Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Preached by Rev. Deacon John Warner
Are You Building Your ARK?
Epiphany arrived last week marking an end to our Christmas season. It is beginning to look a lot NOT like Christmas. No Christmas music overhead coming from the Barnes and Noble speakers. No more Christmas movies unless you are like Marsha and have saved them to the DVR. Recently, I read a list of the top twenty Christmas movies of all time. Some I would have expected to be on the list such as “A Christmas Story, which was number one.” Others, I would have never guessed, such as “Bad Santa” or…”Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” During December, I did watch one, which wasn’t the typical Christmas movie—“Evan Almighty.” The film’s protagonist is Evan Baxter, a newscaster who runs for Congress campaigning on a promise to change the world. After winning the election, but before taking the oath of office, he prays for God’s assistance in accomplishing this task. God, in the guise of Morgan Freeman, answers his prayers by telling Evan to build an ark. Although most of the movie’s comedy revolves around Evan’s adventures in building the ark, God’s directive to build an ark was misunderstood. It was meant be an answer to Evan’s prayful question, “How does one change the world?” The answer of “ark” was actually an acronym for the phrase, “acts of random kindness.”
Although it was probably not Jesus’ intention to change the world, this is what his life and death did. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about the intervening years between his birth and his appearance today on the banks of the Jordan River. Luke tells us a little about his childhood experiences but even these recountings are sparse. The baptism of Jesus is such a seminal event in the origins of the Christian faith that all four Gospels relay similar versions of the story. In today’s Gospel, one can imagine Jesus approaching the shores of the Jordon River where John had been baptizing a number of individuals, possibly seeking a ritual purification or conversion to Judaism. Why Jesus chose this moment in his thirtieth year to be baptized, we don’t know. But Jesus, the man that John the Baptizer prophesied about, joins with the community present, kneels in front of John, and John christens Jesus with water. Then after a prayer and the receipt of the Holy Spirit, the heavens breaks and God makes a public declaration of Jesus’ identity-- his special relationship to God. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The inauguration of the rite of baptism began with the baptism of Jesus. With the baptism of Jesus, John’s prophesy has been fulfilled. John baptized Jesus with water, but Jesus will baptize with water, fire and the Holy Spirit. Through him, God’s power will be made manifest. With God’s affirmation, he is the bringer of God’s kingdom.
Shortly, the Pharisees express concern that he is baptizing more than John ever did. (John 4:1). The disciples are told to continue his practice of baptizing and teaching. (Mt 28:19). And the sacrament of baptism has been performed generation to generation for the last two thousand years.
All cultures have initiation rites into the community. In the Hindu tradition, the mundan is performed between the age of one and three where the boy’s hair is shaven symbolizing a freedom from undesirable traits from past lives; therefore a cleansing of the self for the future. Our Christian life begins with the baptismal font. The rite of baptism serves as the threshold – a doorway – to the other sacraments including confirmation, Eucharist and confession.
Jesus became to associate his baptism with his death. Since the early church, baptism provided a means for us to share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whenever Fr. Jason blesses the water poured into the font, the congregation hears “We thank you, Father for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” Our shared burial with Jesus means that we die to a life that separates us from God -- a life of self-will, self-seeking and self-serving. The more we die, the more we are reborn to a life on the other side of death. The more we die to self; the more we begin to live to God.
Our journey toward Christlikeness is not easy. After all, we are human. However, we are not alone in our baptismal life. We reach out for God’s help “to resist evil” and the courage to repent and return to God when we fall short. Baptism is imbued with a corporate spirituality as the community of believers holds us up in their prayers of support.
Baptism into the Christian life begins at the font but it doesn’t end at the font. After Jesus was baptized, he shortly thereafter, began his ministry. There was an interceding period in the wildness but this is the subject of another sermon. What does it mean to die and be reborn in Christ? Where does our baptism take us? Answers to these questions can be discerned when we rededicate our faith and service to God through the Baptismal Covenant. In a series of vows, we promise to live out the Gospel, including a promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons respecting each individual’s dignity. What struck me when I reread the Baptismal Covenant in preparing for this sermon was the inclusion of the phrase “to seek;” not just to serve. This means that we are to seek people who need our help and care rather than waiting for them to come within our proximity. This phase also requires that we occasionally leave our comfort zone in simply serving our loved ones, our families and church community, all worthwhile activity, but to extend our boundaries into unfamiliar, often uncomfortable, service opportunities.
In a moment, we will recite the Baptismal Covenant. I would ask that when you recite the words, you reflect on their meaning for you. Remember it is more than simply an affirmation of faith. It also involves a series of vows in which we promise to change the world. Evan Baxter’s question regarding how to change the world was answered by Morgan Freeman, in the guise of God, “Build an ARK” or “acts of random kindness.” Are you building an ARK? Will you?