January 11, 2015 | The First Sunday after the Epiphany

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by the Rev. Robert C. Laird

When I was finishing college,
I found myself at a crossroads
that I hadn’t particularly been looking for.

I was in discernment for ordination in the Episcopal Church,
but wasn’t yet ready to go to seminary.

I had a whole plan made:
where I was going to live,
what I was going to do,
I’d charted the whole thing out.

But then it all fell apart.
The shards of my plan lay all around me,
and I realized I was going to have a year to fill
before the next thing that was going to happen,
whatever that was…

Looking back, from this vantage point,
this isn’t an awful place to be when you’re 26, actually;
I had nearly unlimited possibilities before me,
and could do whatever I wanted.

And then I had dinner with Philip.

Philip is still one of my dearest friends,
despite the story I’m going to tell you.

Philip saw for me what I couldn’t see for myself;
what the next thing was going to be.

He said to me,
“You know, why don’t you consider
doing a year of service,
like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps?
You can go live in a Christian community for a year,
doing some kind of direct service
in a nonprofit of some kind.
I know someone who did something like that;
you should talk to him.”

The words still hung in the air,
like a word bubble in a comic strip,
but I knew that’s what I was going to do.

And I filled with terror at the thought.

It would mean leaving everything I knew,
my home, my friends,
my life as I had known it;
it was not the plan I had made,
wasn’t anywhere near part of the plan…

But I knew it was the right thing for me.

The truth had been named,
and it was just out there,
and I had to acknowledge it,
and admit that it was the truth for me.

I think there’s moments like that in most everyone’s life,
when you get leveled with the truth,
and you just have to change directions,
even though it means changing the plans
you’d so carefully laid.

John the baptizer has that gift, that power
in the Gospels,
and particularly in the Gospel we’ve heard today.

John preaches the word,
and people start coming to him,
to be washed in the waters of the Jordan,
and tell him their sins.

And John looked like a hot mess:
he wore camel’s hair,
and wore a leather belt around his waist;
this was a garment for a prophet,
a little wild, a little crazy.

And he ate locusts and wild honey;
the only time locusts are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible,
they are bad news,
a pestilence that devours everything;
and John the baptizer devours them, instead.

But not only does he devour the locusts,
and dress like a wild man,
but he speaks the truth.

This guy does not, to my imagination,
look like someone who people
would just start pouring out confessions to.

And yet they do,
over and over again.

The word that John preaches,
the call to repentance,
and to new life in the waters of baptism,
is so compelling that everyone is jumping in.

I’m willing to bet that if you’d heard him there that day,
you’d have done the same thing.

When someone just lays the truth out there like that,
you know it; you can’t help but follow.

In fact, John was so compelling that Jesus,
who was without sin,
who had nothing to confess,
Jesus himself is baptized.

It’s a paradox, Jesus getting baptized.
It’s an act of utter humility,
being baptized along with everyone else,
the rest of the sinful crowd that had gathered there
in the River Jordan.

After all, Jesus has all authority in the world;
he’s God’s Son,
and he’s being baptized.

But his authority and his humility are intertwined
in this act of his baptism:
He has authority as the humble one,
and he has the true humility of one
in whom all authority is invested.

It’s the same humility we’ll see from Jesus
on the cross, at Golgotha on Good Friday;
it’s the humility that is integral to him as a person.

It’s the humility we’re called as Christians to live out,
following in Jesus’ example,
who has claimed us in baptism,
and marked us as his own forever.

And today,
as we remember Jesus’ own baptism,
we renew our own baptismal vows,
making anew the promises of our baptism.

We promise to seek and serve Christ,
and strive for justice and peace,
and continue in the teaching and fellowship of the faith,
and to repent and return when we fail,
and to ourselves proclaim the Good News.

Because after all,
through that baptism,
through his love for us,
Jesus transforms each of our lives,
teaching us through his example,
forming us as disciples in following him,
and empowering us to respond to the needs of the world
through loving service.

This is not an easy life we’re called to;
it can be intimidating,
and difficult at times.

But it’s also a powerful call,
a call that claims us in the hearing of it,
that levels us when we hear it,
and we have to change directions,
even if it means changing the plans
we’d so carefully laid.

But it’s worth changing our plans
when it’s because the heavens have been torn apart,
as they were there that day at the Jordan River,
and the love of God,
which was made manifest that day for Jesus,
descends upon us like a dove,
as we profess our faith
in our baptismal promises,
and join in the song of heaven
as we celebrate the grace God has given each of us
in the Word and Sacrament we share;
in the lives of faith we live;
in the gift of Jesus,
God’s only Son,
there in the river,
and here in our midst.

The life we have each been called to
as disciples of Jesus Christ
isn’t an easy one.

But as we see in Jesus’s own baptism,
as we see in the preaching of John the Baptist,
as we see in the life in community
we share as Christians,
it’s a life worth living,
even though it can be hard.

It’s a life that claims us,
and that we claim,
in the promises we make,
which we keep with God’s help.