Epiphany is a little known Special Sunday in the Christian Church. On this day, January 6th, we celebrate the “revelation” of Jesus to world, especially as it was marked by the coming of the Wise Men to visit the Christ Child. The Sundays following Epiphany are known – no sarcasm here – as the Season after Epiphany. Those Sundays go until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. One other special Sunday celebrated in the Season after the Epiphany is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. The following is a reflection on Jesus’ Baptism based on the reading from Luke 3.
I can still feel the coolness of the water as it pours over my heads, rolls onto my shoulders, and causes me to halt my breath for just a moment. The words of Rev. Hinzman are muffled but clear, “…of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
I stand before the congregation, wet with the waters poured over me at Baptism. Some are smiling, some are joyous, and some just look bored. I catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom: people I know, people I will never know, old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, female, and male. When they join their voices together it is as if the heavens open up and God proclaims: “We give thanks for all that God has already given you and we welcome you in Christian love…that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
I did not know then all the paths I would travel on the road of discipleship, but I began it with words of hope echoing from the very mouth of Christ’s body, the church. The memory of those words are my source of hope from day to day.
I cannot help but be glad to read that God’s own Son had hope filled words fall upon him at his baptism as well: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God’s voice spoken from heaven or spoken by the Body of Christ are still seeds of hope.
This morning I listened to part of the story of Jonah. I know that many people are familiar with his journey away from the call God placed upon his life. That running left him on a ship ready to be ripped apart by a storm until he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish.
Many people are aware that this story tells of Jonah’s journey to the place God had called him to go via the belly of the big fish. Eventually Jonah is vomited up on the shore like spoiled seafood and he begins his real journey.
The story tells us that the place Jonah was sent was so large that it would take three days to walk across it. Jonah began his journey and began truly answering his call when he took those first steps into the city. Bleached white by the acid of the stomach of some big fish, seaweed tangled in his hair, and clouded with a stench that proceeded him by the full length of Ninevah, Jonah began to proclaim the destruction of the city. He did so with much reluctance – not because he didn’t want to give bad news to the Ninevites, but because he was afraid that they might hear him, repent, and be spared by God. So, God made certain the people God wished to spare would not miss the message by sending this mess of a prophet to their city.
The reluctance of the prophet came from his experience of the mercy of God.
I get that. Sometimes it is not my fear of being heard that keeps me from speaking. It is not my fear of being misunderstood that locks my lips. It is the fear of being perfectly understood and found standing in the very mess I created by not trusting in that goodness when I began.
The best way to travel to the home I see as God’s Kingdom is as one who is clothed in the mercy and goodness of the God I proclaim. I don’t always get that but I can count on God to dress me up in it – or dress me down with it – so that the message won’t be missed.
Even as the words of Jonah spoke to me this morning, words from Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes” also tugged on my Spirit:
“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention.
Be astonished. Tell about it.
Yeah. That’s a whole lot easier than being bleached, tangled in seaweed and smelling like last week’s thrown out cat food. Perhaps my reluctance can be overcome by God’s mercy.
#writing201 assignment for the day…”Trust” as an acrostic with internal rhyme…yep…this was a challenge!
Constant posturing, self-need driven bickering
Only leaves us all bleeding, endlessly needing.
Misusing our Book as a hook – to injure other’s belief –
Marking those who are in and those shrouded with sin.
Unless the flood of our blood ceases, quickly decreases
No body will share, even dare to come needy.
I will be me and not part of we.
One trusting no one is perfectly done.
Never to sup, sip a cup filled with love.
As a member of and a leader within the United Methodist Church, when I hear the word trust it brings about many very positive images. However, our current denominational mood might well be seen by some as one of mistrust or lack of trust of one another. This saddens me. The most important part of this poem to me is the acrostic that calls us to something greater.
At the counter I watch,
I watch as hands move items across strange red eyes that see only white and black.
To whom do these hands belong?
Who cherishes their touch and longs for their presence?
What do these hands cherish and loath?
What treasure lies within the one who works that moment to serve me?
Eyes that could see more meet across this altar of commerce.
Words fly by another from each field of dreams:
“How are you today?”
“Fine. And you?”
Are they words that seek depth – words that plow the soil between two treasures buried in self?
I think not. I know not.
Of course there are times my words become great instruments of digging.
They plow through the air to till the soul of another.
My words – known and named by me as “Truth” – are used to bury deeper
a treasure that could be mine
that could be the worlds
that is the Kingdom of God in another.
Those rare and holy moments where Another
breathes and moves through me
to allow the stranger to become the friend
to allow those who know a Truth different than mine
to be truly heard and deeply loved
seem, oh, so few.
yet they cover me with a joy I could not know
if I grasp the pitiful field that I call me.
The dust coming off the building as the hammers and chisels worked away at the painted cement on the brick surface made it difficult to look around much at all. However, the sweat coming off of my forehead and rolling into my eyes made it necessary to stop every once in a while and wipe. (At home later that afternoon the sand and grit that had stuck to my sweaty face gave me a free exfoliation as I washed it away. But it felt good. It felt really good.) During those little breaks, I could look around – even if it was a little blurry.
I looked around and I saw at least four generations represented in the work crew. Youth, young adults, middle age adults and even some into retirement were all working away together to help make a way for a local artist to turn a building into a canvas. There were people on ladders and people working at just one level. There was laughter and there were groans. There was the roar of a bucket truck motor and shouts as people tried to talk over it. There was and eerie silence when the motor stopped and I could hear car horns honking as people drove by, encouraging us in our work to make our city a little brighter.
I looked around and I saw history repeating itself and prepare to repeat itself yet again. The man who led the project said to me, “My dad and I planted those trees across the street thirty years ago. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Now we are getting ready to cut those trees down as part of this project so everything can be seen better; so the whole town looks a little brighter.” If I were standing on this same lot thirty years from now, I am sure I could look around and see one of a number of youth who were working that day tell someone, “I remember the day we worked to clean off this wall so this painting could be done. I still remember the dust like it was yesterday! But now it’s time for a new building so that the whole town can seem a little brighter. I’m just glad I can be a part of this new day.”
I looked around and I saw one of our youth offering a cold cup of water to a person standing on the street. She started to give him a piece of pizza from the lunch we shared before the work began and then thought better of it and gave him the whole box. He took it gladly and humbly and walked away to some of his friends “from the street” to share.
I drove by that lot on my way to the hospital later that day and stopped for just a minute. The work wasn’t complete, that was certain, but I looked around at what we had completed to see what I could see. I looked around again and saw…well, I saw that the Kingdom had come near.