Thursday, January 7, 2016

Water and Fire

Regardless of whether I'm scheduled to preach, each day, I read the lessons for the upcoming Sunday. Usually on Monday, when I read them for the first time, I know right away which lesson I will focus on for a sermon. This week was no exception. We are celebrating Recovery Sunday at St. John's, and the reading from Isaiah 43 just made sense. I don't make those quick decisions on purpose; it's just how I'm wired as a human being. The danger in it, however, is that, by zeroing in on a future sermon after just one reading of the lessons, I easily miss some important connections that can only be discovered from a deeper reading of the text. As I so often am, I'm grateful to Steve Pankey for his post from yesterday on the text from Isaiah.

Since I have been focused on recovery this week, I've been listening to the prophet's words, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you," as words of encouragement via God's companionship during the trials of his people. Remember that Isaiah is comforting God's people after a long exile (thought of as punishment). He is declaring that God has forgiven his people, that their ordeal was not meaningless nor godless, and that good days lie ahead. In these verses, God is declaring that God is with his people during their suffering: "I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."

As I've read those verses and prepared to preach on them, I've had the rest of the celebration for the First Sunday after the Epiphany in mind. It's a baptism Sunday. We read about and recall Jesus' baptism. It's a huge moment in the life of the wider church--especially in the eastern tradition. This is the theophany, when all three persons of the Holy Trinity are made manifest to humanity in the Son's baptism, the Spirit's descent, and the Father's voice. But I admit that I've brushed some of that aside, choosing to allow the readings and other liturgical elements like the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, the Collect for the Day, and the Proper Preface say what the preacher doesn't have to say. But Steve, while emphasizing the beauty of Isaiah's words, brings me back to baptism in a way that needs to come through in Sunday's sermon--especially since we're talking about recovery.

In baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised with him to the new life of grace. We rarely immerse someone, but even in the sprinkling we are supposed to see an image of our own spiritual burial and resurrection. How is that possible? It's not the water nor is it the words of the priest nor is it the promises of the parents and godparents/sponsors that makes the power of baptism real. Our baptismal transformation is only possible because Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day as God's proclamation of unending, undefeatable love and power. Because Jesus walked to death and through death and because God was with him fully in that journey, we are invited into that movement--from death into life. Baptism is our way of declaring the truth of God's resurrection love-power in our own lives. For some, that comes in the story of alcohol or drug addiction and recovery. For all, it comes it the story of sin addiction and recovery. At the end of his post, Steve said it better than I will, so I'll close with his words here:

Couple that with the promise of God in Isaiah 43, and we are reminded on this the First Sunday after the Epiphany *colon* The Baptism of our Lord, that just as God stood with Jesus in his baptism, his temptation, and yes, even his death, God stands ready to reveal himself to us in our baptism, in the trials and tribulations of our lives, in those moments of joy and grace, and perhaps most especially in the hour of our death, where we join with Christ in the fullness of life everlasting.
Thanks, Steve.

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