Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon, Epiphany 2C

Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.  In my sermon I talked about the who, why and what of baptism.  Who baptized us is relatively unimportant.  I mentioned that the only reason I know who baptized me is because of the certificate in my office.  It says I was baptized at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Coos Bay by the Rev. Thomas Kavany.  That is not actually technically correct.

Technically, I was baptized in Swedish Hospital, Seattle, by an Episcopal priest who was a compromise between my Methodist mother and Roman Catholic father.  The later baptism, I believe, was done as a formality – you know, for the certificate.

All of this to say it’s the why and what we should be paying attention to.  Why do we baptize people?  We baptize because Jesus commanded us to do so.  We baptize because that is how we bring people into the household of God.  We baptize because we recognize that through baptism we are brought into union with Christ in his death and resurrection, are washed clean of our sins, and are given a new life in the Holy Spirit.

It’s that new life in the Holy Spirit that is the what of baptism.  At baptism, the Holy Spirit empowers us for the ministry of God.  Jesus was led into the wilderness to spend time wrestling with his call.  We also need to spend some time wrestling with our call.  And know that we are all called to ministry; we have all been graced with gifts.

Paul discusses this in his letter today.  We have all been blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit with a variety of gifts and a variety of services.  But what it boils down to is that even though there is such a variety, it is the same Lord, the same Spirit, who activates them.  That activation, or empowering, of our gifts happens at our baptism. 

I had some interesting conversations about baptism last week.  At the men’s breakfast we discussed whether or not baptism was necessary before receiving Communion.  The short answer is, based on Church tradition and canon law, yes.  But then it gets complicated as you discuss various denominations, other traditions, and a movement to allow Communion before Baptism.

I had another conversation with a young couple who worship in a different tradition.  They were visiting last week and heard my sermon about gifts, empowerment and the use of those gifts as a statement of works righteousness.  Their position is that you are saved by faith alone, your works don’t get you into heaven or save you, so why are you telling people they need to do things?  I either educated them, confused them, or convinced them I’m a heretic.  Not sure which.

And finally, I met with an elder parishioner who said, “I’m old; how can I help the church?”  We talked about her history, what she liked to do and how those talents could be put to use here at St. Luke’s.  I hope that what we discussed will come to fruition.

With last week’s focus on the baptism of Christ, the several conversations I had about baptism, and today’s Epistle from Paul about gifts, I have been thinking a lot about baptism and its after-math.  Not only baptism, but the Church, in general, and how things are not always as they seem.

The young lady I spoke with last week wanted to know how we were saved.  She was convinced we were saved by faith alone, and anything that even remotely felt like works-righteousness was to be avoided.  As I said earlier, I probably confused her.

I think a lot of Christians want things neat and tidy.  They want to know it’s by faith alone that saves them.  Or they want to know that doing this in remembrance of me keeps them on the straight and narrow.  Or that we just need to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Or they cling to something easily and narrowly defined on which to hang their faith.

But what that does, I think, is lead to a faith unexplored.  It doesn’t allow for mystery.  It makes God totally understandable.  And an unexplored faith without mystery and a tangible God is too simplistic.  If we are adopted into the family of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit at our baptism, then we are also granted the freedom to explore and struggle.

Our faith is like the TARDIS – the time traveling police callbox of Dr. Who – it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside.  Outside, it seems, we have a neat little set of rules and regulations – we Episcopalians call them rubrics.  But inside there is a vast wealth of practices, understandings, interpretations and mystery.  Our baptism lets us participate in that fantastic, wonderful thing of a faith which is bigger on the inside than on the outside. 

Baptism, on the outside, is a small thing – some words and a little water.  But on the inside, and upon further examination, it becomes much bigger.  Those gifts that Paul lists seem so basic.  But when explored become much bigger than originally thought.

We celebrated Antony of Egypt at last Wednesday’s Eucharist.  Antony lived from 251 to 356.  When his parents died, he sold everything, moved to the desert and become a hermit monk.  For the homily, I read some of his sayings, and this saying is appropriate today:

One day some men came to visit Abba Antony, and with them was Abba Joseph.  Wanting to test them, Antony read a text from Scripture and, beginning with the youngest, asked them what it meant.  Each man gave his opinion, but to each one he said, “You have not understood it.”  Finally he asked Abba Joseph who said, “I do not know.”  Abba Antony replied, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way because he has said, ‘I do not know’.”

Scripture, faith and worship – these things are bigger on the inside than on the outside.  If we are patient, if we are faithful, if we give our selves, souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God, then we will be willing to delve into the deep mysteries that dwell inside our Scripture, our faith and our worship.

The miracle of water to wine.  Our inclusion into the household of God through our baptism.  The bestowing of gifts by the Holy Spirit.  Our empowerment for ministry by that same Spirit.  We are called through all of these into both ministry and holy exploration.

Where will God lead you on your Epiphany journey?  Wherever it is, remember that, if you are willing to explore them, the questions of why and what are bigger on the inside than on the outside.



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