|Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||June 5, 2016||Proper 5, Year C||Luke 7: 11-17|
|Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||May 29, 2016||Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||Luke 7:1-10|
|Trinity Sunday, Pentecost 1, Year C||May 22, 2016||Trinity Sunday, Year C||John 16:12-15, Psalm 8|
|Day of Pentecost! Year C||May 15, 2016||The Day of Pentecost, Year C||Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, 25-27|
|Easter 5, Year C||April 24, 2016||Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C||Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35, Psalm 148|
|Easter 4, Year C||April 17, 2016||Easter 4, Year C||Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30|
|Easter 3, Year C||April 10, 2016||Easter 3, Year C||John 21:1-19|
|Easter 2, Year C||April 3, 2016||Easter 2, Year C||John 20:19-31|
|Easter, Year C||March 27, 2016||Easter, Year C||Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24: 1-12|
|Good Friday||March 25, 2016||Good Friday, Year C||John 18:1-19:42|
|Maundy Thursday||March 24, 2016||Maundy Thursday, Year C||Psalm 116:1, 10-17, John 13:1-17, 31b-35|
|Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 13, 2016||The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8, Psalm 126|
|Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 6, 2016||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Psalm 32|
|Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 28, 2016||Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||Luke 13:1-9|
|Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 21, 2016||The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1|
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Sermon Date:January 10, 2016
Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Liturgy Calendar: First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Map of the Jordan River
Water is essential to every living thing on this planet.
So no wonder water has great significance for all of the world’s religions.
In fact, the very beginning of our story in the Bible begins with the wind from God sweeping over the face of the deep, a watery chaos from which God brings the order of creation.
Right after God called light into being, God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. God called the dome sky.”
In the second account of creation in the second chapter of Genesis, the writer states that a river waters the Garden of Eden, and this river divides and becomes four branches.
So water itself, and rivers of water, play a major role at the very beginning of creation.
In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of New Jerusalem, a city which has come down out of heaven to earth from God.
Today, we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus.
Just as the story of creation begins with water, so does the ministry of Jesus—he goes out to the wilderness where John is baptizing people in the River Jordan.
And Jesus himself is baptized by John in that river.
So the Jordan River, is for Christians, the most sacred river in the world, a river of miracles, not only because Jesus was baptized in its waters, but also because it winds its way through both the Old and the New Testaments as a place of spiritual as well as geographical significance. The river is mentioned 175 times in the Old Testament and fifteen times in the New Testament.
We first hear about the river in the 13th chapter of Genesis when Lot, Abraham’s brother, sees that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord. And so Lot chooses to settle there because the plain is well watered.
After wandering for forty years in the wilderness, the Israelites crossed over the River Jordan on dry ground into the Promised Land. Later, the prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the Jordan on dry ground. The Syrian general Naaman was healed after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction. ( http://www.seetheholyland.net/jordan-river/)
Geographically, what is this river like today? And what is its current significance for us?
If you look at the map on your bulletin cover, you’ll see that the river begins at the Syrian Lebanese border. Three main sources make up the headwaters of the Jordan. Two of these rivers, the Baniyas River and the Dan River, begin as springs at the foot of Mt Hermon. The Jordan River water that I use in our baptisms comes from the Banias Spring at Mt Hermon. I’ve been very blessed to visit this spring on both of my trips to Israel.
From its source at Mt Hermon, the Jordan River then runs through the Great Rift Valley along the border with Israel on one side and Jordan on the other in the north and between the West Bank and Jordan in the south. It flows for 124 miles, until it reaches its destination, the Dead Sea. Its actual length is about 223 miles because of its many winds and curves. It is a major source of water for not only Israel, but also for Jordan and Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
Many of us remember the Six Day War in 1967 between Israel and the Arab states in the area, and this war was in part caused by fighting over water. The Arab states had begun a water diversion project which would have rerouted some of the headwaters of the Jordan and deprived Israel of 35% of the water they were taking from the Jordan in their own water diversion project. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_over_Water_%28Jordan_river%29) And today, the Palestinians and the Israelis continue to argue over who gets to use the water in this river.
Like many other rivers in the world, the Jordan has suffered a great deal of environmental damage over the years due to the heavy usage of the river and its tributaries, and the construction of dams, reservoirs and water diversion projects . Israel, Jordan and Syria all dump sewage, agricultural run-off and salt water into the river, resulting in a great deal of damage to the surrounding ecosystem. A current crisis has been created by 600,000 refugees from the Syrian war who have fled to Jordan and who now outnumber local residents. The National Geographic describes the already meager flow of the Jordan River through this area having been reduced to a trickle due to the increased demands for water from this latest influx of people into the area. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140222-jordan-river-syrian-refugees-water-environment/
Although we are not directly affected by the environmental degradation of the Jordan River (unless you are a tourist and see the sad state of the river in its lower reaches), its problems highlight the importance of being intentional about the ways in which we care for our own waterways, and also to be mindful of the ways in which we use water. Although our supply of water is plentiful, it is not endless, and thoughtful use of our water will make a difference for the good for our children and their children. Struggles over water are only going to increase as the world’s population grows.
And the state of the Jordan River raises the question of how our Christian values regarding the justice and dignity of every human being impact the way we think about situations in which a vital resource and its use is at stake.
Now let’s consider the spiritual importance of the Jordan River in our own journeys of faith.
Today is the day on the church calendar, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, when we remember the baptism of Jesus.
The traditional site of Jesus’ baptism is actually in Jordan, in the area that John the Baptist lived, which in the Bible is known as Bethany beyond the Jordan. This area is along the east bank of a large loop of the river opposite Jericho. For years, the site was part of the Jordanian military zone. The Jordanian government has now cleared landmines from the site and has opened it to archeologists, pilgrims and tourists, but both times I’ve been to Israel, this site was inaccessible due to political unrest in the area.
Israel, meanwhile, has created another spot along the river, on the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, known as Yardinet, at which the baptism of Jesus is commemorated, and it is here that many Christian pilgrims are baptized in the Jordan River.
When we were there, we saw people dressed in white robes lined up waiting to be baptized by immersion in the Jordan. We renewed our baptismal vows there while standing in a shallow area of the river.
Today is the day on the church calendar, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, when we remember the baptism of Jesus.
Luke tells us that when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And he heard a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is the first of many signs that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. That’s why we always remember the baptism of Jesus on this first Sunday after the Epiphany, because at his baptism, God tells us who Jesus is—God’s beloved Son in whom God is well pleased.
After his baptism, Luke tells us that Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil for forty days. And then after the devil departs from him, Jesus returns to Galilee to teach in the synagogues and begins his public ministry.
So the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan is the beginning of a journey in which Jesus, constantly listening to God in prayer, carries out his ministry on this earth as God would have him do.
Our own baptisms mark the moment in which we claim our identities as God’s beloved children. We claim the fact that, as The Book of Common Prayer puts it in the closing prayer of the Rite I Eucharist, “we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of God’s Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.”
And our own baptisms mark the beginning of our journeys through this life, journeys on which hopefully we are trying to listen to God in prayer as Jesus did, and to carry out the ministries on earth that God has laid out for each one of us to do.
So today is the Sunday on which, if we don’t have an actual baptism, we renew our own baptismal vows.
In these vows, we declare what we believe about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—the bedrock of our belief in God, the firm foundation on which we stand.
And then we declare what we are going to try to do on our journeys through life, to the best of our abilities, with God’s help.
And what are these things?
To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
Translation—Come to church, get renewed by meeting Jesus in the bread and wine every Sunday and every other opportunity you get, spend time with your fellow Christians, not only in worship, but also in fellowship, and to be people of prayer.
Next, to persevere in resisting evil, and when you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
That is, try really hard to resist evil, and when the devil gets the upper hand in spite of your efforts to resist, confess and turn back to God.
The next vow is that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
The world watches Christians to see whether or not what we say and do matches what God would have us say and do. So as St Francis said, “Proclaim the Good News, and if necessary, use words.” Live your lives as if you really are beloved children of God, even when life would be easier just to follow the ways of the world.
In the next two vows, the going really does get tough.
We vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
We all know that these particular vows, spelling out how God would have us relate to the people in our lives, are the hardest of all the vows to keep.
So today as we continue our journeys through this life as Christians, and are reminded once again of what that journey includes if we are being faithful to our baptismal promises, we are all going to put our hands in some life giving water from the Jordan River by placing our hands in the various bowls of water around the church, all of which contain some water that I brought back from my last visit to the Jordan.
This life giving water contains within it the reminder that we, like Jesus, are God’s beloved sons and daughters. This water contains in it the reminder that through our baptisms we are given a rock of our belief in God to stand on and the family of God to keep us company. This water contains in it the power to help give us the will to want to resist evil. This water contains in it the Good News of life that we want to share. This water reminds us of our desire to find God in each and every person we meet, and to find God in all of creation. This water gives us the will to want justice, peace and dignity for every human being on the face of this earth.
Now please turn to page 292 in your prayer books. And holding them with one hand, place your other in the nearest bowl of water as we renew our baptismal vows. You are also welcome to come place your hands in the baptismal font.
As we enter into this river of miracles, let us pray that God will grant us the miracle, with God’s help, to keep these vows, and to walk in love with one another and with all of creation as God has walked in love with each of us.