Each week, throughout the season of Epiphany, we will share Sermon Seeds; thoughts and reflections on the lectionary Gospel text.
2nd Sunday of Epiphany - Baptism of Christ Sunday
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”
21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
Streams of Mercy Never Ceasing
One of the great hymns of the Church begins like this , “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace ; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”
I find it intriguing how often water figures into the story of salvation. In the second verse of the creation story we find “the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the waters.” Then up from the waters of chaos God brings order and a new future for all that is. God then created a garden and a river flowed from Eden and branched into four rivers to water that garden. Then of course we have the flood and Noah’s story when God washed the world clean with a deluge of water. A new world was needed and it was brought about by God’s hand working through the common substance of water.
Do I need mention Moses being saved through the waters of the Nile or of God’s mighty deliverance of the people of Israel from the armies by way of the Red Sea? After forty long years of wandering God parted the waters again at the Jordan River and a new nation was formed in a new land. “Through the waters” speak a message of God beginning something new and extending His marvelous grace to all.
So when we find Jesus at the Jordan River being baptized we are witnessing something attached to the grace and plan of God from the very beginning. When Jesus came up from the water something new was happening; order was arising from chaos again, chains of oppression were being broken , sin was being conquered , eternal life was being offered and new hope was revived once more for all the world to see and know.
May the streams of mercy never cease to flow!
“O to grace how great a debtor , daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wondering heart to thee!”
Rev. Robert Fulton
Hamlin United Methodist Church
Hamlin , WV.
Baptism by Fire
“Baptism by fire” is an expression conveying a painful initiation. I wonder if the people “filled with expectation” had anything painful in mind? I imagine it was a hopeful expectation that a long-awaited prophecy would be fulfilled. But John douses any rosy expectations pretty quickly, with fire.
He follows up with imagery of Jesus sifting grain from chaff, burning the chaff away. It’s apt imagery for the spiritual life, which constantly calls us to sift and sort. We sift words, emotions, thoughts and experiences searching for truth and the movement of the Spirit. The painful part is when God’s Spirit sifts out long-cherished traditions, even long-standing truths and burns them as chaff. It seems the Holy Spirit uses a fine mesh sifter.
As we embark on a new year it may be wise to reflect on the material of our sifters. That is, are we seeking to sift spiritual issues through ego-laden sifters? Are our sifters so small that complex issues just keep rolling around and around? Are they so big, with gaping holes in logic that let anything pass through?
Experience has made me more aware of the lies I tell myself and the holes in my logic. I am more clear about what I need to surrender to the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit, and much less clear about what others need to surrender. I’m grateful that the One who sifts you and me has a keen eye and discerns the difference between grain, chaff or seed. That gives me hope when I am called to face my own “baptism by fire.”
Rev. Loretta Isaiah
Baptism of the Lord Sunday
I can still feel the coolness of the water as it pours over my heads, rolls onto my shoulders, and causes me to halt my breath for just a moment. The words of Rev. Hinzman are muffled but clear, “…of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
I stand before the congregation, wet with the waters poured over me at Baptism. Some are smiling, some are joyous, and some just look bored. I catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom: people I know, people I will never know, old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, female, and male. When they join their voices together it is as if the heavens open up and God proclaims: “We give thanks for all that God has already given you and we welcome you in Christian love…that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
I did not know then all the paths I would travel on the road of discipleship, but I began it with words of hope echoing from the very mouth of Christ’s body, the church. The memory of those words are my source of hope from day to day.
I cannot help but be glad to read that God’s own Son had hope filled words fall upon him at his baptism as well: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God’s voice spoken from heaven or spoken by the Body of Christ are still seeds of hope.
Rev. Scott Sears
First United Methodist Church