Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Wyoming, MI

Check out out Fr. Mike’s written sermon below....

Sermon: The Baptism of Love

The Rev. Mike Wernick                                                                                                                                   January 9, 2022

Year C

Isaiah 43:1-7

Psalm 29

Acts 8:14-17

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

 

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

 

If you blinked…  you might have missed it…  if you thought about what to have for lunch…  it may not have registered…  in today’s reading from Isaiah…  verse four…  is the only place in the Bible…  the only place…  where God says…  I love you…  in its original context…  God is speaking to ancient Israel…  whom God restores after the Babylonian Exile…  after the destruction of the first Temple…  the verse ends with God gathering God’s daughters and sons whom God formed and made…  who God created for God’s glory…  but in the Epiphany light of Christ…  this expression of love can be extended to you…  to me…  and to everyone else in the history of the world…

 

I converted to Christianity on December 8, 1989…  and was baptized on November 4, 1990…  my conversion was personal…  just between God and me…  but my baptism was a public profession…  in a church…  on a Sunday morning…  and not that I’d want to…  but there’d be no denying it…  there were about fifty people in that Cloud of Witnesses…  and it was recorded in the church register…  that’s the thing about things we do and say in public…  especially these days…  there are videos…  photographs…  eye witness accounts…  and while some people try to take back what they’ve said or done…  or claim to have been misquoted…  sometimes it’s by their own hand that they are found out…  and anyway…  God knows…

 

John’s baptism was one of repentance and forgiveness…  and in the ancient world…  one often washed…  to prepare for what came next…  in Judaism…  on the day before Yom Kippur…  many traditional Jews went to a mikveh…  a ritual bath…  to symbolize their spiritual rebirth…  the rabbis and commentators emphasize that the purpose of immersion was not to remove any physical uncleanliness…  instead…  the purifying waters were designed to symbolically remove ritual impurity so that the individual could then fully engage in the ceremonial life of their community…  and by doing so…  commit to live in a new way…  public professions of faith… 

 

And John answered those who questioned whether he might be the Messiah…  by saying…  I baptize you with water…  but one who is more powerful than I is coming…  and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…  John’s baptism was one of repentance and forgiveness…  it was not into the death and resurrection of Jesus…  it was not Christian baptism as we understand it today…  and theologians throughout the centuries have asked why…  if Jesus was without sin…  why did he submit to John’s baptism…  no one has the complete answer…  but there is a hint…  it has to do with community… 

 

Ismael Ruiz-Millán of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church writes…  what John is offering them is a particular community and way of life…  John’s audience is expecting a Messiah…  but what they do not know yet is that they are becoming the messianic community…  the body of Christ on earth…  and Jesus’ baptism is accomplishing something specific…  the beginning of that messianic community…  Jesus is the last in line…  remember the last will be first…  and although Jesus does not himself need forgiveness of sins…  his public baptism by John puts him in solidarity with those who do…  with those he has been sent to seek out… and that’s the point…  Jesus is not above us…  or beyond us…  but in Jesus…  God comes to us…  and this is why God says I love you only once…  because God is with us…  as one of us… and the Holy Spirit which descends on Jesus…  is the same Holy Spirit which descends on us…

 

So it brings me back to one of those questions that seem to pop up from time to time…  what happens in baptism…  does something happen to us…  something outside of our control…  or is what happens our public profession as members of a new community…  and through that profession…  a decision to resist the spiritual and systemic forces outside of ourselves which draw us away from God’s love…

 

In the Gospel of Matthew (3:13-17) it was when the baptized Jesus came up out of the water…  that the heavens were opened to him…  and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove…  and alighting on him…  and a voice from heaven said…  as if to those assembled…  This is my Son…  the Beloved…  with whom I am well pleased…  and in Mark and Luke’s Gospel (Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22) the voice which came from heaven said…  You are my Son…  the Beloved…  with you I am well pleased…  it is like what God said in Isaiah…  I have called you by name and you are mine…  in baptism God puts God’s name on us…  God puts Jesus’ name on us…  and God speaks these same words to each and every one of us…  whether someone has committed to raise us up from infancy in the Christian life…  or whether we have made that commitment on our own…  God speaks these same words to those who attend the churches we dislike…  and to those who dislike us…  God speaks these words to those who attend church or synagogue or mosque…  or not…  even to those Samaritans we just heard about in Acts…  who accepted the word of God and on whom the Holy Spirit descended…  because God calls us Beloved when we too are as vulnerable as Christ…  and when we invite the Spirit to help us in our weakness…  for as Romans 8:26 affirms…  we do not know how to pray as we ought…  but the Spirit intercedes…  with sighs too deep for words

 

Richard Rohr writes…  we can’t start a spiritual journey on a negative foundation…  if we just seek God out of fear or guilt or shame (which is often the legacy of original sin)…  we won’t get very far…  we have to begin positive…  by a wonderful experience…  by something that’s larger than life…  by something that dips us into the depths of our own being…  and that’s what the word baptism means…  to be dipped into…  Rohr continues…  I am convinced that the reason people make great mistakes is because they have never heard what Jesus heard on the day of his baptism…  they never heard another human voice…  much less a voice from heaven say to them…  You are a beloved son…  You are a beloved daughter…  and in you I am well pleased…  if we’ve never had anyone believe in us…  take delight in us…  affirm us…  call us beloved…  we don’t have anywhere to begin…  there’s nothing exciting and wonderful to start with…  so we spend our whole lives trying to say those words to ourselves…  I’m okay…  I’m wonderful…  I’m great…  but we don’t really believe it…  the word has to come from someone greater than us…  and that’s really a parent’s primary job…  to communicate to their child that they are a beloved…  eternally-existing child of God… and once we own that…  nothing can stop us…  and no one can take it away from us…  because it is given only…  always…  and everywhere by God…  for those who will accept it freely…

 

In just a few moments…  we will renew the vows we made when we made a public profession to this community of Christ…  or the vows which were first made on our behalf and which we can now make again for ourselves…  I invite you to say these words not as we recite the Creeds…  as an affirmation of faith…  but as though they were our prayer to God on the very day of our baptism…  listening for that moment when God calls us Beloved…  when God says to each one of us… as we just heard God say in Isaiah…  I love you