Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 10, 2016 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
I decided against buying a lottery ticket once I realized that the best part is daydreaming about winning the jackpot, and you don’t have to buy a ticket to do that. I also realized that in a way, I’ve already won the lottery. I live in the richest country in the world, in a house that has food, and utilities, and appliances. Not only that, but I have wonderful friends, and a loving family, and I’m a priest, and a rector, and the rector of an amazing, dynamic, caring, passionate congregation. I also realized that while some of the things I would do if I won a fortune, like giving a boatload of money to St. John’s, are out of reach, most of them are things I can already do, like spending more time with my far-flung family and friends and living a healthier lifestyle. We assume that making major changes in our lives can only happen as a result of major outside forces, but that’s just not true. Renewal, rededication, and transformation are always available.
The Gospels portray Jesus’s baptism as a turning point, the beginning of his public ministry. But they also suggest an uncomfortable ambivalence about what that event did and why it even happened. John the Baptist offered baptism as an opportunity to renounce sin, but Jesus had no sin. He had always been divine. Some people have suggested that Jesus only became divine at his baptism, the ancient heresy of adoptionism. Not only was that idea rejected by the early church, we implicitly reject it every year by celebrating Christmas. So what did happen that day at the Jordan River? Baptism isn’t just about the remission of sins, but also our own renewal and our drawing nearer to God and to God’s purpose for our lives. So perhaps Jesus was renewing and rededicating himself. Perhaps he chose that place and time and ritual to express his intention to transform his life, going on to reveal his divinity through a public ministry of teaching and healing, confrontation and inclusion.
I like this understanding of the baptism of Jesus because we can connect with it. Rather than a unique and otherworldly event, we can imitate Jesus, walk in his damp, muddy footsteps. While we cannot repeat the sacrament of baptism, for the whole point of that sacrament is God’s eternal and unconditional love for us, we can renew our understanding of our baptism and our commitment to living our lives as a response to God’s love. Some of us like to do this by dipping our fingers in the font and crossing ourselves every time we pass it, but the important thing is what we do with our hearts.
God blesses us with such abundance. Once we see this, we experience deep gratitude, which drives out fear of scarcity and helps us live in a way that brings joy from generosity and contentment from relationships. Standing on the banks of the Jordan during the pilgrimage was a powerful experience, and I’m grateful for it, but you don’t need to travel so far to reevaluate and rededicate your life. The cleansing water of renewal is right here with us. The cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit is ready to burn off the chaff that accumulates in the corners of our souls. We don’t need lottery tickets, and we don’t need plane tickets, just the self-aware honesty to recognize that we want to change, and we can change, and that God will be with us every step of the way.