January 14, 2018 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
As we gather this Sunday, early in the Epiphany Season, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus’ Baptism. We hear from the Gospel of Mark the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. It’s a powerful scene, where the heavens are “torn apart,” and the Spirit descends like a dove and comes down on Jesus. Then a voice comes from heaven, Jesus’ heavenly Father proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
What a moment, what a scene, the heavens torn apart, the Spirit descending in the form of a dove and that voice. The Creator’s voice, the voice that brought light into the darkness in the first moment of creation. The voice that brought something out of nothing and began the whole process of our world and human life coming to be. That voice says of Jesus, you are my beloved Son, I love you.
Now, by a show of hands this morning, how many of you remember your baptism? As we can see, not many and not me. I was born on a Sunday, Easter Sunday, Alleluia. I was baptized a week or two later in a private ceremony on a Sunday afternoon along with four of five other babies. There’s not even a picture, just a small card so I have no memory of it. From what I’m told, it was a little water and a few prayers far from the drama of Jesus’ experience at the Jordan, so I’ve always envied people who remember their baptism.
I went to seminary with a man who was baptized as a young adult. After more than a year of study and mentoring and attending service and fellowship and prayer, he took the plunge and was baptized. At his church they didn’t baptize with a few drops of water in a tidy font, no, they had a large pond on their church property. My friend, Steve, was immersed, dunked, plunged, three times in the water of that lake. He remembers it vividly, the feeling of becoming a baptized member of that Christian community of the body of Christ. The feeling of God’s love surrounding him, filling him as he entered the water of New Life, filling him with the power of the Spirit.
Since then, since the day of his baptism, my friend, Steve, has adopted a practice that is truly special and moving. Every year on the anniversary of his baptism in August, he goes back to that church, back to that pond, back to those waters of New Life and he swims. He swims around the whole pond and he reflects on his Baptism. He thinks about how well he has lived out the promises he made the day he was baptized.
Promises to be faithful in prayer and worship. Promises to resist evil in all its ugly forms, and when he falls into sin, to repent and return to the Lord. His promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. His promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. He swims and prays and reflects on how well he has lived out the responsibilities of being a baptized follower of Christ. The voice of God continues to tell him, “You are my beloved child, I love you.” “Live in my love.”
My friend told me he reflects deeply on these questions as he remembers his baptism during his anniversary swim: To whom do I belong? To what do I belong? To the things of this world, or the things of God? I made a commitment to God in these waters, how am I doing?
My friend’s powerful practice, his anniversary swim, is a good reminder for those of us that do not remember our baptism. It’s a reminder that baptism is not just something that happens at one moment in time, but baptism is something practiced and lived into over the course of a lifetime. Baptism is a continual and ever deepening process of becoming more faithful, more forgiving, more generous and kind, more willing to work for peace and justice, more loving.
Baptism does not happen in one day, but over the course of a lifetime. In that spirit, and as a reminder that baptism is an ongoing call, we will use the Baptismal Covenant, bless water and be sprinkled with the blessed, holy water this morning. As we do this today, and in some quiet, reflective time this coming week, I encourage you to reflect on your baptism and what its promises mean for you. Ponder the reality of being a beloved child of God and what this love means in how you live your life each day. Ponder the words of our opening collect: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
January 7, 2018 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come, and behold him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.
I love the hymn, O Come All Ye Faithful. It’s the hymn we sing as we begin our worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when all the faithful gather. The trumpets and brass set a joyful, festive tone. Tom on the organ, acolytes, choir, cup ministers and clergy process from the back up the aisle, singing with gusto, with enthusiasm “Come let us adore his, Come let us adore him, Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”
I think it’s that word, adore, that moves me most deeply. We come together to adore Him, to adore Christ the Lord. This came through again in a most moving way during the pageant at the 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service. Jesus, little Everett, lying in the manger surrounded by angels and shepherds and sheep and donkeys, Mary & Joseph, all looking at Him, adoring Him, smiling down on him with love, as he smiled back.
I love looking at pictures of a mom or dad or grandma or grandpa holding their little baby in their arms, looking down on them as the baby sleeps or looks back up. It’s adoration; it’s love, complete and pure. That’s what the wise men, or magi, came to do. It’s what we remember and celebrate on this Epiphany Sunday. When we hear the story of wise men from the East making a long journey just to worship and adore the newborn Christ and offer him gifts.
They didn’t ask for anything. The Gospel indicates that they said nothing, not a word. They simply knelt down, paid him homage, and gave Him their gifts. They simply adored Him. One of the few times, perhaps, in Jesus’ life that people simply appreciated Him without asking Him for anything. After He becomes an adult the people are always asking to be healed, to be fed, to be forgiven, but not in the manger, there He’s simply adored, simply worshipped.
That’s one of the most wonderful things about our Christmas Eve worship, and our Epiphany service today. We are reminded that our coming together, our worship, is about adoration, adoring God present in our midst. We sing God’s praises, give God glory and honor, we give thanks; the word Eucharist means, thanksgiving. I recently read this quote on gratitude by Br. Geoffrey Tristan: “God loves to be thanked. When we give thanks, God changes us; God softens our hearts, and we become more generous toward others, and toward ourselves. We are converted through thanksgiving.” We are converted through this Eucharist that we celebrate.
And so, the Eucharistic Prayer, the center of our worship, begins: Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give God thanks and praise. In other words, it is right to adore God, present in our midst as we gather. God present in music when we lift our voices in thanks and praise, God present in scripture, the great stories of God alive and active in our world long ago and especially in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh
God present in gifts of bread and wine; God with us, here, in our worship. God present in the community of the faithful, offering praise and adoration, offering our gifts, like those wise men so long ago. Come, let us adore Him. We certainly come with needs and concerns, when we gather each Sunday, we pray for ourselves, for our neighbors in need, for our country and our world; for the earth and all creation; for the sick and suffering. We ask for things for healing, for peace, for guidance, wisdom and insight, but the faithful wise men, the magi, who took that long journey so long ago remind us how important it is that we come together to adore Him, to appreciate and give thanks for a God who took flesh and lived among us. He gave Himself for us that we might have new and everlasting life.
We hope that our adoration, our worship, and thanks are pleasing to God, that the life of faith is not centered on what we get, but what we have to give. The gift of our whole selves, our minds, hearts, hand and voices raised in a song of praise, O come all ye faithful, come let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord.