The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 104 + Titus 2, 11-14 3, 4-7 + Luke 3, 15-16, 21-22
January 10, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. & MS Eurodam
It is a true story that I think we all know, but there is a detail about it that may have slipped your mind. I think that detail is essential for anyone who wants to enter into the event and experience we remember today as a church.
Annie Sullivan is partially blind and she has taught a seven year old blind and deaf student finger spelling during the four months they have been working together trying to break through and connect this child with some reality. One day they were passing a water pump, and Annie Sullivan placed the child’s hand under the running water and pressed into it the word: W-A-T-E-R. From that moment, Helen Keller became a new person who would eventually amaze and inspire so many through her work for people with disabilities, especially the visually impaired.
The story is real, and so is the experience. It is about water. The powerful story of someone isolated, alone, closed off and frightened awakening to a new life is the story of Baptism. It is the experience of knowing who you are in relation to another and to all creation. For Hellen Keller there is suddenly a new relationship with Annie Sullivan that quickly leads to a new relationship with all creation. It is the story we tell today of Jesus Christ who emerges from the desert where he was alone, isolated, and I think perhaps frightened. His experience with the evil one who tempts him had to have been frightening. Then suddenly there is water, and he is not alone. He knows who he is, and his relationship with John the Baptist and everyone else comes into focus.
It’s about water, and it is about what water has done for us. We are not a people who were baptized. We are a people who are baptized. We are called into connections between the reality of our world and the water of baptism. We are called into connections with the one who touches us with water, not a priest or a deacon, but with the one in whose place they stand. The isolation, the loneliness, the emptiness, even the silence of the past collapses into awareness, excitement, discovery, and ultimately joy.
There is no past tense in talking about Baptism. It is a present and living reality. It is an experience that is on-going. You are a lot more baptized today than you were on the day of your baptism. The same thing is true of marriage. You are lot more married today than you were on that wedding day; and I am a lot more priest than I was in 1968 when Bishop Reed put his hands on my head and anointed my hands.
Celebrating the Baptism of Christ leads us to awaken to the reality of our own Baptism. Touching that water when you step into this holy place awakens you and connects you to the others who have stepped in before you, and all those who are connected with us in the Communion of Saints.
A people living their baptism are a people connected to God all through every day and every night. A people living their baptism are a people connected to everyone else who is coming to life just as Jesus found his connection with the blind, the lame, the deaf, the sinners, and the lonely. A people who are baptized are a people who know who they are what their mission in life is set to be. They never forget that they are children of God who claims them as God’s own and loves them.
To this good news of solidarity and healing oneness, Luke adds the significance of prayer. Notice that Luke does not provide any details about the baptism event, but rather its aftermath. Jesus prays. It is his prayer that tears open the heavens for the decent of the Holy Spirit and his true identity by the Father’s voice that acclaims him as the beloved Son on whom favor rests. The details of our own baptism make for family lore, but they are of little importance until we awaken to the sound of God’s voice in prayer. Then we shall know, believe, and act like the chosen ones we are upon whom so much favor rests, and then we shall know what to do with this great gift.