Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord: January 8, 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds me of a great Episcopalian joke. I sort of collect Episcopalian jokes. This one is about a visitor who came to an Episcopal church, from another denomination. He loved the service and the music and during one of the particularly uplifting hymns he began swaying and waving his arms in the air. People sort of turned around and stared, and one of the ushers came over and told him, you’ve really got to stop that. He said, but I’ve got the Spirit! To which the usher replied, well, you didn’t get it here.
Sort of an interesting parallel to Paul’s experience in the Acts of the Apostles today where he goes to visit the church Ephesus and asks them "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
Have you heard that there is a Holy Spirit? Do you know that you received the Holy Spirit in baptism? When the believers in Ephesus were baptized in the Holy Spirit they received powerful gifts, the ability to prophesy and speak in tongues: gift that we may not understand or believe in today. But the power of the Holy Spirit is real, and what we affirm and enter into in our baptism is the faith that God’s Spirit can create healing and hope and new life in ways that are beyond human ability, and that we can’t explain or understand.
I want to suggest that to get those gifts of the Spirit, one need only live into our baptismal vows, that we renew today. For Episcopalians, there really isn’t any other better definition of what it means to be a Christian, than these five vows. I remember when Peter was baptized I was in seminary, so we met with the priest who was my field education supervisor to prepare for his baptism. Steve told us that these baptismal vows were even more important than our marriage vows, something I found a little hard to wrap my mind around. But nevertheless it is true. These are the vows that come first, before all the other commitments we enter into, is our commitment to God, and God’s commitment to us.
So if Dylan and Jospeh were your babies, you would come in to my or Sabeth’s office, just as these parents did, just as Dave and I did when Peter was a baby, and we’d turn to-- can anyone tell me what page in the prayer book? (304) And look at the vows you would take on your child's behalf, the vows that you're renewing today.
Do you want to do that now or you can also look at them in the bulletin. It begins with our basic statement of faith, the Apostles’ Creed, which says the essence of what we believe about god and Jesus and the holy spirit. And then it goes on into these promises.
The first is Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
This is actually a quote from the Acts of the Apostles, describing what the early church did. And it describes church today, too. The breaking of bread and the prayers is what we’re doing right now, sharing the Eucharist together and praying together, as we do every Sunday. The apostles’ teaching is what we find in the bible: the story of Jesus the story of those who have gone before us in faith. And fellowship of course is what we’ll do right after this, sharing the chitchat of coffee hour, the friendships that we share in this community. So in essence this vow is to be here on Sunday morning, to be part of this community on a regular basis, not just once are twice a year but often enough to build friendships, to form community. And to engage in learning the apostles teaching, through adult forum or EFM or whenever you choose, but to know that faith education and formation is a lifelong process that doesn’t end at confirmation. When you make this vow, that’s what you’re promising to do. With God’s help.
The second is Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
This vow reflects the knowledge is that life is a journey that has its ups and downs, that we don’t become perfect the moment that were baptized, but need to be continually turning back to god, and that god is always there waiting for us to return. This vow tells us how to deal with our mistakes, which begins by admitting that we make them. And it also requires us to live a self examined life, where we reflect on our actions and commitments and relationships, and continually seek to improve them with god’s help.
The third is Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Newsflash: religion is not private. It’s not something we just do on Sunday mornings. It’s something that should affect every aspect of our lives. What we believe should be reflected in what we do and what we say. So this vow is not about thumping the bible on street corners, but about the fact that our faith should make a difference in how we live our lives. As Saint Francis said your life may be the only gospel that some people get to read. So the good news of god’s love and forgiveness should be reflected in your life, for people to see, with god’s help.
The fourth is Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Now it starts to get really hard. As we especially reflect on in this Epiphany season, god is not just for one group one nation, or one kind of people. God is for and in all people. Even the ones we don’t like, don’t agree with, or are actively trying to harm us. This vow asks us to make our daily decisions, from whose turn it is to do the dishes, to what job we should take, knowing that the person we’re talking to is god’s beloved child and our brother or sister. Seeing the face of Christ in others is a lifelong practice that shapes our faith and our lives and can transform the world, with god’s help.
The fifth is Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
This vow builds on the last one and essentially asks us to be agents of god’s kingdom in the world, helping to bring the gods justice and god’s peace on earth. We can’t ignore overlook the needs of any of our brothers and sisters, remembering that Jesus told us that everyone is our neighbor. And we can never be agents of oppression or violence, whether that means not yelling our kids, or something more geopolitical. For this most of all we need god’s help.
And the miracle in the blessing is that in striving to live into these vows, we do have god’s help. And more can happen, more than we can possibly ask or imagine, if we commit ourselves to god and the same way that god has already -- from before we were born from when we were in our mother’s womb from when we were baptized as tiny infants, -- committed to us. For god says to each of us, and to these children today, the same that he said to Jesus, you are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.
So – what page are we on? You can get the Holy Spirit here. Let’s show Dylan and Joseph that is true, today and everyday.