Jan. 12, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jan 12, 2020 in Epiphany, Sermons

The First Sunday after the Epiphany:
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

January 12, 2020

Baptisms often mean people come together here from a variety of faith traditions, or those from other Episcopal churches, or of no current faith community, and it’s not unusual for them to feel like distant relatives in that setting, or, understandably, like guests who are only here briefly. Perhaps part of that is sitting in the front pews, as we ask those friends and family of the one to be baptized to do; even Episcopalians tend to avoid that front row. I wonder if it’s like the front row in a classroom or movie? When you come back, and I hope you do. please, sit wherever you’d like! Your presence today shows us what a broad gift from God these children to be baptized receive and enrich our experience of the Christian family coming together.

When I was first ordained and serving as Associate Rector, I was in charge of the teen ministry, and the (very) few teens we had were all about the same age, and often brought a friend or two along. My second year the rector and I prepared them for Confirmation, and one of these friends, Matt, joined us, committing to the same course of study and attendance and service as those whose families were members. He became integral to the group; he was a catalyst for honesty and pushed his peers to be themselves, rather than relying on veneers of trendy styles or feigned boredom and too-cool indifference. We loved this guy! His parents came to check us out, and then attended once or twice when bringing Matt to Confirmation Class. Since he had never been baptized either, he would be doing both on that day. It finally came, and everyone dressed up, the bishop did a beautiful job, and there were proud parent tears and smiles, with joy abounding at the reception. Then, I didn’t see Matt for several weeks. I asked his buddy if he was ill and he said no—he’s been in school. Still he didn’t come. Finally, I called and got his mother, who sounded quite surprised to hear from me. “No, there’s nothing wrong—why would there be?” “I haven’t seen him at church or Youth Group since his baptism and Confirmation, nor you and your husband.” “Oh!” she said, in a questioning tone, “I thought we were done.” Somehow although the teens had all learned and explored and deepened their faith, prayed together and volunteered together, this family hadn’t realized there would be any reason to keep coming or to expect anything more from this than as a rite of passage now behind him.

It’s more than that. It’s not like going to dinner at a casual friend’s house where you may never return, it’s more like being adopted or marrying into the family, knowing you’ll be there, one of them, part of them, and share many many more meals together, including Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The three people being baptized today are our family, some we’ve known longer than others, and they each come from different backgrounds and places and stories, as is true for all of St. Michael’s members. In Acts we hear “God shows no partiality.” It is absolutely true; no matter who or where or what you are from or how you came to be here, you came. You have come to Christ’s family and are invited to the table.

At the 8 AM service today, we baptize Anna. Her family started coming here this past summer. Her mother said she and Anna like the “quiet intimacy” of this early service and were most excited for their friends and family to meet their St. Michael’s family. Anna is thoughtful and loving, courageous and genuine, and has an inquiring mind and discerning heart. She chose to be baptized here and now. She does more reading than ‘gaming’ and has widely varied interests, among them she’s considering becoming an acolyte. At the 10:30 service we will baptize Alice, whose family have more recently made St. Michael’s their faith home, even while they know there may not be here that long. They are true travelers, and their story crosses continents as her father was baptized in Foster, Australia, and her mother in Dong Nai, Vietnam. (I hope someday hearing Alice was baptized in Issaquah will sound just as exotic and adventurous!) Ask them about their wonderful family tradition of supporting a special school in Vietnam. Also to be baptized at 10:30 today is Zoey—herself a cradle member here. Her mother came in 2014 and was baptized here in 2015. She and her fiance were engaged in 2016, married in 2017, pregnant in 2018, they had Zoey in 2019, and now this 2020 baptism of Zoey, in the same font her mother was baptized in. I can hardly wait to see what they’ll do for 2021! In Alice and Zoey, we already see inquiring minds and curiosity, with a bit of grit and determination thrown in. We also notice they attract and incite loving adoration from those around them, and we all enjoy their toddler awe, returning it with smiling welcome. John already knew of Jesus, and Jesus knew he wanted to be baptized. And so with the Spirit’s presence it came about, as it does for these three children of God today.

These are people you will see here again and again, even after the baptisms are long passed, because they know with God there’s always more to come. We stand here in faith to support their vows, renewing our own and pledging to support them. For that we have to be present, and so do they. Anna will remember today—Zoey and Alice will be told the stories, and all of them will have these cards you sign, one for each person whose baptism you are witness to, which signifies that support and that welcome into the family of Christ. They will know your names, and I hope will also come to know your genuine support in their Christian life.

The child whose parents thought ‘they were done’ missed what is here. They missed being in a place where there’s no end to questions and curiosity about scripture and faith. They missed seeing the ways God is revealed to people as they serve, care, give and receive. They missed out on Christ’s story week by week and then the rich complexity of walking through his death and resurrection in Holy Week. They missed discovering how glorious new life is when shared in one’s own faith community, and how different death and grieving can be if you lean on God using the shoulders of brothers and sisters in Christ. They missed how every week we have ‘Sunday Supper’ at Christ’s table, where we eat with saints and sinners, toddlers to seniors, democrats, republicans, and independents, visitors, foreigners and locals, gay and straight, non-binary and questioning, those who come in joy and some who come in grief. All because God shows no partiality, and this is the Lord’s table. This is what we give our children when we give them a church home. We also expect them to keep seeking answers to questions and finding new questions to ask. I love that sometime soon Anna, and later Zoey and Alice as they grow, will be right back here supporting someone else who is to be baptized. And when we ask them to do so, they will speak their heartfelt and vigorous “We will!” Where else do we trust young people with the responsibility of changing someone’s life, including their own? Yes, those who thought they ‘were done’ after the baptism missed out on a great deal. These folks (here present) don’t.

In Elizabeth Lesser’s TED talk, Say your truths and seek them in others, she talks about something she learned as a midwife; “When I looked into the face of a newborn, I caught a glimpse of that worthiness, that sense of unapologetic self-hood, that unique spark. I use the word “soul” to describe that spark, because it’s the only word in English that comes close to naming what each baby brought into the room. Every newborn was as singular as a snowflake, a matchless mash-up of biology and ancestry and mystery. And then that baby grows up, and in order to fit into the family, to conform to the culture, to the community, to the gender, that little one begins to cover its soul, layer by layer…But not those babies—not yet. Their message to me was: uncover your soul and look for that soul-spark in everyone else. It’s still there.”

This room is filled with such sparks, the light of each soul. Even if some of us are covered by layers of insecurity or conformity or self-consciousness or whatever yours is, this room is still alight with that soul-spark we were born with, and in baptism we are part of Christ’s blessing these three souls into his family and anointing them to be witnesses to his love. This is a place where we remove some of those layers, recognize that what God created in us is already good, and that such covering might be a brief illusory comfort but do us no real good. Imagine the waters of baptism washing away those layers we have no need of. Here God speaks directly to our souls. Our psalmist says, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters”, including the waters of baptism. Water shared liberally today so we are all reminded of this. We can renew it again at the small wall-mounted water bowl called a ‘stoup,’ where you dip your fingers in the water to bless yourself as you enter.

Baptism is sacred and personal, very personal—but not private. The one baptized has others who come to pray for them and support them and be a witness to this important moment, and we who are present become part of a remarkable and holy moment. In the gospel of Matthew when the heavens open and they all heard, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” He didn’t say ‘You are my Son…’ because God was talking to all of them; “This is my Son” because being witness to the anointing “with the Holy Spirit and with power” as Acts says, is part of what we are about her today. This is where we see the goodness and joy in each other and remember that Christ has anointed us also to bear that light in the world, uncovered, to illumine love and show the way home to him. Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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