Sermon by Tara Olsen Allen | Jan. 12, 2020
I love that we begin each new calendar year during the liturgical season of Epiphany. I ask you to look at the stars hanging around the sanctuary for a moment- take in their shimmer and shine and listen to these words,
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and God’s glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
These words of the prophet Isaiah were spoken to the people of Israel, to the entire community. These words were calling out to the people of Israel, who had been through very difficult times, to give them hope and encouragement and to say that at some point in the future the community Isaiah is speaking to will be radiant.
The community will be a beacon to others.
The community shall rejoice in the light God!
The words of Isaiah are seeds of hope to the people of Israel
The light of God holds the promise of the future for the community
The light that we celebrate during the season of Epiphany holds many different meanings.
When you consider the star, when you think of the magi following that light, what feeling does it evoke in you? What do you think about? Does it signify mystery and wonder? Does it bring you hope and joy? What does Epiphany mean to you?
Epiphany is known as a time of journey, a time of revelation, a time of light increasing in the dark.
As we heard in the scripture, the wise ones journeyed from different countries following a light-the star- to experience the amazing revelation of the birth of Jesus, the light of the world.
Epiphany is a time of journeying, revelation and light.
I want you to be vigilant, alert, aware as we journey together through Epiphany- notice what is being revealed to you. Notice where you see the light.
Last week, we started off the New Year with a remembrance service holding in our hearts the names of loved ones who have passed on. Then, we observed and celebrated the Lord’s Supper using the very familiar words that Jesus said to the disciples, “each time you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, do so in remembrance of me.” And this Sunday, we continue our journey into the New Year with the opportunity to remember the baptism of Christ as well as our own baptisms. All of this remembering takes place in the season of Epiphany- a season of revelation.
Epiphany is a time of journeying, revelation and light.
“It’s no accident that we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism during the season of Epiphany, the season of manifestation, of revelation, of a bright shining light… This baptism story is full of revelation about who Jesus is”: a beloved child of God. (www.ucc.org/sermonseeds/)
We would all do well to remember we are the beloved children of God in whom God is well pleased. We would all do well to remember that the season of Epiphany is a season of revelation and manifestation. God’s light and love shines in and through each one of us.
Baptism happens in many different ways and for each person who chooses to be baptized or to have their child baptized or not, there are that many different reasons and emotions that are wrapped up in this one act.
Our tradition tells us that in baptism we are joined to Christ and we are joined together in unity, recalling, “There is no longer Jew or Greek there is no longer slave or free there is no longer male or female for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In baptism, our Creator claims us and frees us from the power of hatred and death.
In baptism, the Spirit of God anoints us for ministry and makes us signs of divine love.
Baptism is the mark of acceptance into the church and it is one step on our journey of growth into full Christian faith and discipleship.
In places of worship where infants are baptized, we affirm their Baptism at Confirmation and if someone desires to become a member of the community of faith and they have not yet been baptized, we perform the sacrament before the joining takes place. In our tradition, we are baptized once. We are accepted into the Christian community, the body of Christ, the church once because being claimed by God once is enough.
So, on some level, at least as a community we recognize the importance of our own Baptism, but what does it actually mean to us, in our daily lives?
There is a story that is told about church reformer Martin Luther. That as he struggled through the lonely months of his safekeeping at Wartburg Castle, the mundane act of washing his face would remind him of his baptism and he would then scribble on his desk, “I am baptized,” as he battled back despair and depression (http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/january-12-2014.html).
Now, we will never really know for certain if this happened, nor am I advocating we affirm our baptisms every morning, but just think, if we reminded ourselves more frequently of the promises made in baptism- what impact would that have on our lives?
Jesus’ baptism was seen as his first public act before going out to minister in the world. It is seen as the time in his life when he was commissioned to go out into the world to spread God’s love and justice. And as our tradition holds, when we are baptized the Spirit of God anoints us for ministry and makes us signs of divine love.
Now, you may not remember your baptism, you may not be baptized or maybe you are considering taking a step in that direction, I hope that wherever you are on that journey that you will hear today that no matter where you are on life’s journey, whether you remember your Baptism or not, regardless of what you carry on your heart, God is reaching out to you and will claim you when you are ready, the Holy Spirit is with you always! Just as Jesus is God’s beloved child, in whom God is well pleased, as are you!
Baptism calls us to a messy, radical living of God’s love. It is a moment to acknowledge that we are all God’s beloved!
Baptism pushes us out of our comfort zones. It is a moment of revelation! In the baptism of Jesus, we learn that he is the child of God and, as his family; we are all beloved children of God.
What are we to do with this revelation? What does this mean for us?
Barbara Brown Taylor describes the revelation that occurs in this scene in simple terms: Jesus “goes into the waters of the Jordan a carpenter and comes out a Messiah. He is the same person, but with a new direction. His being is the same, but his doing is about to take a radical turn” (“Sacramental Mud” in Mixed Blessings). It’s a subtle twist on the notion of “repentance,” which means, of course, a turning away, taking a new direction. Jesus doesn’t have to turn away from sin, but according to Taylor, he is turning now toward his ministry” (www.ucc.org/sermonseeds/).
Friends, in this New Year, what new direction is God turning you towards?
In this season of Epiphany, what new direction is God turning Pilgrim Church towards?
In this time of remembering, it is my hope and prayer that you remember you are the beloved children of God in whom God is well pleased and that God’s light and love shines in and through each one of us.
If you choose, you may come forward to recall the promises of your baptism—made either by you or on your behalf by your parents/guardians. If you have never been baptized, consider whether this is the day you would like to start that journey. If you desire a blessing rather than a reaffirmation of your baptism this morning, please come forward with your arms crossed over your chest and we will be happy to share God’s blessing with you.
After you receive a blessing at the font, you are invited to choose a star word to reflect on for the coming year. You are invited to ponder what significance this word might have in your lives, and how God might be speaking to you through it.
Reaffirmation of Baptism
(Pour water into font-if it isn’t there already from children’s message)
This is the water of baptism.
Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water, that it may be a symbol of new life and of your love for us. May it help your light shine through each one of us.
Today we remember that Jesus came to the waters of baptism and was forever changed, may it be so for us.
“When they say: You are too broken, damaged goods, too wounded, not enough.
These waters say: Enough, beloved. Enough.
When they say: You are too brown, child, Too black. Too queer, child. Too fat.
These waters say: Beautiful, child. Beautiful.
When they say: You are too addicted, stranger. Immigrant, alien. Criminal. Too far gone, stranger.
These waters say: Home, neighbor. Welcome home.”
-an excerpt from “Baptismal Litany” by Rev. Melissa Reed, a Lutheran pastor in OR.
All are invited to come forward.