Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
RCL - Epiphany 1 C - Sunday 10 Jan 2010
Baptism of Christ
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
I had a shock this week. Failing my driving test was very difficult for me; it took me by surprise. Not the failing but my reaction to it. I felt ashamed, scared, small, low. My reason told me to shape up but the voice inside said, “You see, you are not competent; you are getting too old; you were never very good at anything; always fourth, never in the top three; you are a failure; who do you think you are; you’re fooling everyone. You’re still the fat kid who couldn’t hit a ball.” It was a bad day and I felt very alone.
And my hunch is that not very deep within each one of us is one who never feels that he or she has quite arrived; not quite grown up; vulnerable to so many things. And that that part of us is the part we have a hard time blessing.
Now this is the feast of the Baptism of Christ… I don’t know how many sermons I’ve preached on this event. There’s so much about it that is important… how in this baptism, Jesus stands with all humanity, aligning himself with us in our sins – repenting on our behalf before he begins his ministry. It’s been called almost his ordination, his acknowledging his ministry – his confirmation as the Messiah, the Christ. From here on there’s no mistaking that he is on purpose going to the cross.
I know and believe all that. I wonder at it; I’m humbled by it. But all that knowledge and all that subscription to doctrine obviously hasn’t touched the part of me that shrivels when I feel unworthy. The part that says that I didn’t fail a driving test but failed life. And I wonder what it will take to bring peace to that part of the human soul that feels so unloved and unlovable.
Apart from all the theology and the doctrine about this great mystical event, there is a human element that is primal although almost always subsumed by the mystery of that action. Luke doesn’t mention where the baptism was or who took part. But the other accounts put Jesus and John together. These two men, cousins, face the worst that life can do to humans. Utter desolation, uncertainty, pain, suffering, prison and death… and John says, “I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m not worthy.” And Jesus answers and says, “Please, I need this. I need to stand with these people. I need to be part of them and they of me.”
And so they stand, the two of them in the mud of the Jordan, and the water splashes in that first sacrament of life.
And God speaks. “I love you; I am pleased with you; you are my child.” The voice comes and it is the same word spoken in Isaiah – “Do not fear, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
Oh – my – God! How dare we call ourselves worthless. How dare we shrink from that love. How dare we hold on to the voice that says “Unworthy! Nothing! Failed!”
The story only begins there – then comes the desert, prison for John, his beheading, Jesus’ homelessness, the Cross.
The word, the blessing of love is given to Him to strengthen him for the journey that is ahead.
It’s given to us, too, for the same reason. That declaration of love is for all. In that declaration is the healing that we need, if we will listen.
And just as Jesus carried that voice to the broken, so we are to carry that voice to God’s beloved. The very people Jesus sought out. The people who have never heard “Beloved”; who have only known lostness; the smelly crowd standing in the mud next to us while we think we’re clean.
The crowd came to baptism with longing and expectation. Tired of soldiers and oppression. Poor and hungry. They haven’t gone away. These are the people we promised at our baptism to seek and serve and love; these are those for whom we promised to strive for justice and peace and whose dignity we promised to respect. These are our brothers and sisters who struggle with more than a driving test; whose lives are trial and struggle and want. These are the people who need to hear from us “You are our beloved.”