First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A February 16, 2014 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:21-37
John Hines sermon February 11, 2014 Daily Office I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 9, 2014 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20
The Presentation, Year A February 2, 2014 Presentation in the Temple, Year A Luke 2:22-40
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 26, 2014 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 4:12-23
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 19, 2014 Second Sunday after the Epiphany Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 12, 2014 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17
The Epiphany, Year A January 6, 2014 Epiphany, Year A Matthew 2:1-12
Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A January 5, 2014 Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Christmas Eve December 24, 2013 Christmas Eve, 2013 Luke 2:1-20
Third Sunday in Advent, Year A December 15, 2013 Third Sunday in Advent, Year A Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11
First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year December 1, 2013 Advent 1, Year A Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44
Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C November 24, 2013 Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C Luke 23:33-43
Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C November 17, 2013 Proper 28, Year C Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-10
Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C November 10, 2013 Proper 27, Year C Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:27-38


First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Sermon Date:January 12, 2014

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17

Liturgy Calendar: First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Baptism of Owen Long, Aug 4, 2013

PDF version 

I’m one of those people who remember my baptism, because I grew up in the Baptist church.

But what I remember even more than my baptism was the lead up to it.

Because, you see, in the Baptist church, until you’re baptized, you’re a second class citizen. 

Here’s what I mean by being a second class citizen. When we had communion (which wasn’t that often) the plate covered with little pieces of bread would come by, and my parents would each take a piece, and my friends who had been baptized would take a piece, and I’d just sit there and watch that plate of bread go by.

And then the minister would ask everyone to eat the bread, and they would, but not me, because I hadn’t been baptized. 

And then the big heavy round tray full of little tiny cups of grape juice would come around—same thing, everyone around me took a little cup and drank that grape juice but me,  and then they’d put the cups in the little holders on the backs of the pews.   But not me.

My  friends started getting baptized around age ten or so.  And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to—I did!  I loved Jesus with my whole heart. 

But for an introverted child, to walk down a long, long aisle, with everyone staring at me, going to the front of the church, and having to face all those people—Sunday after Sunday I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

And the summer revivals were the worst—five nights of altar calls, my sweaty hands holding onto the pew in front of me, the inward argument with myself—you can do it—no, I can’t, until at last the last hymn was over and we could go home. 

After a while, people started asking.  So, when are you going to join the church? 

By the time I was twelve, and all of my friends had made their profession of faith and I hadn’t, I guess I was just becoming a downright embarrassment to my parents.

So during the revival in the summer of 1966, our family worked it out—I don’t remember the negotiations at home, but the result was that toward the end of that revival week, my sister and brother and I all went down together and joined the church, led by my sister.

And then we had to stay up front afterwards while everyone came to congratulate us and say things like “A little child shall lead them” (my sister would have been around eight years old at the time), “the angels in heaven are rejoicing tonight….”  Things like that.  All very sweet. 

I was just thankful to go home and get out of the limelight as quickly as possible. 

And so a few months later I was baptized.

I can still remember this experience vividly.  The baptismal pool, like it is in most Baptist churches, was in the front of the church behind the choir loft.  And so when baptisms took place, the congregation would look above the choir and could see the minister from about here up, and then the person being baptized would appear from the left and come to the minister and then the minister would baptize them—they’d disappear –you’d hear water, and then they’d be raised back up—soaking wet. 

I remember standing there at the edge of this pool, going in—noticing that Mr. Cross (yes, that was our minister’s name) had on fishing boots, and the water felt deep but it was warm, and when I got  to him, Mr. Cross put his huge hand over my mouth and nose and lowered me under the water, saying that he was baptizing me in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And then I was raised up, dripping wet, and I went out of the pool on the other side, and changed into dry clothes.  Did I feel different? 

Yes, I felt hugely relieved. 

And from then on, during the last hymn every Sunday, my heart didn’t race anymore, and my sweaty hands didn’t have to grip the pew in front of me.  I was in!

And the next time the bread and grape juice came by, I got to eat the bread and drink the grape juice.

In reflecting on these memories of my baptism and the lead up to it, I’ve come to the conclusion that what finally made me go through this  difficult (because don’t forget—I was a total introvert) profession of faith was not  so much that I felt my relationship with Jesus was in question.  I loved Jesus, and I knew that Jesus loved me and would love me regardless of whether or not I was baptized. I felt that Jesus would be pleased for sure, if I did this, but that my relationship with him didn’t depend on this one thing. 

A big part of why I finally did it was because I wanted to belong so badly, to be one of the group, to be accepted and fully included in the life of the church.   But it’s taken me years to figure out and grow into the fact that my baptism also was an indication that I was willing to be God’s servant and to live into that calling to servanthood. 

Every time we come to the readings for the first Sunday after Epiphany, I find myself wondering—why did Jesus get baptized?  Of all people, Jesus had no need to undergo John’s baptism for the repentance of sins, because we know that Jesus was without sin.

And I think Matthew struggles with this question too, because he is the one, out of the four gospel writers, that includes this interchange between Jesus and John.

John says, “No, Lord, I need to be baptized by you.”  And Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

For Jesus, righteousness meant being obedient to God’s will and also carrying out God’s saving plan. 

And to do that, Jesus couldn’t just be among us as this perfect divine being who would be here for a little while doing miraculous things  and then go back to sit at the right hand of God and come again at the end of time and to be our judge.

In order to carry out God’s saving plan, Jesus had to be one of us. 

Imagine being there that day, standing on the muddy banks of the Jordan, maybe waiting to be baptized yourself and to have all your sins washed away—and to see Jesus get baptized. 

This scene, Jesus being baptized, is his first sign to us of his willingness to live and die as one of us, his willingness to experience fully what it is to be human—this baptism is a sign to us that Jesus does not expect to take any shortcuts, to depend on his status as the sinless Son of God to spare him from the toughness of life as a human being.

By being baptized, Jesus lets us know that he is completely, and irrevocably, one of us.

And here’s the second and equally  important reason that Jesus got baptized—to show us that he is a willing servant, ready to serve God and to carry out God’s saving plan for the universe. 

God, who has put together this plan of Jesus coming to save us, is pleased that Jesus is willing to embrace fully his humanity, and also that Jesus is choosing to be God’s willing servant. 

God is so pleased with Jesus that the heavens are torn open, and the Spirit of God descends like a dove and alights on Jesus—and we hear God’s voice say to us—

This is my Son–not “You are my son” as if no one else but Jesus can hear), but an announcement to us all, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Jesus knew and loved the writings of the prophet Isaiah.  We know this because Luke tells us that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue.

And so Jesus would have known the scripture from Isaiah that we have heard today, and would have known that he was like God’s servant in Isaiah, the one in whom God delights.

Jesus knew that this passage from Isaiah was his job description.

To bring forth justice to the nations, to faithfully bring forth justice, to establish justice in the earth. 

As people who have been baptized into the body of Christ, this is also our job description—to live in solidarity with one another in our humanity and to bring forth justice on the earth.

How we live in solidarity with our fellow human beings, especially in the injustices and roughness of life,  requires constant discernment.  How we are to serve God by bringing forth justice will vary from person to person, and  this bringing forth of justice on the earth  is the work and focus of a lifetime, not just a hit and miss effort on our parts here and there.  

When we renew our baptismal covenant here in just a minute, we’ll use the words of our prayer book to define how it is that we are to be together as the body of Christ and to work to help God establish justice in the earth.

First, we’ll affirm what we believe, and then we’ll follow that with what we’ll do based on what we believe—

To come together to learn more and more deeply the apostles’ teaching, to share fellowship, to share the bread and wine, to pray, to resist evil and when we fail at that, to repent, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ, to seek and serve God in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being—

Our job description as servants of God.

One last thing—we don’t do these things alone—because without God, these actions would be impossible.

Isaiah reminds us, as he did Jesus, that when we servants are bruised and damaged, God will heal us.  When we’re empty, God will fill us.  God will take us by the hand and keep us.

Through Jesus, God has chosen to be one of us. 

And God has chosen  you and me, through Jesus, to be God’s servants here on this earth.

God delights in us. 

And the psalmist reminds us, that as we do God’s work, God will give strength to us, and God will give us the blessing of peace.

Thanks be to God!


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