A sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, January 11, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, NY
“The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…”
The image in this verse from the very beginning of the Bible, about the creation of everything that is … the image starts with a huge expanse of water, like the ocean, but without a shore, without even any islands. And there is no bottom, not just no sandy bottom that you can reach by snorkeling or scuba diving; no bottom—even miles down. It would be very frightening, alone in the dark, in the great limitless ocean, but there was no one there to be afraid.
The water of the deep is chaos, it is meaningless; every direction is no direction. And then God said… “Let there be light!” Out of the meaningless, and directionless the eternal love that is God brought forth illumination, meaning and direction. And as we read further in the creation story, that water becomes the source and environment of life. Out of chaos, God has created life, and meaning and beauty. And water is not some sort of little symbolic thing, water is at the origin of existence and where God first gave light and direction to our lives.
This water is also the water of our baptism. Three young gentlemen will be baptized here with us this morning. When I was baptized, I was about the same age as Logan, the oldest of Regina Mungin’s three sons. My baby sister was not quite a year old. and I was almost six at Easter of 1960. I did not grow up in a big city, like New York, still less did I grow up on a Caribbean island surrounded by the ocean. I grew up in a small town in the middle of the western deserts of Idaho. Water was a precious thing, people fought over it. I remember going to St. David’s church in Caldwell, Idaho. It is a building much smaller than this, even on that Easter Sunday, with chairs in the aisles and the windows of the parish hall open to create a loft, it could have hardly seated 120. And I remember on ordinary Sundays, my mother took me to church sometimes. About half the time, the service was Morning Prayer, and in those days women and girls always wore white gloves to church. So I would sit with my mother and the priest would rattle on, saying boring and sometimes stupid things, and I would want to respond and say something. I remember that white glove covering up my mouth…
But in Morning Prayer, we also sang the canticles, and I could sing. I especially remember the Te Deum: “We praise thee o God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord, all the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. To thee all angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein, To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.”
The whole heaven, the whole earth, praise that God that created us all. It is from that deep water that God has brought us all. The Gospel lesson today recounts the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist was out there in the desert, baptizing people for repentance for their sins. Let’s think about that for a minute. God leads us in creation to a life of meaning, possibility, prosperity and love. The creation itself is praise for the living God that created the light. And yet, human beings manage to get lost, hurt one another, and lose direction in their lives. Our sins take us back into darkness, where we don’t understand one another and fail to respect and care for our brothers and sisters.
John the Baptizer was out there, encouraging people to repent, to return to the righteousness of God. And he said, “I baptize you with this water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That is, the Spirit of God, which is that Wind that was blowing across the bottomless deep from before creation, the Spirit which is the life of God, bringing life to all things. And as he climbed up out of the water, the Spirit descended on Jesus, like a dove, and the Voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
In baptism, we are immersed in water much deeper than this font, much deeper than in any baptistry where anyone has been baptized. We are immersed in those depths of God that were there before creation, all of our chaos and lostness is immersed and we re-emerge into the light of Christ. This Jesus gives direction and meaning in our lives—in the weeks to come we will hear his teaching and follow his life and ministry. As the baptized we become the Wisdom of Christ as we support one another and live in Him.
We are about to baptize three young men. Or at least very soon they will be men. We, gathered here, are the Church, and as the Church we are responsible to every one who is baptized, especially these three… Logan Mungin, Ethan Stowers, and Aiden Stowers, who are baptized today, to live as that light of God. In this world that has plenty of chaos and fear, it is our job to know that God is guiding us, and to share that meaning and that life, the gift of Living Water, in Christ Jesus our Lord.