling.

In our reading from John’s gospel, Nicodemus, who is a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, goes to Jesus by night. He is risking his position in visiting our Lord, and he may well be risking his life. But he wants to know more. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus takes this literally and wonders how someone can enter his mother’s womb, so Jesus tries again, telling him that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

God the Creator has the vision for God’s shalom. Jesus is standing there in front of Nicodemus proclaiming the Kingdom and telling him that we enter that Kingdom through the water of baptism and the power of the Spirit because of the love of God expressed in all three persons. God has created the vision of God’s shalom of peace and harmony. Jesus, the living example of that vision, is inviting Nicodemus to join God’s shalom.

Nicodemus may seem quite flustered and overwhelmed at this point, but we know that the Holy Spirit is leading him into all truth. John’s gospel tells us two important things.  First, when the Council, the Sanhedrin, becomes more and more suspicious of Jesus and begins building its case against our Lord, Nicodemus reminds them that the law says that Jesus or any person being accused of an offense is entitled to a hearing.  Secondly, after Jesus is crucified, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea take down the Body of our Lord from the cross and give that beloved body a respectful burial. Both Nicodemus and Jospeh of Arimathea have developed such a devotion to our Lord that they risk their honored positions and their lives in taking care of Jesus’ body.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. God who loves each of us as the apple of God’s eye. God who loves the whole creation and is working to bring the creation into harmony. God who is calling us to help in that work and who is cheering us on and energizing us with God’s Spirit as we do that work.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord   January 7, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the day we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. All of our readings tell about new beginnings.

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, God begins with a “formless void.” God makes a wind come up over the waters, and then God says, “Let there be light,” and the light comes into the world. Epiphany is the season of light and the season of mission.

In our reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us the account of events in the early Church, Paul arrives in Ephesus. He finds that Apollos had been there before him. Apollos was a Jewish man from Alexandria who had been deeply impressed with the teachings of John the Baptist and had traveled around the Mediterranean Sea with a group of other followers of John spreading the word about John the Baptist just as Paul had traveled with his helpers spreading the Good News about Jesus.

When Paul talks to the people in Ephesus, he learns the they had been baptized by Apollos into John’s baptism, that is, a baptism of repentance. They knew they had to change their ways and turn to God. But they had not received the baptism of Christ and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

As he learned these facts, Paul did not criticize Apollos. He simply shared the information that there was another, deeper baptism. Once they heard about this, the people wanted to receive that baptism. When he laid his hands on them, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is another new beginning. The congregation in Ephesus, composed of twelve people, has taken a giant step in faith, They have become members of the Body of Christ. They have now been equipped to carry out their ministry as ambassadors for Christ.

In our gospel, Mark tells us about John the Baptist, who so eloquently and powerfully called the people to repent and to turn toward God. Thousands of people flocked out into the wilderness to hear him preach and to receive his baptism. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah but that his job was to prepare the way for the Savior. He also made it clear that he baptized with water, but the Savior would baptize with the Spirit. So, when the congregation in Ephesus heard about this from Paul, they could relate it to the teaching they had received from John the Baptist.

To fulfill the word of the prophets, and to begin his formal ministry, Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. At that time Jesus was completely unknown and John was a spiritual rock star attracting huge crowds. Yet John, with true humility, knows exactly what is happening. He has done his work. He has called the people to repentance, and they have responded in droves. Now his  work is done. He must decrease, and Jesus must increase.

John immerses Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the waters, he sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove. He also hears the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” Now the Savior is beginning his ministry. The true light has come into the world. This is the greatest new beginning the world has ever seen.

The true light has come into the world. We are following him. We are patterning our lives after his life. How can we help his light to shine even more brightly? How can we help him to build his kingdom, his shalom, this Epiphany? How can we bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control? How can we help Him to make the world a better place? As we discover the answers to these questions, we can be sure that he will be with us every step of the way and that he will give us his grace and love to light our path.  Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ January 8, 2017

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Our first reading is the inspiring description of God’s servant and of the ministry to which God calls all of us. God’s servant is gentle, He does not break a bruised reed, He does not put out a candle that is flickering. He is here to bring forth justice.

God tells us that God has taken us by the hand and guided and protected us. God has called us to be a light to the nations. God has called us to open the eyes of the blind, to free prisoners from their dungeons. God tells us that the former things have passed and that God is creating something new.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we hear from Peter. He has realized that the new faith in Christ is for all people. Peter gives a summary of the ministry of our Lord and tells his listeners that we have been called to spread the Good News to everyone.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Up to this point, Jesus has led a quiet life. We think that he spent time studying the scriptures and that he was familiar with the passage from Isaiah which describes God’s servant. He probably worked with Joseph in the carpenter shop. He may have studied with the Essenes, a religious community of that time. We can assume that he knew how to work hard, that he was part of a large extended family and he lived a normal, quiet everyday life.

But now he goes south from Galilee to where his cousin John is baptizing people in the Jordan River. John feels that Jesus should be baptizing him, but Jesus insists that John baptize him.

This is baptism by immersion, a kind of drowning, That is what baptism means in Greek— a drowning to our old self. Jesus falls back into the water and is submerged. Then he comes up out of the water and he hears the voice of God telling Jesus who he is.

Jesus was fully human. Like all of us, he had wondered who he was, what his gifts were, what he was called to do, what his ministry would be. As we watch his ministry unfold, we can see that he knew the scriptures about Gods suffering servant, the one who is so gentle and compassionate, the one who can see deep into each of us, the one who can reach the hurt places within us and offer healing and forgiveness, the one who can cure us of our blindness and free us from things that imprison us.

But when he emerged from the water and heard the voice of his heavenly father, he knew on a deeper level what he was called to do. From then on, he gave all his time and energy to the people who thronged around him, hungry for love and healing and forgiveness.

The prophet Isaiah gives us God’s description of the suffering. compassionate servant. That is a description of the ministry of our Lord, but it is also a description of the ministry to which each of us is called, and to which all of us are called together.

We are called to free people from blindness and to help them see the love and healing that comes from our Lord. We are called to help to free people from things which imprison them, things such as addiction, poverty, and abuse. We are called to help to bring justice to the earth.

As we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we remember that we are members of his risen Body called to do his ministry here on earth.

So this morning, let us renew our own baptismal vows by sharing in the Baptismal Covenant, page 304.

Epiphany 1—The Baptism of our Lord Year B RCL 01/11/15

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

This morning, we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. We begin with the creation of the world. Specifically, our reading calls us to reflect on God’ s creation of light. At every point in the work of creation, God sees that the creation is good, God sees that the light is good,  and God divides the light from the dark and calls the light Day and the dark Night. Always, God sees that the creation is good.

Epiphany is the season of light and mission. The light has come into the world and is spreading over all the earth. As I write this, the temperature is well below zero. For several days, the wind chill has been at record levels. Now, as the light of Christ is coming into the world, we have passed the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the days, thanks be to God, are growing longer.

Jesus has come to be with us. A new creation is beginning. Paul says that in Christ each of us is a new creation.

In our epistle for today, Paul goes to Ephesus. A teacher named Apollos had been in Ephesus before Paul arrived there. Apollos was a disciple of John, and he baptized people into the baptism of John the Baptist.That is, he baptized them into a baptism of repentance.  Apollos did not teach that in baptism we become children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. He did not teach that in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit. He did not teach about Jesus.

Paul does not say anything to the people about the limitations of Apollos’ teaching. He simply and lovingly meets them where they are. He baptizes them in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and, when he lays his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and bestows gifts upon them. When we are baptized, we receive all the gifts which we need to carry out our ministries. We become children of God.  We become members of the living Body of Christ, here to share his love and healing with the world.

In our gospel, John is baptizing people in the River Jordan. His baptism is a baptism of repentance. He is calling people to turn their lives over to God, to confess their sins right there on the river bank, to admit their past failings and their need for God, and begin a new life. Although he is out in the country, far from the power centers of the city, hundreds of people are flocking to him to hear his message and ask God to transform their lives.

John has a clear understanding of who he is and who Jesus is. We remember that, right after the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was pregnant with John, who would later be called the Baptist. When Mary met Elizabeth, the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Even at that point, he recognized Jesus, when both John and Jesus were still in their mothers’ wombs.

From the beginning, John recognized who Jesus was. John said he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. He said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. John is such an inspiring example of humility. He knew exactly who he was and who he was not. He had no desire to build his own empire. He was not competing with Jesus. He knew that he was called to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah had written many centuries before. And that is what he did.

Jesus wades into the Jordan and allows himself to be baptized by John, But John is saying, “You should be baptizing me.” Jesus, the eternal Word who called the creation into being, walks into the River Jordan so that his cousin John can immerse him, baptize him. As Jesus rises up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and God says, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Herbert O’Driscoll wisely reminds us that God is saying those words to us. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.”

The light is coming into the world, The love is coming into the world. The joy is coming into the world and into our lives. Darkness and brokenness and hatred flee before this light and love and joy.

In baptism, we know who we really are, We are children of God. Jesus has come to be with us, and we know we are not alone. The creator of the universe has come to be our brother. We have seen God walking the face of the earth, and we can follow him.

In a moment, we will renew our own baptismal vows.  We will renew our promise to “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” We will renew our promise  to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” We will renew our promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.” And we will renew our promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Our baptism is really our ordination to our ministries in the Body of Christ. We are really promising to be the Body of Christ, to spread his compassion and healing wherever we go.

This is a very tall order. We will not always do it perfectly. We will stumble. We will need to ask for help to get back on track. We will not always be as compassionate as we want to be. But, every step of the way, our Lord will be right beside us. In fact, he will often be out in front of us, guiding us, yes, protecting us, encouraging us, untangling us from the briars of despair, leading us to good pasture and to still waters. Always, always, there will be his light, which no darkness can overcome. Always, always, there will be his love, which is stronger than hate, stronger than death, stronger than fear. Always, always, he will be with is. And gradually, steadily, we will be transformed, and his shalom will cover the whole wide earth.  Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Our Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Our first reading today is the First Servant Song from the prophet Isaiah. This passage dates back to a special and joyful time. The exiles are going home from Babylon.

Some scholars suggest that the servant described is the entire people of Israel, the people of God. Others state that this and other similar passages describe the messiah who will bring in a reign of justice for all people.  For us, this passage describes the qualities of a ministering community.

As Christians, we see the figure and ministry of Jesus in this description. He is quiet. He does not make a lot of noise. He is gentle. He does not break a bruised reed or quench a flickering flame. He is persistent and courageous. He will not stop until justice prevails over the whole earth.

We are called by God in love to open the eyes that are blind, to free people from all that imprisons them, to bring light to those in darkness. The revered scholar Herbert O’Driscoll  points out that nowadays, in our secular age, we do not think of a whole nation as reflecting this kind of spiritual character. (The Word Today, Year A, pp. 63-64), but he suggests that we as Christians can imagine and work toward creating this vision for our nation. What would it mean if a whole country were dedicating to healing and freeing people?

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts, Peter has just had his vision of the sheet of all kinds of meat and has heard the voice of God saying, “Kill and eat.” God is telling Peter that the dietary laws no longer apply. Christ has fulfilled the law. The gospel is for everyone. This is one of the great themes of the Epiphany season, that the good news is for all people and that God loves all people.

Peter is now called to the home of Cornelius, the Centurion. Cornelius is a faithful person, a seeker, but he is not a Jew. Cornelius has been guided by an angel to call on Peter to come to his home and has gathered his friends and family to hear Peter speak. When Peter finishes his sermon on God’s inclusiveness, the Holy Spirit falls on all the people gathered. This simply emphasizes the fact that God wants everyone to be a part of God’s family. So Peter and his helpers baptize all these people, and then they stay with them for several days. This is how the early Church grew and grew.

Our gospel for today is the baptism of Jesus. We know very little about Jesus’ life up to this point. We read in the gospels that the family made a trip at the time of the Passover to the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, and that they started home only to discover that he was no longer with them. They went back to the Temple and found him there, and he said, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Together with the journey into Egypt to escape King Herod’s murder of the innocents, this is the only event we find in the gospels between Jesus birth and his baptism.

We can picture Jesus growing up in Nazareth. His earthly father, Joseph, was a carpenter. We can imagine Jesus working in the shop and learning the carpenter’s trade from Joseph.

Many scholars think that Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist studied with the Essenes, a religious sect of that time. From the way Jesus conducted himself, I believe he studied the scriptures and knew and understood the law.

But now he is called to go to the banks of the Jordan River and allow John to baptize him. This will fulfill what has been written by the prophets. It will also be the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. He is about twenty-nine or thirty years old at this point.

Probably Joseph was dead by this time. He had been quite a bit older than Mary when they were married. But what did Mary think when Jesus said, “Well, I’m going off to the River Jordan to be baptized?” Among the many things she had to ponder in her heart was the moment when he would leave to go out into the world and begin his ministry.  Knowing him as she did, I think she had some idea of how it would all turn out.  Some of us are reading Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly. The brutality and violence of the world under the Roman Empire are hard to exaggerate. They were diametrically opposed to Jesus’ shalom. There was going to be a clash.

Jesus walks into the river and is immersed in the waters of the Jordan. Baptism comes from the Greek word for drowning. Our old identity is drowned. A new person is born. We receive a new identity. We are children of God and inheritors of the kingdom, the shalom, of God.

Each of us is called to live out the meaning of our baptism in our own lives, using the gifts and grace God gives to us. But all of us together are called to be that servant people, the People of God—gentle, caring, courageous. We are called to heal people, to free people. We are called to bring justice for everyone.

Just as the voice of God spoke to Jesus and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” so God speaks to each of us: “You are my own beloved child.” And God calls us to share in the servant ministry of Jesus.                  Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ Year C RCL January 13, 2013

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3: 13-17

In our opening reading from Isaiah, God is calling God’s people home from Exile in Babylon. God is telling them and us: “I have called you by name. You are mine. Be not afraid.” When we pass through high water, or fire; when we make our way through challenges, God will always be with us. What a wonderful promise and what a strengthening message from our loving God.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, one of the first deacons, Philip, has gone to Samaria, and many people, almost the entire population, has joined the new faith and been baptized in the name of Jesus. Peter and John go to Samaria, lay their hands on the people, and they receive the Holy Spirit. Not only does God walk with us every step of the way, God sends the Holy Spirit to empower us to live lives of integrity, compassion, and service. One good and simple definition of the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. The Holy Spirit is God’s loving and healing energy enabling us to live as God calls us to live.

Today, we are gathered to baptize Krista Alexa Sturgeon. This is a celebration of great joy for all of us.  The vows which we will take this morning are stated in ancient language. We are renouncing  certain things and following a certain path which has been blazed for us by Jesus.  To put those vows in more contemporary terms, we are choosing to align ourselves with the forces of creativity, compassion, and wholeness rather than the forces of destruction, hatred, and brokenness. We are promising to gather together and learn together about God’s love and care for us, for the whole creation, and for all people. We are promising to continue on our journey with God and with each other, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in every person, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

We pray that God will give Krista  “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

And we are asking God to give each of us these gifts as well. If we have inquiring and discerning hearts, this means that we are on a journey with God, and toward God. When we ask to have inquiring and discerning hearts, we are saying that that we don’t have all the answers, that we are seeking and asking God for guidance. We ask for the courage to persevere because we know the journey is not easy. There will be times when we may just want to quit trying to seek and do God’s will. We will need the help of God and others who love us and who are also on the journey with us. We ask for a spirit to know and love God. To remember that God loves us beyond our  ability to understand or imagine. When God says that Jesus is his beloved Son, God is also saying that to each of us. We’re God’s beloved sons and daughters. We ask for the grace to ask God and others for help. And, finally, we ask for the gift of joy and wonder at all of God’s works.

Joy and wonder at a dawn, or a sunset, at the ocean waves rolling in, at a flower, or a forest, the stars, the planets in their courses, the love of friends and family, the healing touch of a conversation, the gift of joy and wonder at all that God gives us.

The other day I happened to be listening to the radio and someone was interviewing the actor Jeff Bridges and a Zen master whose name I do not remember. They were talking about being open, going with the flow, and being in the moment.  The interviewer asked the Zen master what the thinking today is on enlightenment. Traditionally the path to enlightenment involves spending hours in meditation.

The Zen master said that there are probably still traditional Buddhists who feel that the only way to enlightenment is through meditation. But he said that there are many paths to enlightenment, and then he said something that struck me deeply. He said that the mark of an enlightened person is service to others. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” I follow the Christian path, and I have dear Buddhist friends. Back in undergraduate school, I took a course in comparative religions. It was clear that all of the major religions  have the same ultimate point—treat others as you would like to be treated.

To see Christ in every person we meet. To see the revered Buddha in every person we meet. To see everyone as a child of God. To care for others, To have compassion. That is what these vows are about.

I say this because I know that we are gathered here as God’s beloved children who are Unitarian-Universalists, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Episcopalians (Fully catholic and fully reformed). Some of us are hybrids. For example, I have been deeply touched by my Quaker and Buddhist brothers and sisters.

We may carry different labels. We may be on slightly different paths, but they are all leading toward the same divine presence and love. May we all support Krista Alexa on her journey. And may we all support Nicholas as he leaves later this month for Basic Training.

May we all support this beloved young family in every way that we can.

Nicholas, please keep in touch so that we know exactly where to send all those care packages!