The rivers of Baptism (Sermon) January 12, 2014

Sermon – January 12, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin
The First Sunday after Epiphany:  The Baptism of Jesus

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. Matthew 3:13

I have a skewed view of rivers.  You see I grew up near the Susquehanna River, which is 464 miles long and goes through New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland before emptying into the Chespeake Bay and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.  When the river gets to Harrisburg, it is 1 mile wide.  My father crossed one of the bridges every day to go to work in the City and my family crossed that river at least once a week.  So, when I heard or read about rivers, I pictured the Susquehanna, only to learn as I grew older that most rivers in the world are as wide as the creeks that I grew up around. 

Yes, the Susquehanna is wide, but at Harrisburg, it is also pretty shallow and sometimes in August, if you’re careful about the deep holes, you can walk across that river.  When I was 15, the river flooded….  It came to twice its size because of a tropical storm that stalled over New York and Pennsylvania – nearly the entire length of the river.  I happened to be at my grandmother’s house in another town, so watched the flooding on TV; however, my church was in the city and my father came to pick me up early from my grandmother’s house, so I could join others from my church in clean-up teams.  Our church was in an old part of the center city and it was the only place that escaped the flooding, but we had many church members who weren’t so lucky.

I still remember the devastation.  A man from my church committed suicide, not seeing any way to recover.  Mud covered everything and it was a mud that was oily and slimy, because of all of the stuff the river picked up along the way.  People lost things you cannot replace like photos and mementos.  One woman at the church had been in the hospital.  I will never forget going to her apartment.  Everything was neat and in order, except for the coating of mud on every piece of furniture, the bed spread and curtains.  We went to move a small table and the whole thing fell apart from having sat in the flood waters much too long.

Many people fled the city.  Others lived in trailers for months while their homes were repaired.  Some homes were torn down forever.  That flood changed where people lived and how they lived for the future. 

That wide river that you could walk across in the hot and rainless days of August…that seemingly lazy and benign river could also be powerful and destructive.  I lived along that river for a number of years and would walk along it nearly every day.  That flow of the water provided perspective on life.  Scientists estimate the river has been flowing over 66 million years!  The birds and animals migrated in patterns they’d kept long before my lifetime.  So anything that seemed to loom large in my life was reduced to its proper size.  And watching the flow of the river and its rising and falling and changes through the seasons calmed me.  Oh, the sound of a river as it freezes – that slushing sound as the ice builds up — is a sound I still recall. 

And just as the water is both powerful, strong, dangerous, comforting, calming and lifegiving, so is our life in Christ initiated through baptism.  Listen again to our Baptismal covenant – our agreement with God (pages 304-305, Book of Common Prayer):

We believe in God

We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God

We believe in God the Holy Spirit

We agree to:

  • Continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • Persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

Are you astonished at these promises?  I am.  Oh, my.  I can’t always see the sin in myself and even when I can, I don’t always want to own up to it, but that’s what’s required of repentance.  I don’t pray near enough.  I am not always the best example of the Good News of God in Christ, especially when I’m driving back and forth from here to Lexington.  I judge people way too much.  I don’t always love myself, therefore, I don’t love my neighbor.  While I love working for justice and peace, it’s not easy and I work to remain ignorant of how my lifestyle affects others.  And there are certainly some human beings who are very difficult to respect. 

The fellowship and breaking of the bread can be calming, soothing.  The service and prayers based upon ancient rites, give strength and put things into perspective.  Hearing the Good News of God in Christ and knowing there is a different standard by which to live…all comforting.  And at the same time, they herald a death of what is comfortable…a continual assessment and questioning about how we live our lives and the command to move from self-centeredness to commonwealth – what is the public good or advantage.  And not the public good or advantage from our individual or narrow human viewpoint, but the public good or advantage in the eyes of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. 

God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is both lazy, shallow river and enormous, flooding river.  Keeping our baptismal covenant is challenging.  We can make our best effort, trusting in the words of the Apostle Peter reported in today’s in Acts:

…God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…and…everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Acts 10:34-35, 43





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