Sunday, January 13, 2019
First Sunday after Epiphany
There is a collage of drawings done by our Sunday School children on the cover for the report for our annual meeting that will be held a little after the noon hour today. Each was drawn on an envelope that was used to include a holiday gift card for each of the 26 residents at the Mālama Family Recovery Center in Kahului. The center makes it possible women who are mothers be with their children during their recovery.
Over time their children and our children will grow up. We will watch them become 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 with each passing year, we say it nevertheless with great affection: “Oh my, you have grown so much. 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.”
However, that is never said. Instead there is the exchange of smiles and an acknowledgement that the years have gone by much too quickly.
Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany. It is also the Baptism of the Christ Sunday. It has been said that it comes abruptly each year. We leap forward from the stories surrounding the birth and visit of the magi to the infant Jesus to his baptism in the Jordan River as a thirty-year-old adult (Luke 3:23).
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 [Jesus’] sandals? (Luke 3:16) Of what sins did Jesus need to repent and 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 “ . . 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 Christ 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 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, what is significant about Hepedoma is the revelatory message of the voice from heaven that Jesus heard at his baptism.
It was an affirmation of God’s love that we have come to know for ourselves. The prophet Isaiah reminds us: “You are my son. You are 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)
I shared with someone yesterday that what strikes me about our reading from The Gospel According to Luke is the affirmation of Jesus – at his baptism - as God’s beloved son (Luke 3:22). That is an affirmation made to each of us at our own baptism.
Yet we are often reluctant to believe the affirmation of Isaiah and the affirmation at our baptism that we are “precious, honored and loved” by God. Knowing that we are “precious, honored and loved” by family and friends is something that we value, but when we may feel that love is lacking we forget we are, nevertheless, God’s beloved.
Alapaki Nahale-a composed a song for his daughter in 1962. He wrote:
He punahele nō ‘oe nā ka makua. Pūlama ‘ia nō ‘oe me ke aloha. You are a beautiful baby pride of my heart You are a dear little lady right from the start. He wahine u‘i a he pua nani. Ma ku‘u poli mai ‘oe ku‘u lei. You’re so sweet and lovely like a pretty flower. Close to my bosom I’ll hold you, baby mine.
I can almost imagine this would have been Mary’s song for her son were Jesus born here in Mākena instead of Bethlehem. “Ma ku‘u poli mai ‘oe ku‘u lei. Close to my bosom, I’ll hold you, baby mine.”
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice declares: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Not surprisingly our Hawaiian-language Bible translates that verse in the following manner: “‘O ‘oe nō ka‘u keiki punahele, he ‘olu’olu loa ko‘u iā ‘oe.”
You are my keiki punahele. You are my beloved child.
I believe that is the affirmation made to each of us at our baptism –whether as infants or adults. We are all God’s beloved. We are all God’s punahele - called to be servants in the service of others.