Sunday, January 19, 2014

Epiphayny 2 A - Jan 19, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. James Rostron, n/OHC
Year A - Epiphany 2 - Sunday, January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

The Baptism of Jesus
"This is my Son, the Beloved"
We are lingering this week at the Jordan River. Close your eyes and imagine the scene, if
you will. You and many others have been drawn to this place from all of Judea and Jerusalem, seeking. You have left homes, jobs, and families and walked across dry, rugged desert to get to this oasis to see John the Baptist. Priests and Levites are also here, at the request of the Pharisees, to find out just what is going on. Jesus is here, although people don’t yet know who he is. There is a great sense of anticipation, I imagine, surrounding something very new, very exciting, and yet unknown. It is quite a remarkable scene. Last Sunday, the focus was on Jesus’s baptism, and this week it is on John’s witness to that event. John, the author of the gospel, uses a word related to witnessing fourteen times in today’s verses – words like “see,” “look,” “testified,” and “revealed.” Something extraordinary is happening, and John is making sure we notice.

What has drawn people to come here? What has drawn you to come here? John is
preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So it seems people have a desire to change the direction, the focus, of their lives. To be cleansed of their sins. To rectify their separation from God. To find freedom from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. To experience a fresh start, a new beginning. It has been a thousand years – think of how long that is; what do you know or feel about the year 1014? – a thousand years since David was on the throne. And, in the meantime, the nation of Israel has repeatedly strayed from the path God set for them. They have endured great disappointments and suffering, years of exile and waiting, and, most recently, silence. The era of the great prophets ended 450 years ago. Where is God? they must be wondering. How are we going to find our way to a better future, a future that is right with God?

Today, John the Baptist is viewed by many as the last prophet, and the first monastic, a
bridge between the old and the new. A prophet is a person through whom God speaks. In his role as a prophet, John is telling the world about the presence of God among them in the form of Jesus Christ. William Barclay writes, “John makes clear what his only function was. It was to point others to Christ. He was nothing, and Christ was everything. He claimed no greatness and no place for himself; he was only the man who...drew back the curtain” to reveal Jesus to the world. The day after Jesus’s baptism, John declares, as Jesus was coming toward him, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John understands the magnitude of what is taking place, and he is making sure that those gathered with him at the Jordan also understand. Waters parted on the second day, at the Red Sea, and here at the Jordan. From these waters of baptism an extraordinary new life in Jesus has emerged, and John is the witness who testifies to this. It is the beginning of something totally and amazingly new.

And that new beginning is still happening. As I sat before the manger here during
Christmastide and looked at the baby Jesus, I thought about Jesus being born in Bethlehem two thousand long years ago and how he continues to be born. Not just once a year, symbolically, in December, but every time a baby is born. One of my favorite authors, John Philip Newell, who writes and speaks about the implications of Celtic spirituality for our time, has written that the birth of the universe, the so-called Big Bang, is not just something that happened billions of years ago. It is still happening. He highlights the teachings of the ninth-century Celtic philosopher, Eriugena, who said that all things were made “together and at once” and remain hidden until the time of their manifestation. In God’s time, which is infinitely greater than ours, God’s wonderful creation continues to be revealed. Newell says that the world today is experiencing the birth pangs of this ongoing creation. And I see this creation as happening on many scales: throughout the universe, across this planet, and deep within each of us. All the time. 
We just need to pay attention.

It is at his baptism, I think, that Jesus finally knows who he really is. God tells him, “you
are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Just as John the Baptist wants to be sure we know this, so does John the Evangelist. A prominent theme in his gospel is that Jesus and God and you and I are one. So, God is also saying to you and to me, “you are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan he at once became fully aware of his divinity and also of his humanity. He shared in a ritual act that he didn’t need but that those gathered with him desperately needed, and he received the Holy Spirit from God, the same Spirit that rests on us as well. We are human, and we are also divine. Jesus is continually being reborn, he lives within each of us, and his and our baptism is ongoing throughout our lifetimes. We continue to be cleansed in the waters of God, here on this water planet, not just metaphorically but also in the rain, in the mist, in a river or ocean, or in the sprinkle from an aspergellum at Compline. We are in every moment in the midst of dying and being born anew in Christ. Rebirth and new creation are happening continuously, in God’s time. Pay attention!

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were paying attention when, on the third day, he, for
the third time, exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And they responded by following Jesus, who turned to them and asked, “What are you looking for?” They in turn asked, “Where are you staying?” To which Jesus replied, “Come and see.” This is an extremely powerful and moving interaction, rich with meaning. But I want to focus on the statement, “Come and see.”
Come – get up, change direction, move toward a new place; and see – open yourself to receive what the Holy Spirit wishes to give you. John said to all those present at the Jordan River, come and see this man Jesus, newly anointed by God. Jesus invited Andrew and his companion to come and see where he is staying. Andrew told his brother Simon to come and see. And Philip will soon tell Nathanael to come and see the Messiah who has just been revealed.

It is a cascade of invitations to witness God’s grace and glory made incarnate. I view it as
something like a nuclear reaction: awesome, powerful, growing exponentially. Like the light and energy of the Big Bang expanding and spreading endlessly throughout the universe. Like the cells of an embryo mitotically splitting and splitting and splitting again. Like the love that God wants us to carry and share from one person to another to another to another. We are the builders of God’s Kingdom in whom Jesus so passionately wants to live in the world. The word “religion” is derived from the Latin word religare, which means “to bind back together.” Living out our Christian faith means binding back together – giving meaning and purpose to – the primal energy that is the light and the life and the Word that was in the beginning.

So, we have a task set before us here in the twenty-first century. Come and see. Go and
look. Seek and find ways to spread God’s love in the world. Listen to John the Baptist speaking to us, in God’s time just yesterday. Be a witness to God’s love. Be prophetic, allow God to speak truth through you. Invite others to join you. I love to quote a Quaker saying every chance I get: “Speak to that of God in everyone.” It can be in small ways, like offering a smile or a kindness to a stranger. It can be in medium-sized ways, like trying to understand and respond lovingly to someone with whom you are in disagreement. And it can be in larger ways, like devoting yourself to a cause, such as writing letters or attending demonstrations or joining groups in opposition to capital punishment or to the use of drones. Or volunteering to help feed the hungry or providing shelter for the homeless. Or being a faithful participant in the outreach of your church. There are plenty of opportunities out there for you to share in John’s witness to the baptism of Jesus and its ongoing reverberation throughout the world. And, there are plenty of opportunities for you to say to others, “Come and see.”

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