January 11, 2015
Baptism of Our Lord, Year B
The Rev. Nancy Gallagher
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The author of the Gospel according to Mark places the baptism of Jesus by John at the very beginning of his story. Next Jesus will be driven, pushed into the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. John the Baptizer will be arrested, and Jesus begins to preach the good news of the kingdom of God
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[h] with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus is named as Beloved, as Son, and affirmed by ‘with you I am well please.’ What is the power of naming? We understand this speech to be the voice of God, a voice of splendor. I wonder if the people around Jesus and John had to cover their ears?
In Genesis, God creates by speaking into existent, by naming, as we heard in the our story of Creation today: God said “Let there be light”: and there was light. In the Hebrew Bible, naming is the very first human co-creation with God. In the second chapter of Genesis, just after the description of the Garden of Eden and of the four rivers that flow out of it, the narrator tells us that God created animals and birds and “brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field;” (Genesis 2.19-20).
What is the story of your name? I was named after my great grandmother, my mother’s maternal grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Rawls. I have a jewelry box and a necklace that belonged to her. This places me in a long line of determined women. It offers me some identity, some way of seeing myself in a context, as a continuation of my ancestors, if I so choose. It also broke my father’s family tradition of using the same six names in every generation. At Gallagher family gatherings, you can call our “Pat” and both genders and all generations present will answer ‘Yes?”
In the Hebrew Scriptures God names himself as “I Am that I Am” or “I Will Be What I Will Be”. In Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, Sophia, or Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), is an expression of understanding for the second person of the Holy Trinity, [as in the dedication of the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as well as in the Old Testament, as seen in the Book of Proverbs 9:1.]
At his Baptism, Jesus is named as Beloved, as Son. From this naming, Jesus receives his identity, heritage, his call, and unwavering positive regard. This affirmation, this acceptance requires an open heart and mind and transforms us and leaves us vulnerable somehow. Remember that after the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, it also drives Jesus into the desert, into the wilderness.
In our reading from Acts, Paul lays his hands on the believers in Ephesus and they receive the Holy Spirit and the disciples speak in tongues and prophesize. God arrives in the lives of these twelve people and a thin place between the seen and the unseen is experienced. These people are changed by God’s touch and marked as Christ’s own forever.
We share in the naming, the anointing, and the unwavering affection of our Creator as children of God. We celebrate our adoption into the family of God by affirming it in the sacrament of the living waters of baptism. It is a sacrament of birth and death, a sacrament of claiming our life in community, and claiming our identity and worth.
For those of us who are baptized, how do we remember our own baptism? Some of us dip our fingers in the font and cross ourselves with Holy Water in the name of the Trinity reenacting our baptism and perhaps reaffirming our baptismal vows. I once read a story of a dad and his teenage daughter. The daughter was experiencing acne, the bane of adolescence and Dad could see how it made her feel awful about herself and doubt her attractiveness. Dad asked his daughter to do one thing each morning—to wash her face with warm water, scooping it up and saying “in the Name of the Father, In the Name of the Son, and in the Name of the Holy Spirit.” Dad reported this ‘in the name of the trinity face washing’ seemed to give his daughter a quiet confidence that Clearasil and Proactiv could not.
As we celebrate Jesus’ own baptism, perhaps this is an opportunity to think more deeply and claim more fully, the promises we exchanged with God at our own baptism. Many of us don’t know the date of our own baptism because we were baptized as children. Since there are no traditions of giving gifts on baptismal anniversaries, no Hallmark cards designed to say “on this day you were marked by the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever”, no tradition of receiving candles, scented oils, and bottled water on that day, well, we just don’t know the day we were born into a community of believers.
We can find out our baptismal date from the Parish Record book if you were baptized in a liturgical church like the Episcopal, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic church. I’m not sure how baptisms are recorded in other traditions. Does anybody here know?
You could choose to celebrate a date that you can discover such as the date of your confirmation or reception into the Episcopal church. Or we could just pick a date—like six months after your birthday to celebrate your rebirth into a community of faith.
In celebration of your baptism or in contemplation of being baptized I have a gift for you. The baptismal handout. Here are the three Holy No’s, the three Holy Yes’s, and the five faith forming life skills. We can hang these in our bathrooms, showers, where we wash our faces or brush our teeth. To cleanse the body and the soul.
And each time you look at these may you hear the Voice of Splendor say to you, “You are my Daughter, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Amen.
Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer I do.
Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Answer I do.
Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? Answer I do.
The Presider addresses the congregation saying, Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ? People We will.
Presider Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? People I will, with God’s help.
Presider Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? People I will, with God’s help
Presider Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? People I will, with God’s help.
Presider Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? People I will, with God’s help.
Presider Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? People I will, with God’s help.