Water, Spirit, Beloved.Â Â
Â Luke 3:15-22
Â First week after Epiphany
Rev Elisabeth R. Jones
To quote one of our members from her facebook page:
â€œChristmas is all packed up and put away!â€
The thank you notes have been sent, (well thatâ€™s the intention)
the kids are back at school,
and everything is back to normal,
the world has become ordinary again.
We are about to crash into the gloomiest day of the year,
that perfect storm of the post-seasonal let down and the arrival of the credit card bill.
The â€˜happyâ€™ of New Year is already getting a little tatteredâ€¦.
So, God be thanked for inspiring the creators of the Liturgical Calendar
for the gift, not of just one day called â€œEpiphanyâ€ on January 6th,
but aÂ whole â€œSeason of Epiphanyâ€ â€“ this year 5 weeks long!
We get to hang on to the star and the gold colour on our ppt,
from now until February 13th!
For God knows, we of this frigid northern hemisphere
could do with some light and warmth in these dark, cold months.
But God also knows, we could also do with five weeks or so
to get our heads, hearts, and lives
around the mind-boggling declaration of Christmas:
that God, is, with, us.
In the midst of us.
Entwined with us.
God takes on flesh and bone like us, sharing, experiencing, living this life, with us.
Epiphany is the season when we are repeatedly invited to notice
manifestations of Godâ€™s extraordinary, presence, love, purpose and vision
intermingling with and blessing us
in the ordinary stuff, matter and manner of human life.
Todayâ€™s Gospel reading starts this gentle bombardment
with Lukeâ€™s odd telling of the baptism of Jesus.
Why do I say odd?
Well first off, itâ€™s a baptism,
but there are no babies in white,
no lead-heavy font conveniently rolled out, containing about Â½ litre of tepid filtered water,
no iphone photographers sneaking a shot, no doting grandparentsâ€¦
This baptism of Jesus doesnâ€™t look like ours at all.
And yet this feast day, one we celebrate every year,
is supposed to remind us of our own,
supposed to highlight our connection with Jesus through this sacrament.
But itâ€™s hard to see the connection.
Let me show you what I meanâ€¦
We go into the text and see what Luke says about the baptism itself.
Weâ€™ve got seven verses hereâ€¦.should be pretty straightforwardâ€¦.
Â Letâ€™s seeâ€¦ John baptizing in riverâ€¦. lots of peopleâ€¦.. John gets arrestedâ€¦ put in prison… ah, here we goâ€¦ â€œafter all the people were baptizedâ€¦. Jesus was.â€
Whereâ€™s the water? !
All that wonderful liturgy we had at the beginning!!
Â I need water, Luke!Â
Some step by step dialogue and action would be nice too, between John and Jesusâ€¦
but oh, right Johnâ€™s in prison!
Iâ€™m drowning in dust here, Lukeâ€¦..Â
Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™m supposed to have water and a baptizer for this to work!Â
(Thatâ€™s what pretty much every Christian denomination insists on: water and a baptizer).
I have this good news message that Jesus, the incarnate one,
the â€œGod with usâ€ guy,
has shared the human experience so deeply and fully,
that he was even baptizedâ€¦just likeÂ usâ€¦..
Iâ€™m trying to tell people that God made manifest can be seen in a shared experience
Jesus and us, of water, a baptizerâ€¦
and Lukeâ€™s soÂ not helping!!!
What was it that captured Lukeâ€™s attention so much that
that he leaves us high and dry, waterless and baptizer-less?
Look at text:
Going back a bit, Johnâ€™s got it right, he says:
â€œI baptize with water, but the guy whoâ€™s coming
â€¦.he doesnâ€™t need water, he has theâ€¦â€¦. Holy Spirit to baptize withâ€¦…â€
There it is! Hereâ€™s what distracting Luke:
â€œDo you see her?â€ Luke says, rushing past the waterâ€¦.
Â â€œand when Jesus had been baptized, and was prayingâ€¦
the heavens opened
and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, looking for all the world like a doveâ€¦â€
Thanks, Luke!Â Not only do I not have water,
and no baptizer,Â I now have special effects to contend withâ€¦.
Doves, descending from the rafters during baptismâ€¦?
that doesnâ€™t happen here!Â
Not a single feather floats down on cue to stringed music;
we are 21st century, post-Enlightenement folk,
with Ph.Dâ€™s in engineering, nurses, doctors, teachers
who are rightly proud of our pigeon proof roof!
if you and I donâ€™t think of doves,
Iâ€™m at a loss to find the words adequate to speak ofÂ
that powerful extra-ordinary sense of holy presence,
like water and fire, warmth and light,
that pervades this place when we pour water into this font,
and hold a child out over it, ready to drip blessings on her headâ€¦
And what about that tear drop that forms in the corner of pretty much every eye in this place
when we behold the action of water, and touch, and wordâ€¦
when we sing that blessing, when we walk this miracle of life, of love, of belonging and hope,
and potential and possibility, up and down this aisle?
Dare we say, that itâ€™s as if heaven and earth meet,
thatÂ holy, Spirit is here?Â
Spirit, whom Luke describes in biblical terms filled with meaning and memory:
as a doveâ€¦.
like that Spirit dove that danced on the waters of creationâ€¦â€¦
the Spirit dove who, with a leaf in her beak after the flood
heralded new life and hope again.
Spirit dancing on the watersâ€¦.
Choir sings v. 1-3. VU 388. (seated)
Spirit dancing on the waters, now welcoming the Word-child,
Spirit and flesh meeting in an encounter that is filled withâ€¦â€¦
Well letâ€™s see what Luke says nextâ€¦.
â€œAnd a voice came from that open heaven, and saidÂ
â€œ Beloved, you are mine, child of my heart, pride of my life.â€
We know that language,
those of us who have ever loved, or been loved,
or longed to be loved.
We know the tone of that heaven-filled voice,
itâ€™s the same tone we use to a child, a lover,Â a soul-friend,
to one we forgive, or who forgives us.
Does this voice need to come from heaven,
like some cosmic voice over?
Of course not,Â but Luke is trying to tell us
to recognize in our own voices,
the voice of Love itself,
the language of belovedness,
of pure perfect pride in this creationÂ
we beholdÂ before us?
Whether thatâ€™s our own child, or anotherâ€™s child,
or a child grown,
or this Jesus, whom God birthed among usâ€¦.
no-one can tell me that this special, spirit-filled naming
this love â€“filled voice
isnâ€™t heardÂ here every time someone is baptized.
And hereâ€™s my heresyâ€¦.
If Luke wasnâ€™t bothered about water,
if Luke couldnâ€™t keep track of John the Baptizerâ€™s whereabouts,
itâ€™s because heâ€™s telling us that what happened in Jesusâ€™ baptism
isnâ€™t confined to that day or place,Â
nor yet to those few days in the year
when we pour water and mark a forehead with Christâ€™s sign.
Lukeâ€™s telling us that God breaks open the canopy of heaven,
and fills the air with holy presence,
all the time,
to say to all of Godâ€™s creatures.
â€œBeloved, My Heartâ€™s Child, Pride of my life.â€