Baptism of the Lord
First Sunday After Epiphany
Hepedoma—Week of Prayer
Sunday, January 13, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
There are a number of photographs on the cover of the report for the annual meeting of our congregation that will be held today. It includes photographs of children who have grown up in our church.
Since the photographs were taken many have graduated from high school and gone on to college. Others are still with us.
There is one photograph of a baby boy, not yet a year old, with his dad. It was the day that he was baptized in the waters off Maluaka Beach.
Ryan returned to California last week to continue his second year in college after spending the Christmas season back home with us here on Maui. He was among several others who returned home for the holidays including Monica, Emily, Grace, Tori, Mitchell, Tyler, and Kanoa as well as Kalaʻi who will be graduating from high school this year.
We watched them all grow into young men and women. While they may not fully appreciate how we might “gush” over them especially when we find ourselves saying what our parents or grandparents said of us, we say it nevertheless with great affection: “I remember when you were a baby.”
To which they would respond as we did upon hearing the same said of ourselves with a bend in the neck backwards and eyes rolling up – as if to say: “But I’m not a baby anymore.”
But that is never said. Instead there is the exchange of smiles and an acknowledgement that the years have gone by so quickly.
Today is the First Sunday After Epiphany. It is also referred to as Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It has been said that it comes abruptly each year. We leap forward from the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus to his baptism in the Jordan River as a thirty-year-old adult (Luke 3:23). He is not a baby anymore.
Unlike Ryan who was baptized as a baby, Jesus was baptized as an adult. Yet we know it was only eight days after his birth that Jesus was taken to the Temple for purification according to the law of Moses (Luke 2:22). It is said that Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was guided to the Temple by the Spirit and there he found the baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph and blessed them all.
I know there are those who believe that the Sacrament of Baptism is meant for adults only. Some argue that a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) requires an adult understanding and an adult response.
But that argument may have been what troubled Matthew in his account of Jesus’ life. Why would Jesus submit to a baptism of repentance by John, especially if John himself is so quick to proclaim that he is “not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals? (Luke 3:16) Of what sins would Jesus need to be forgiven?
Within our own church family it is our belief and practice that infants may be baptized. It is done with the understanding that when each child reaches the age of accountability – and for us that is the age of 12 – he or she will go through a confirmation process in which each person is given the opportunity to affirm his or her baptism.
Whether one is baptized as an infant or as an adult, what we find in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke this morning are two striking occurrences. First, it was while Jesus “was praying” after he was baptized that “the heaven was opened, and” second, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (Luke 3:21-22).
In addition to this being the First Sunday After Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, it is also the culmination of our Hepedoma or Week of Prayer. The invitation was made for all of us to be in prayer throughout the week by being silent and still; asking what God wants us to be and to do as a part of the ministry of the church; to listen carefully; and to do what God calls each of us to do.
Each day, the questions were to be the same: “Lord, what is my ministry?” “What are you asking me to be and to do?”
We know from the baptism of Jesus that he was asking the same questions as he prepared for his ministry. What began at Jesus’ baptism were two things that equipped him in his preparation - the practice of prayer and the promise of the Spirit’s presence in his life.
I agree with Ernest Hess, a Presbyterian pastor, who said: “Just as Jesus was empowered for and guided in his ministry through prayer, so too are his followers, down to this day.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 239) We are reminded by the proclamation made by John the Baptizer that the “Spirit is loose in the world in and through Jesus, who will baptize his followers, not with water alone, but with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Ibid., page 241; Luke 3:16)
What makes Hepedoma or this Week of Prayer significant is not that we are asked to fill out a response card and to make a written commitment to serve in some way through the various ministries of the church, but that the revelatory message of the voice from heaven that Jesus heard at his baptism is an affirmation of love that we have come to know for ourselves: “You are my son, my daughter. You are precious in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43:1-7).
Robert Brearley, another Presbyterian pastor, wrote: “Luke uses very few words to share with us the baptism of our Lord. But those few words lead us to very deep wellsprings of joy.” (Ibid., page 240)
Ryan may not remember the day many stood on the shoreline when he was baptized but we would be the first to tell him: “To identify with all people, to depend upon God in prayer for the strength to live and to love, and to hear the affirmation of . . . God as the source of (our) calling and purpose in life are the most enduring joys of life. These are the blessings of our life together in Christ as the church.” (Op. cit.)
It is true that Ryan is no longer a baby covered by the waters of his baptism. But he is covered by the Spirit and fire of God’s love. The good news is that in Jesus Christ we are all God’s beloved and for that affirmation of love we give thanks. Amen.