Epiphany The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Funny thing about today – it's called the Baptism of Our Lord and we have a Gospel reading about Jesus being baptized by John, but we've got a couple other readings that make us wonder a bit.
I mean, our reading from Acts is not about Jesus being baptized. Instead, it's about some unknown individuals, some anonymous disciples, being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Even more troubling is the reading from Genesis. One of our Bible Study members put it well when he asked the obvious question – what does this have to do with Baptism?
Indeed, what does the beginning of Genesis have to do with Baptism?
let alone the Baptism of Our Lord?
let alone the act of being baptized in the name of the Lord?
I have to tell you, it confused more than a few of us in Bible study!
But, there are a couple elements common to all the readings. There's two fundamental elements that appear in all three readings – water and the Spirit.
It's really unfortunate that we have the translation we have of Genesis. You see, the phrase "a wind from god swept over the face of the waters" is literally correct, but other acceptable words for "wind" are "spirit" and "breath". Most of our other translations read either, "the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters" or "the breath of God swept over the face of the waters".
And so, you see, even though darkness first covered the face of the deep, even though darkness covered the primordial water, it was the spirit of God that swept over that water and began the incredible act of creation.
You can take it figuratively or literally, but in both ways of reading, it's an incredible series of images – a formless void
and then a spirit sweeping over it
a spirit which begins to wipe away the chaos
a spirit, the breath of God, which begins to wipe away the uncertainty and danger of the formless void.
And that, my friends, is what "the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ" is all about. It's about chaos and formlessness. It's about water and the spirit sweeping over it and through it and beginning a new creation in us and for us.
That's why Mark begins his Gospel with the Baptism of Jesus and not the birth in Bethlehem. For Mark, a new thing was happening within creation when Jesus was baptized. And, then we see in the Acts of the Apostles, that something new was happening for those anonymous disciples when they were baptized in the name of the Lord.
Something incredible happens when spirit and water combine to wash over an individual.
Now, I guess it has to be said that it seems most baptisms are far, very far, from being as dramatic as the baptisms we've read about.
At my own baptism and the baptisms of my kids, the heavens did not appear to be torn open. No one started speaking in tongues (the babies may have been babbling, but they certainly weren't speaking in tongues!). No one prophesied.
In other words, all the baptisms I've been to have seemed to be pretty mundane, pretty boring things.
But each and every baptism shares in the opportunity for new creation. That very same new creation that we read about today. Something new does happen to each and every individual when they are baptized. We may not see it – the person themselves may not feel it or see it – not immediately. But, it's there. The spirit begins its work. Even though the "heavy lifting" of creation only took 6 days, the whole work of creation has taken much, much longer. And it's just that long view that the spirit has in its work.
And the work is never really done – until it's finally done for all of creation.
And so the spirit keeps working. For me, the spirit began its work when I was 24. A month after my wife and I were married, I was baptized in the Episcopal church back in Waterloo. And the spirit keeps working.
Would some of you like to tell us when and where you were baptized?
[at this point, I'd really like to have a few people (quite a few?) simply share when and where they were baptized. After it seems no one else wants to share, then continue]
Thank you all very much. I hope that we can begin to see that truly the spirit keeps working. Amen.