Saturday, January 12, 2008

Baptism of Jesus

Thoughts on Sunday's sermon: Readings are here.

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." Peter speaks these words following his experience that confirmed to him that the gentiles were full members of the community. Paul had been trying to convince Peter of this -- it was one of the first big fights in the church about who is in and who is out - which continue in many forms up until our day. The reality of the truth that all who fear God and follow in God's ways as demonstrated by Christ - all (as Desmond Tutu says with his arms outstretched - all, all, aaaahhhlllllll) are included. The lessons today do not stop with just inclusion. Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John - the moment where although not in need of cleansing from sin or dying to his old life, Jesus choses to step into the muddy waters of life and join us in the fullness of that life. The response from the heavens echo the prophet Isaiah -- this is my beloved.

This is what the heavens say at each of our baptisms - this is my beloved -- my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With our assent to our baptism and with the community's support we break out of existence into life. We have a call and meaning.

I read an article on The Meaning of Vocation this week that moves us beyond vocation as either the province of the church or the job we hold in our everyday lives. The author speaks of this sense of being baptized into life. "In baptism we are raised from the dead, made alive to the reality that we do not merely exist but are called forth to a divine purpose." It is not a call to move away from the world into a monastery or religious orders nor a call to our particular work.

A.J. Conyers described 4 marks of this kind of call:
1. it is a call from outside oneself - from God through the community.
2. it is often against our will, like Moses - who felt he did not have the gifts of speech to lead, or Jeremiah who complains all the way through his writings that it is too hard, or Jonah who just ran away.
3. there are hardships to overcome in fulfilling the call.
4. it is easy to be diverted or distracted from the goal - maybe why Jesus included "lead us not into temptation" in his prayer.

Always our vocation is for the sake of the community not an individualistic call for our own purposes. The community is the Body of Christ where although all are equally beloved and have equal claim on God's favor - our gifts are not all the same - the Body of Christ affirmed our individual uniqueness and it is in that uniqueness the Body is built up to do the work it is called to do in the world.

Today we will renew our baptismal vows and remember our call as a community and as members of this community. As you come forward during communion dip your fingers in the water -- and reflect on the vocation to which God is calling each of us and the vocation St. James as a community.

As it is written in Isaiah:
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Painting from Jesus Mafa