Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sermon for Anna & Ethan's Baptism: Epiphany I


What a joy it is to be here with you at All Saints.
Ben may have told you
that he and I were classmates at Virginia Theological Seminary.
(Now if you're looking at Ben and then looking at me
and thinking, "My! She hasn't aged well,"
let me just say, I had a head start on Ben of a few years--
in fact my daughter and Ben were classmates at Kenyon College
for their undergraduate studies).
Friendship does overcome age and
Ben and Ellen and I became friends during our time together
at seminary
and that friendship has continued in this Diocese.
So I am honored to be here because I think the world of Ben and Ellen.

And having been a resident of this Diocese for over 11 years,
I also know a few other faces in this congregation.
So being here this morning is, indeed, pure joy!

This morning, as you know, we will baptize
both Ethan Gabriel Gibson
and Anna Wolfe Robertson.
That is quite appropriate—and wonderful-- on this first Sunday after Epiphany
when the whole Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord.

But first I want you to take one step backwards,
back towards Christmas.
I serve now as the Rector at St. John’s in Asheville.
and like many parishes,
we have a children’s Christmas pageant
at our early service on Christmas eve.

Now when I served at St. Mary’s in Blowing Rock,
every year we actually had a real baby for the baby Jesus
in our pageant.
It just seemed to always work out that there was a baby just the right age
(a little older than newborne—let me assure you!!)

But at St. John’s a new doll was purchased and wrapped in swaddling clothes
and became our Baby Jesus
(who, by the way, gave an Oscar worthy performance in the pageant).

After the pageant
one of the children, who had been one of our littlest angels,
was horrified to think that the Baby Jesus
was going to be put away in a storage closet
along with the pageant costumes.

Our very intuitive Christian Formation director—also the pageant director—
said to the little girl,
Addie, would you like to take the Baby Jesus home with you?

The answer was YES!! YES!!
So on Christmas Eve,
the Baby Jesus went home with Addie.

Since then,
every Sunday Addie arrives at the church with her mother--
and the Baby Jesus comes, too.

He has a new wardrobe now—
swaddling clothes have been replaced by a mint green jump suit
and he looks quite happy.

Last Sunday Addie was at church--
along with the exceptionally well-attired Baby Jesus--
and following the service, at Coffee Hour
Addie told me she had changed the baby’s name.

Really? I asked. What is the Baby Jesus’ name now?
Gloria, she responded.

Sometimes even priests are wise enough to know
when to be silent, to not say anything.

It was only later that day as I was driving home from church
that I got it.
As in Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
I think the Baby Jesus would approve the name change.

And I tell you this story not to leave us stuck back in Christmas
but because I think it has everything in the world to do with this day—
this day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.
this day we celebrate the baptism of Anna and Ethan.

Baptism really is about Gloria—
Sacraments sing out to the world: Glory to God in the highest!

Baptism is indeed a holy mystery.

We can’t even begin to touch or comprehend the immensity
of the grace received in baptism.
Baptism springs from the deepest essence of God.
We as human beings may never fully understand its meaning—
at least not in this world.

And yet,
and yet,
we are drawn to the font.
For thousands of years—we keep coming to these waters of baptism.

We are drawn to baptism for ourselves,
for our children, for our grandchildren.
We just cannot stay away.

We might say,
Well, it’s just what you are supposed to do as an Episcopalian,
as a Christian.

But it is far deeper and broader and wider than that.

Jesus himself
offers himself to be baptized.

He doesn’t skip this step.
He doesn’t ignore it, saying with a shrug,
Well, after all, I AM the Son of God.
Surely I don’t have to go through this liturgical ritual.

But no.
Jesus, too, is drawn to the waters of baptism—
and he insists—he insists—that John baptize him.

Jesus understands it is not a do-it-yourself event.
Baptism is the beginning of being part of a community,
the people of God.
Baptism is the beginning of sharing ministry together.
Baptism is the beginning of looking at one another and noticing
we are all marked as God’s beloved children.

No matter what happens to us in our lives,
no matter if we mess up or get messed up,
if we disappoint others or ourselves,
no matter if we become famous or infamous,
celebrity or ordinary,
rich or poor,
Baptism is our assurance
that God’s arms are always wide open and waiting--always.

Ethan and Anna do not come to the font on their own.
They come because of the love made incarnate in Christ--
which, in turn, comes to them in their parents,
in their godparents, in their grandparents, in their families,
and most importantly in the love of this congregation.

God entrusts you today with an enormous responsibility
and an absolutely awesome gift as witnesses to this event.

Baptism is not a private party with a select and exclusive guest list.
Baptism is a holy fiesta—and the whole community is invited to be present.

John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River
and the heavens open up and a voice is heard:
This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Today that very same voice says:
This is Ethan, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
This is my beloved Anna with whom I am well pleased.

We should all wear nametags that say,
Hello, my name is (you fill in the blank with your name),
I am God’s beloved with whom God is well pleased.

For we are God’s beloved.
We are called to this journey of sharing God’s love with the world
and our baptismal covenant is the map that guides us.

Christ is before us, beside us, beneath us, above us
and always and forever with us.

In baptism
we are marked as Christ’s own forever.
The heavens open.
The waters part.

And all our names—at least for one brief moment in time—
are changed to Gloria!

1 comment:

Larry said...

Sue just reminded me of your blogspot, so I have put it in my favorites now, so I wont forget again. As usual, your sermon was both enlightening and entertaining. I am sure Jesus won't mind the moniker Gloria at all!