In the Name...
There was once a preacher planning to go on holiday but he didn't want the congregation to miss his wonderful sermons. So, he got the idea to record a few so they could be played in church while he was away. Well, he was dissuaded from this brilliant plan by his board of elders when they reminded him that their church did not approve of artificial in-sermon-ation.
Well, despite that joke, we did have some lovely and moving services these past couple of weeks. And today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord by John at the Jordan.
This is quite a turning-point event in the Gospels because here it is that Jesus' quiet life in Nazareth ends. Here it is that Jesus loses his anonymity. Here it is the Father proclaims from heaven, "This is my Son, the Beloved.” From this moment on, Jesus must be, as he had many years before said to Mary and Joseph, about his Father's business. The ministry of the Christ begins today.
And, today we are privileged to see a new dedication to the Father’s business by five women who will join our parish chapter of Order of the Daughters of the King. Now what does that mean?
The DOK is what is canonically known as an apostolic institute, laity who have taken vows to keep a certain rule of life. It's like a traditional religious order, but without the need to withdraw from society. For example, I belong to an apostolic institute for clergy, the Society of the Holy Cross, and our priests serve in parishes all over the world.
The vows that Daughters of the King take emphasize Prayer and Service. Before taking them, Daughters spend several months in study and prayer to prepare themselves. And, like members of traditional orders, they wear something special, but it's not a veil or a gown. In their case, it is the cross of the Order.
Our parish chapter of the DOK is dedicated to St. Clare of Assisi and it is her example of prayer and service, of discipleship and dedication, which the members of our chapter seek to model. As a parish, we celebrate the variety of gifts they bring to us and the ways in which they, the Daughters, strengthen us as a community.
But each of us should always be thinking of how we can develop an apostolic aspect to our own lives. What gifts do we have that can build up this faith community and serve the secular community? How can we take what we experience here into the world?
Think about the people who gathered on the banks of the Jordan two thousand years ago. Why were all those people there in the first place? What attracted them from the villages and cities for miles around to a river bank in a wasteland? They found a man they called a prophet of God. A man who preached a one-word message - Repent -and who offered them a ceremonial washing to symbolize their commitment to make a new start in the way they lived. And the most amazing thing is that people did just that. And not just one or two.
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Can you imagine that? And the Gospels tell us who they were. Worldly tax-collectors and religious Pharisees; soldiers, aristocrats and common folk; rich and poor. And Jesus came to be with them.
Christmas showed us that the Saviour came into the world. Epiphany showed us that the Saviour came for the world. And the Baptism shows us that the Saviour has come to be with the world. The name Emmanuel means 'God with us' and that is the good news. God is not high up and far away, remote, aloof. He is where he is needed with those who need to find Him. But are we where He can find us? Are we where He can find us?
Do you remember that while King Herod's Bible scholars told the Wise Men where to find the Messiah, not one accompanied them to Bethlehem to check it out? The lesson there is that possessing the truth is of no use to us unless we also act on it. Today, we need to be aware of another warning. It's fine that Jesus identified himself with us, but are we willing to identify ourselves with him?
If we had lived two thousand years ago, for example, would we have been there at the Jordan? The people who were there went with a certain purpose and intention. They had looked into their lives and found a gap existed between what they were doing and what God wanted them to be doing. And if we're honest we know that same gap exists inside each one of us.
But a lot of people today are content with how they live. A lot of people fall into the trap of comparisons and thank God they're not as bad as everybody else. Other people pretend the gap isn't there at all, or they see it, but say, well it's not as big as it looks, or that it's not really that important. That's true today and it was true back then, as well.
Yes, a lot of people went to the Jordan, but a lot more didn't. Many of those ridiculed the ones who made the trip. Others, perhaps, didn't see the need to disrupt their daily routine or were afraid to be seen with the wrong crowd.
The prophet Isaiah once spoke of someone whom God would take by the hand and make a light to the nations. Of course, that refers to Jesus, but it also refers to us.
From the moment of our own baptisms, we began our lives anew in a very special sense. Remember when we used to use the phrase "Christian name"? That meant something. It meant we lost our anonymity in the world and we were registered in heaven. It meant we began a life of ministry. And, you who will today experience the excitement of dedicating yourselves as Daughters of the King, you have been baptized, you are beloved daughters with whom God is well pleased, and the Spirit has plans for you. Plans for you to grow into more effective ministers than you can now imagine.
There aren't many events mentioned in all four Gospels. Not even Jesus' birth makes that list. But his Baptism does. That alone should inspire us to reflect all the more upon our own baptisms.
For, we are all people of flesh and blood - and of water and the Spirit. Beloved and loving.
In the Name...