Monday, January 14, 2008

Sermon for Ecumencial Service on the Feast of the Baptism

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him”

May only God’s Word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

Good Evening! My name is Father Jason Emerson and I am associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church. It is a blessing to worship God with you this evening. It is a special blessing for me to worship with the different denominations here tonight. This is my first time to be involved with this ecumenical service, though not my first ecumenical involvement. I must confess I have quite an ecumenical past. See, I grew up the son of a Southern Baptist Pastor. When I was in high school we took a break from the Baptist world and I attended a Cumberland Presbyterian Church and occasionally played trumpet in a Pentacostal praise band. When I got to college, a friend told me I was an Episcopalian I just didn’t know yet. So, I started going to an Episcopal church. In Graduate School I got heavily involved in Lutheran Campus Ministry and Camp Counseling where I met my wife. Finally, I settled down in the Episcopal Church and answered the call to ministry. I guess when it comes to churches and a journey of faith one could say, I get around.

I have learned a couple of things by my exposure to all these flavors of Christianity. One God loves us! Two, baptism is important. Tonight we are celebrating the Baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ; so let us reflect upon this importance of Baptism for a moment or two. We all perform baptisms in our varied traditions. Our procedures might be a little different, but we all have baptism as an important part of our faith story. Sometimes we get can get caught up in the minutia of our different methods of baptism. As I mentioned earlier I grow up Southern Baptist, which teaches that full immersion baptism is the right and only way to do it. I am reminded of another Baptist preacher’s kid who I grew up with who as small child decided he would baptize his three small kittens in the creek behind his house. He was able to get the first two kittens fully submerged while he dutifully said the words he had heard in church, “I baptize you Fluffy in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.” “I baptize you Garfield in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Then he came to the third kitten named “whiskers”. Now, whiskers just did not want to and would not go under the water. He struggled for 15 minutes try to dunk this cat. Finally, he scooped up some water the sprinkled it on his head and said, “Fine you can just be a Methodist.”

We can be caught up in details and fail to hear the importance of Baptism in our varied faith stories. Our Gospel from Matthew we heard this evening portrays the importance of Baptism in Jesus’ story. Part of what Matthew is trying to do is connect Jesus’ story with the story of his Jewish audience. See, it is a fish or cut bait moment for Jesus. Is he going to be what God has created him to be? Is he going to allow God to form him into the Christ? Will he fulfill all righteousness? Will he follow God to the cross and beyond? These are questions not answer in the narrative of the Gospel of Matthew until the baptism. Until Jesus is baptized and emerges from the waters and he hears the voice from heaven “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we do not know if Jesus will be who he is foretold to be. Matthew is hoping this fish or cut bait moment will ring in the ears of his Jewish audience as an echo of a fish or cut bait moment in their shared story: the exodus. See the slaves in Egypt could not become the people of Israel without following Moses across the red sea. The slaves of Egypt could not receive the law on the mountain unless emerged from the waters of the red sea, ready to follow God where ever God might lead. The slaves of Egypt, could not reach the promised land if they were not willing to be transformed on the other side of the sea.

So it is with us as well. Baptism is decision time. Gut check time. Time to fish or cut bait. Will we live the life of faith? Will we emerge from the waters willing to be molded and formed by God? Will we follow God despite not know where God will us? Will we immerse ourselves in the life of God so that we can emerge to build a better world striving for justice and peace? This is where our differing methods of baptism no longer matter. It does not matter whether we baptize infants or adults. It does not matter if we sprinkle, pour, or dunk, Baptism is decision time.

Now, y’all, I’m going to state obvious right now. I am not Jesus. I feel quite confident in saying that my brother and sister clergy here this evening are not Jesus. The choir is not Jesus, the ushers are not Jesus, and, you know what, y’all aren’t Jesus either. Jesus may very well have emerged from the waters of the Jordan ready to follow God to the cross and he may well never have looked back. We on the other hand…well we aren’t Jesus. We don’t have a fish or cut bait moment we have several fish or cut bait moments. We have to continually renew our commitment to God. We have to continually make course corrections through the waters of faithful living. We have to rededicate ourselves and reopen our hearts to God’s transformation.

So a little later in this service Pastor Donna Wright will lead us in a renewal of our Baptismal Covenant with God. So for us, this evening—who live in town in desperate need of faithfully committed people willing to stand for justice, peace, and equality—it is decision time. Will we follow God to the Promised Land? Will we allow God to soften our harden hearts? Will we emerge from the water ready to see God’s love for all and renounce our divisions be they religion, class, race, and geography? Will we work with integrity in our stewardship of God’s creation? Knowing that what happens to someone across town or across the world happens to us, will we work for justice and peace? We will live this life of faith today and everyday? Will we fish or cut bait? Amen!

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