Baptism of the Lord & Epiphany

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.

Outsiders Grace

I sat at the end of the bench.  If there were a spot beyond the end of the bench, I would have gladly sat there.  The floor was a thought but Coach would not allow it.  The corner at the end would just have to do.

Greg, Walter and a few others had the best seats.  They were the starters.  Their seats were empty right then simply because they were out of the floor playing the game of basketball.  It was the United Methodist Youth team v. the Baptist Youth team in the remnants of the city of Mt. Hope, sometime in February of 1977.

I probably would not remember the date very well but forty laps at a practice that week kind of burned it into my brain.  When you are the ninth man on the team, you hardly think anyone would notice that you aren’t at practice so I blew one off that week to go see “King Kong”.  (It was the 1976 version with Jessica Lang and almost any eleven year old boy might choose laps to watch Jessica Lang.)  When I showed up for the next day’s practice the coach simply asked where I was and when I fessed up to being at a movie he thought it was worth forty laps.  At least he did not make the whole team run them.  They would have finished a long time before I did and each time they would have passed me the taunting would have been unbearable.

Perhaps that is why I was hiding in the little corner on the end of the bench so well at that moment.  It was not the laps.  It was not the impending taunts.  The Coaches were way to close for any of that to take place but I knew the locker room was just a couple of short basketball periods away.  The real taunting would start then.

I had played in the game.  It was a rule in our little church league that everyone got to play one quarter.  The coaches decided to put our weaker links out on the court in the second period and I marched out with them.  I remember Coach Groves words well, “Just play good defense.  Don’t let them score too much and when you get the ball, get it to Greg.  He can work it from there.”

Well, I played pretty good defense most of the time anyway.  I was the shortest guy on our team and could often sneak around without being noticed and occasionally steal the ball.  Shooting?  Forget it?  I was about 1 for 30 from the free throw line, another place I would never stand except during those interminable practices.

basketball net

But something strange happened in that game before I found my corner of the bench.  The other team had the ball.  One of their not-so-good players took a rather wild shot and it bounced off the front of the rim like a bullet and came right towards me.  I didn’t think.  I didn’t hear Greg yelling for the ball.  I dribbled twice and worked my way into the lane and shot…

…And scored…

…For the other team.
I didn’t even wait for the Coach to pull me out when I heard the laughing Baptists congratulating me for the extra two points.  I simply walked to the bench.  Grabbed my corner and stayed there till the end of the game.  I knew the taunting would come in the locker room.  It almost always did.  Meanwhile, I sat on my little corner of the end of the bench.

Even now, I still find myself sitting on the edge of the end of a pew from time to time.  I have even caught myself moving forward on those huge cushy seats that they give preachers to perch upon during the rest of the worship service.  Every once in a while, it is a comfort to sit on the edge and wonder what kind of grace it is going to take to allow God to use me the way God wants to use me.  Trust me, I am far enough forward in my seat as I type this to feel the back wheels of the chair lifting off the ground.

Sometimes, I know that being on the outside, well, that’s the only place to find true grace.

Daily Prompt – The Outsiders

 

Looking Around…Again

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Bluefield Daily Telegraph photo of the Sunday afternoon work team.

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.