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Water, Spirit, Beloved.  

 Luke 3:15-22

 First week after Epiphany

Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

To quote one of our members from her facebook page:
“Christmas is all packed up and put away!”
The thank you notes have been sent, (well that’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 ‘happy’ of New Year is already getting a little tattered….

So, God be thanked for inspiring the creators of the Liturgical Calendar
for the gift, not of just one day called “Epiphany” on January 6th,
but a  whole “Season of Epiphany” – 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 God’s extraordinary, presence, love, purpose and vision
intermingling with and blessing us
in the ordinary stuff, matter and manner of human life.

Today’s Gospel reading starts this gentle bombardment
with Luke’s odd telling of the baptism of Jesus.
Why do I say odd?
Well first off, it’s a baptism,
but there are no babies in white,
no lead-heavy font conveniently rolled out, containing about ½ litre of tepid filtered water,
no iphone photographers sneaking a shot, no doting grandparents…
This baptism of Jesus doesn’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 it’s hard to see the connection.

Let me show you what I mean…
We go into the text and see what Luke says about the baptism itself.
We’ve got seven verses here….should be pretty straightforward….
 Let’s see… John baptizing in river…. lots of people….. John gets arrested… put in prison… ah, here we go… “after all the people were baptized…. Jesus was.”
That’s it?!
Where’s the water? !
All that wonderful liturgy we had at the beginning!!
 I need water, Luke! 
Some step by step dialogue and action would be nice too, between John and Jesus…
but oh, right John’s in prison!

I’m drowning in dust here, Luke….. 
I’m sure I’m supposed to have water and a baptizer for this to work! 
(That’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 “God with us” guy,
has shared the human experience so deeply and fully,
that he was even baptized…just like  us…..
I’m trying to tell people that God made manifest can be seen in a shared experience
Jesus and us, of water, a baptizer…

and Luke’s so  not helping!!!
What was it that captured Luke’s attention so much that
that he leaves us high and dry, waterless and baptizer-less?
Look at text:
Going back a bit, John’s got it right, he says:
“I baptize with water, but the guy who’s coming
….he doesn’t need water, he has the……. Holy Spirit to baptize with……”

There it is! Here’s what distracting Luke:

“Do you see her?” Luke says, rushing past the water….
 “and when Jesus had been baptized, and was praying…
the heavens opened
and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, looking for all the world like a dove…”

Thanks, Luke!  Not only do I not have water,
and no baptizer,  I now have special effects to contend with….
Doves, descending from the rafters during baptism…?
that doesn’t happen here! 
Not a single feather floats down on cue to stringed music;
we are 21st century, post-Enlightenement folk,
with Ph.D’s in engineering, nurses, doctors, teachers
who are rightly proud of our pigeon proof roof!

But….then again,
if you and I don’t think of doves,
I’m at a loss to find the words adequate to speak of 
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 head…
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 word…
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 it’s as if heaven and earth meet,
that  holy, Spirit is here? 

Spirit, whom Luke describes in biblical terms filled with meaning and memory:
as a dove….
like that Spirit dove that danced on the waters of creation……
the Spirit dove who, with a leaf in her beak after the flood
heralded new life and hope again.
Spirit dancing on the waters….

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 with……
Well let’s see what Luke says next….

“And a voice came from that open heaven, and said 
“ Beloved, you are mine, child of my heart, pride of my life.”

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,
it’s the same tone we use to a child, a lover,  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,  but Luke is trying to tell us
to recognize in our own voices,
the voice of Love itself,
the language of belovedness,
of belonging,
of pure perfect pride in this creation 
we behold  before us?
Whether that’s our own child, or another’s child,
or a child grown,
or this Jesus, whom God birthed among us….
no-one can tell me that this special, spirit-filled naming
this love –filled voice
isn’t heard  here every time someone is baptized.

And here’s my heresy….
If Luke wasn’t bothered about water,
if Luke couldn’t keep track of John the Baptizer’s whereabouts,
it’s because he’s telling us that what happened in Jesus’ baptism
isn’t confined to that day or place, 
nor yet to those few days in the year
when we pour water and mark a forehead with Christ’s sign.
Luke’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 God’s creatures.
“Beloved, My Heart’s Child, Pride of my life.”





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