Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Baptism of Jesus

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Mt 3:17
Epiphany I – January 13, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton,
rector and pastor

Today ends the Octave (eight days) of the Epiphany. In pragmatic terms this means that, while The Epiphany Season continues through the first Sunday in Lent (which is just right around the corner, by the way), we get to take down the Christmas decorations. Oh, we leave up the pew candles and lights and we take the liturgical option to use the white/gold vestments, but the tree and wreaths will all come down after today’s service.

There is an order to church time, all marked neatly by colors and labeled accordingly by title. Not so with scriptural story. Last week, we read about the visit of the Three Magi to the infant Jesus. This week, Jesus is suddenly a grown man, being baptized in the River Jordan by his wild and crazy cousin, John, who was known as The Baptist.

Baptism for the Jew in ancient Israel is not what it is for the Christian today. Baptism was a form of ritual cleansing – a Mikvah. The Hebrew word ‘mikvah’ literally means ‘a gathering of water’. It is the word used in Genesis 1:10 when God gathers the waters together to make the seas and the oceans and the rivers.

A Mikvah is also part of Jewish law which refers to any water or bath for ritual immersion required before various activities like reading or studying Torah, or for the forgiveness of sins. It is also required of a woman before her marriage. Essentially, a Mikvah is a spiritual purification and cleansing.

While our Christian understanding of Baptism is rooted in the Hebrew Mikvah, it is very, very different. Jesus has come to John for a Mikvah He came for a spiritual purification and cleansing. I have come to believe that he did not do so for forgiveness of sins, as much as a way to formally initiate his ministry. I suppose it could be compared to a wedding Mikvah; in this case, Jesus is having this spiritual purification before he makes a commitment and dedication to his mission and ministry.

As Christians, we have taken this particular essence of the Mikvah as our Baptism. It is the ritual and rite of initiation into Christian community. It is only done once and for one reason and purpose only. We believe that there is ‘one faith, one hope, one Baptism.’ Once you have been baptized, no matter where or how, you need not be baptized again.

At 9 AM, I baptized two new souls into the church, Jillian **** and Steven ***** – the grandchildren of Helen and John *****. Some may remember their parents Sally and John who grew up in this church.

Yes, these are #61 and #61 on my watch and #998 and #999 in the Record Book of this church. Someone has suggested that I start to develop a bar code system to put on their diapers.

Yes, my position on ‘private baptisms’ is clear, but there are special circumstances around the availability of the godparents that were unavoidable; so we did the best we could and had the baptism on a Sunday and between the two services. We are human beings who live in a very complicated, fast past, post modern world and pluralistic society. I have discovered that generosity of spirit and graciousness are investments in relationship that have a more than seven-fold return.

No, this isn’t a ‘Baptismal Love Letter’ per se, but since this is also the day we remember the Baptism of Jesus, I guess it becomes one by default. Baptism is obviously very important to me in terms of our lives of faith. Indeed, I believe it is central. It is very much as I believe Jesus intended it for himself – as a ritual which marked the beginning of a journey in faith and a membership in a community which had been called to be together since before his birth.

Jillian and her cousin Steven live in separate towns, but they will grow up together, as did Jesus and his cousin John. They will see each other at family gatherings, and probably giggle under a table where they have stolen away to eat a piece of candy or just because they want to share a giggle as little kids do – even as John and Jesus might have done in their youth.

They will grow up knowing that they share something more than relatives or family gatherings or the same year of birth, or the same name. They will know that they shared a sacred ritual, a moment in time marked by the church which is different from the times in their lives. They shared in something that is much more than a cultural rite of passage.

Today, by their baptism, Jillian and Steven became members incorporate in the Body of Christ. They are now connected to this community in a most powerful way – a way so powerful their parents were compelled to come back to this community where they were once baptized – to have their children baptized.

Today, these two sweet babies have become members of a mystical sweet communion of saints – those who have been here and those yet to come. Today their family membership increases and expands to include the family of God – to recognize the divine spark that is in each one of us and to respect the dignity of every human being, no matter to what human or spiritual or religious family they belong. As St. Peter says in this morning's lesson from the Book of Acts, "God shows no partiality." Why, then, should we?

Their baptism – our baptism – calls us to a spiritual purification to wash away the sin of any presumption that we are exempt from the need for one another. Baptism cleanses us from the arrogance of individualism and plunges us deep into the River of Life, into the midst of a community that has been called together since before our birth. Jillian and Steven have become part of this community and we a part of their lives and their families in ways that cannot yet be seen or known, which is the grace of the sacramental life.

After one of the baptisms in this church, little Chole Reina came up to me at Coffee Hour (that would be the 8th Sacrament of the Church). She was very happy, clapping her hands and doing a little ‘happy-happy-joy-joy’ dance. I asked her why she was so happy and she said, “Because I have a new sister.” I said, “Oh, is Mommy going to have another baby?” And, Chole stopped dead in her tracks and gave me a look that said, “Woman, do you ever listen to yourself?” “No, Reverend Elizabeth!” she said, “The baby you baptized! She’s part of our family now!”

Even though she was only 3 or 4 years old, Chole got it. She understands. Before you know it, she will be in Confirmation Class and then going off to college and . . . well, Sometimes I think our lives fly by just as quickly as the scriptural stories. So, perhaps it is good that the church takes the time to mark time with colors and to name the seasons. At least we have the illusion of some control over these days and times of our lives.

Today there has been a Mikvah. Today, God has called a gathering of the waters of our baptism to call forth new creatures in Christ. Today, God has called us together to baptize two cousins, Jillian and Steven in the way God has called sisters and brothers and cousins since John and Jesus gathered at the River Jordan to make us a new family in God. Today, we welcome Jillian and Steven as the newest members of the household of God who join us in the priesthood of all believers. Today, God has opened the heavens, sending down the Holy Spirit to say to them and to us the words spoken to Jesus, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Amen.

No comments: