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Monday, January 14, 2013

Baptism of Jesus Sunday:carefully, completely sweeping




As I start to push the front doors open, they won’t budge. I hear a stirring. Push some more. Someone is asleep in front of the doors. Senor se necesita moverse. Vamos tener un servicio de la iglesia, una misa....por favor....

I go to leave by the side door. Steve is awake and there. I tell him I’m heading out to pick up the bulletins. And that someone’s got to move. When I return, Steve tells me, He’s a good guy. Said  thank you very much, he just overslept. And I  begin to relax. 

The candles are lit. We’re ready and waiting. The congregation is slowly arriving. Teddy’s friend Tina has come in from New Paltz with her friend Gerry.

Anna has brought a white candle surrounded by a wreath. perfect for Baptism of Jesus Sunday. 


I begin the service with the Blind Boys of Alabama singing Wade in the Water. And then I lead us in Take me to the river, take me t the river, take me to the river, to be baptized.... And when we’re done I say, if you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme today....and begin to explain that this is the day we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

After our scriptures are read (Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17 and Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22), I begin my reflection. 

There’s a lot of flu going around. More than I remember ever before. People getting shots, Inoculations. Bee thinking about that myself, and I never do. Been thinking about  inoculations, vaccinations. Things we do for infants to protect them And how there;s this sense of baptism as being another form of inoculation. My father always felt a little concerned about the fact that my brother’s twin girls weren’t baptized. Like they’s missed their spiritual vaccination.

The font
I’m remembering that this this day last year was the last one our baptismal font  was intact. Before the lid went missing in the midst of Occupation. I point out its symbolism, the waters of chaos at the base, the water lilies, the lotus...for the Egyptians sun and rebirth, for the Buddhists enlightenment as the beautiful bloom that rises from the mud and for the  Hindus, rebirth as it closes ever night and opens every morning. And its hidden inlaid stones from the Holy Land...

I’m thinking of images of water...summers at the beach...watching sunset on the Hudson..boats parked up the River waiting to head out to the harbor then out to sea...the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio ...coffee overlooking the bay in Seattle, ships docked ready to head north to Alaska and beyond....the vastness of the ocean..you could wind up in Hawaii or Japan....We ourselves are about 57% water ...and it’s 75% for infants...and how can we live now without the images of tsunami or hurricane, Katrina, Sandy...constant reminders that the great sea monster from the chaos of the deep Tiamat, is aways just below the surface...the Babylonian version of our tohu v bohu, ....without form and void.....

In the Genesis creation myth, the separation of waters comes right after the setting of the lights... the waters from above separated from the waters below.....there’s an old legend that the rain is the tears of the separated waters ....longing with the desire to be reunited...we needed the separation to know ourselves, to know existence...but that arc towards reuniting is there from the beginning, Genesis through Revelation...

And so today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism..because we baptize babies, because it comes so close to Christmas, we have a tendency to think of  Jesus baptized as a baby...just as in some places like New Mexico, el santo nino is seen still wandering the high desert hills, barefoot and vulnerable,  performing milagros for the poor...wandering still.......

But Jesus‘ baptism is as an adult ...and here comes his  John again....there in advent at the beginning and here at the end...with Christmas in between...

So why do we baptize children? Because it’s a gift not earned...a gift not a reward for certain behaviors or spoken words...that it’s about grace an every child is  born onto grace....it is also an  act of community, accepting responsibility to stand with the parents in support as they raise a child....

It’s the only sacrament  mutually recognized by protestants and catholics alike ...so long as it is  in the name of the father, son and holy ghost...it is recognized ...why we believe we are baptized into the holy catholic (universal) church...

But why Jesus?  If this season has been about incarnation, God becoming human, then God must be with us in every way...and if baptism is in recognition of our human nature, our need to live our lives in anew direction, then Jesus is baptized with us as an act of solidarity... that he will be human in every way...knowing our lives in every way...

There’s john again...those images...speaking of the one to come...Winnowing fork in his hand...separate wheat from chaff...burning the chaff with unquenchable fire... sounds like good old fire and brimstone preacher  stuff..typical old school....BUT...here’s the thing..it’s not like some of us are wheat and some are chaff...all of us  are BOTH...it’s about finding the chaff inside of  ourselves and being willing to let it go...burned away...the old Catholic idea of purgatory. was not so bad...a place where all the chaff could be taken away....tossed in the air...separated..in the end, this day is about our openness to letting it happen..to letting go of what stands between us and being who we’re supposed to be...have been created to be...that is what is ours today...

And after the offering, I pour a pitcher of water into the metal basin, hearing the sound of water as it hits metal...this basin that was part of our identity during our exile at SPSA...and I pour drops of water fro the Jordan River into the water and say the words of Thanksgiving over water...remembering the spirit of God brooding over the waters, the separation, Noah’s flood, the children of Israel passing through the waters, Jesus coming to the Jordan...giving thanks...and then inviting everyone to come forward to receive a blessing, remember their own baptism..and one by one, I lay on hands...something that always frightened me before..I could do it with Katherine...then finally alone...sometimes feeling the power, sometimes almost...

We finish by singing Baptized in Water, to the same tune as Morning Has Broken, which Stephen was playing before  the service..We finish with a  circle, with our sung Amen...Cara gently playing the piano...

Of course the man who rose and gave a moving testimony of his recovery from the steps approaches me after and asks for just a little help, transportation for the week...

 Cara and broom
We meet to review a request to join our friends at Jan Hus in asking the Boy Scouts to welcome scouts without regard to sexual orientation...and our session adds and with regard to safety for all and appropriate response to accusations of harm...


And Jamie leads us through an update of where  we are real estate wise...we feel the pressure of time...the anxiety of needing resolution..of keeping us safe....



As I leave, Tina and Gerry are upstairs cooking chili for the crew.  Cara is outside carefully sweeping the length of the building. Carefully, completely, sweeping....

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