John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
So, as I begin my Message this morning I feel like I need to make some short introductory comments. We are living in very fluid and unprecedented times.
I will leave comments on the American political circumstances to other people with greater insight and wisdom than myself. I will say however that we have never faced, or perhaps I have never faced, a time when the call to a deep commitment, in prayer, to our ever-increasing understanding of the Christian principles was never more needed or evident.
The backdrop of the ongoing political process will inevitably affect and influence our personal sense of the need for inner peace and security. We need a deep sense of God's participation in our lives. We need to be able to establish our trust and confidence in God's activity and presence in our lives.
As I write this message I have a sense that it would probably be better suited to a small group study or gathering of people who would have the time to interact, interchange, and engage in discussion over the ideas I will endeavor to share this morning.
Perhaps this will be the first, in a series of messages, around the ideas that I hope to share. I can't help but think back to the series that we began at the beginning of 2020. How relevant and pertinent the two questions from that series are again at the beginning of this new year of 2021.
What is that you are doing Lord?
And What is my part in it?
I could spend quite a bit of time this morning recapping some of those thoughts and ideas from that Series.
But I going to move on this morning and I am going to introduce a concept that I believe that the Lord wants me to spend some time developing for myself through this year. I am going to trust that, in sharing it this morning, it may provide guidance and hope for us all.
If I were to create a title for this message, and perhaps several of the messages which will happen through this coming year, that title would be: "The well within - an examination of the resource and my relationship with the indwelling Holy Spirit." You can see why this would be a good topic or subject for a small group study group, right?
How can I possibly do anything more than just touch on the broad concept in this message this morning? I will only have the opportunity to touch the sides of the idea in the short time I have today. So, perhaps instead of just talking about it, I should get down the work of identifying the central points of my message.
Here we are on the first Sunday after the Epiphany and this Sunday we are celebrating The Baptism of Our Lord.
Last week we celebrated Epiphany the fact that the Lord Jesus was recognized as the coming king by the Magi. Now, in today's Gospel reading, we have fast-forwarded in Jesus' life and we hear that Jesus is experiencing John's Baptism of repentance in the wilderness. That Baptism is significantly marked by the appearance of the "spirit like a dove" and the voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus as the beloved.
As we are all aware Baptism is one of the Sacraments of the Episcopal Church. We also know that we, as good Episcopalians, lean into St Augustine's understanding of a sacrament. In the 5th century, St Augustine described a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’
Our Anglican tradition recognizes Holy Baptism and the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) as the two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church.
In addition to these two, there are other spiritual markers in our journey of faith that can serve as the means of grace. These include:
Confirmation. The adult affirmation of our baptismal vows
Reconciliation of a Penitent. The opportunity for private confession
Matrimony. Christian marriage
Orders ordination. Ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy
Unction. The anointing, with holy oil, of those who are sick or dying.
Today we are concentrating on the Sacrament of Baptism.
In the case of Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.
At this point, I need to provide you with a little background to my approach this morning. Last weekend as Emma was preparing to return to her life in Marion and Bucyrus we were sitting having a conversation and she asked me a question that brought me up short.
Emma was talking about how she was feeling disconnected, from the Lord, because she was unable to attend worship. I was, to use a good Australian expression, "gobsmacked." I was stunned and found myself at a loss for words. As hard as many of you might find it to believe I just didn't know what to say. I had to say to her "I don't know what I would say."
I went on to explain to her, that I realized, that I was in a privileged position and that I hadn't even stopped to think about it. Since, March when we had our first suspension of in-person worship, I have not missed worship. I have been in the Sanctuary every week except for three Sundays when I chose to take some time off. I should add that Jim has not had a single Sunday off and Paul was only off when he was sick with the virus.
I have spent this past week considering and evaluating Emma's question. I have to admit I have still not completely reconciled the question within my heart and mind. But some of my thoughts led me to prepare this message this morning.
The second realization that I had, in my conversation with Emma, is that I don't really understand what most of you have been going through over the past few months. I don't comprehend it.
I am very sorry if I have given the impression to any of you that I think this is an acceptable situation. I hope that no one feels that I think that you all should be just fine about the loss of community and opportunity for fellowship that we all understand is at the heart of gathering as the people of God in this place. If you feel that I have been offhand or casual with you about worship and the fact that you are not being able to be here I am really sorry.
What I do understand is that for many of you living as you are in the midst of all the challenges and deprivations, we are going through, it must be hard to not be able to come and join in worship. That life-giving worship that we are all so familiar with and which brings us such a touch of the grace of the Lord that we all need now. I am sorry.
So, having acknowledged my own inadequate understanding of your situation, and my sorrow, I would like to offer a potential word of encouragement. What might we find in the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord and in our own Baptism we might find this Sunday.
First of all, I would like to encourage us to remember St Augustine's definition of a sacrament: ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’
What is the inward and invisible grace that Augustine is talking about?
Let's briefly look at the reading from Genesis for this morning: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. "
We understand that at creation the Holy Spirit was present and brought the light of creation over the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light, but light can and does overcome darkness.
At Baptism, we understand that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us. That is the inward and invisible grace. The Holy Spirit flows into our innermost being and is available to us. The Holy Spirit brings the light into the darkest parts of our being. That light cannot be overcome.
In the Newsletter, this week, in my Mike's Musing spot I said this:
"Our light has come. Not only has he dwelt among us, but he has also chosen to dwell within us.
The light within us has the power to dispel the darkness, not only from our own hearts and minds, but it also has the power to overcome the darkness of our world."
I know that I am mixing a lot of different imagery here this morning, but I want us to consider one more image. I hope it is not one image too many for us all.
I want to take us to another scripture and spend a few minutes seeing if it can aid us in comprehending this mystery.
We are all familiar with the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. Jesus meets the woman and engages her in conversation. Central to that conversation is the well, as the source of the water that is needed, not only by this woman but by all humanity. Jesus indicates to the woman that he has water that will refresh and renew her life. Water that will never run dry. Can we see the picture of Baptism here?
At the beginning of this message I talked about the "well within." Now, I am going to ask if we can attempt to carry the image that Jesus uses of "water from a well that refreshes, renews, and never runs dry." Can we then consider how the Holy Spirit provides us with an endless supply of refreshing, renewing water in our lives?
Am I asking too much for us to see the Holy Spirit as that well? A well which contains the water of unceasing refreshment and renewal. Can we see the Holy Spirit as the inward and invisible grace dwelling within us as a well that provides the ongoing refreshing and renewal that we need now and always for the rest of our lives?
I hope that as we get to the end of this message that I haven't confused us all too much. If you have questions or reflections please call me or email me.
Can end by asking how we are using the well within. Do we come to that well and draw from it the resource that we need to live in the darkness of the world around us? Can we come to this well and draw from it the grace we need to overcome the darkness of our inner selfishness and our self-centeredness? Can we draw on this well to overcome our need to demand our rights over one another?