Archives: 1 Epiphany

Is Your Baptism Incomplete?

What does it mean to have an incomplete baptism?

That is the question suddenly confronting the believers in Ephesus we read of in our lesson from Acts.

Paul arrives and says to them, “‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’”

We might initially assure ourselves that this story has nothing to do with us.

We were baptized into Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the name of God the Father. Our Trinitarian credentials are secure.

But to read this text on that literal, surface level is to miss what it has to teach us.

Let’s take a step back and ask in what ways we were baptized into John’s baptism, why that was valuable, and what might still be missing from our baptism.

How are we failing to live into the full baptism of Christ? Continue reading

The Great Pattern, Or, There Can Be No Disaster

It’s rather an ignominious start to Jesus’ ministry, but you have to read past the end of our gospel lesson to realize that.

When the curtain closes on our passage from Matthew 3 today, it’s a beautiful happy ending.

John baptizes Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness,” God declares him the beloved with whom God is well pleased, and end scene.

Sunlight, water, voices from heaven, the devoted John and the interested crowd—it’s a perfect set-up.

This is the debut of the Lamb of God on the world stage.

What’s he going to do next?

What intriguing sermon or salvific healing or jaw-dropping miracle will he do to kick off his earthly work?

Well, if you take a look at Matthew 4, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The last sentence of Matthew 3, which we read this morning, is, “when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”

And the first sentence of Matthew 4, which we did not read this morning, says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”

Ouch.

That’s the climax of the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry? Continue reading

Forty Ways to Be Baptized, Forty Ways to Die

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the first Sunday after the Epiphany.

And the first thing I have to tell you is that I can take very little credit for the ideas in this sermon.

Back in November, I had the opportunity to attend the retreat conference of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, and the presenter was The Reverend Alan Storey.

Alan Storey is a Methodist pastor from South Africa.

His father is Peter Storey, the famous anti-apartheid faith leader who began his pastoral career as Nelson Mandela’s chaplain during Mandela’s 27-year prison term.

On our trip to South Africa, we had the opportunity to meet and spend time in conversation with both Peter Storey and his son Alan, and it was immediately obvious that Alan had inherited a double share of his father’s prophetic spirit.

So of course I was excited to see and spend time with Alan again at our retreat this past fall, but I wasn’t expecting to be presented with remarkable new theological ideas that galvanized my imagination. That retreat has continued to significantly influence my thinking and my prayer life.

One of the ideas that Alan expanded on was a rethinking of the nature of baptism, and those are the ideas I want to share with you now.

Baptism is our entry into the church, it is how we become members of the Body of Christ.

And so Alan began by asking us: this community that we join at baptism, what is it?

What is the purpose of the church?

To answer that question, we have to ask what problem the church is trying to solve.

If we go back to the Garden of Eden, we see Eve in conversation with the serpent, and the serpent introduces the voice that will forevermore drive our grasping after power and things and control.

That is the voice that says, “You are not enough.”

Our sin is driven by the falsehood: “You are not enough.”

We hear that voice and we do anything to hush it up, to somehow augment our faltering self-image so we can drown out the words: “You are not enough.”

And so we sin. That is what that voice forces us to.

And we have talked about this before here at St. Luke’s: sin is an addiction.

We are addicted to a way of life that kills us, kills our planet, kills our future.

We as Western Christians cannot seem to do anything that is systemically constructive to end the poverty and suffering that plagues the rest of the world.

And so our addiction traps us and everyone around the world in a planet and a society hurtling toward death.

So what is the purpose of church? Continue reading

Why God Needs Small Churches

I’m going to say something that I know is going to shock you.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church is not the center of Christendom.

We are not Rome or Constantinople or Canterbury.

We’re not even Indianapolis

We’re not even Plainfield.

What are we?  We are a collection of faithful souls trying to find our way to doing God’s will.

We are the people who show up week after week believing that God has important work for us to do and offering ourselves to do it. Continue reading

Stage Fright and Jordan Wading: When Jesus Needs a Hand

What a strange and humble way for Jesus to start his ministry.

Rather than beginning with lights and fireworks, descending from on high, or even with a simple miracle like walking on water or healing a sick person, Jesus quietly joins the crowd being baptized by John.

We can learn so much from Jesus in this moment, the first thing being that ministry takes preparation.

Jesus didn’t just plunge in full blast.

He took part in a ceremony, a marking of a profound change in his life.

Jesus didn’t need to be cleansed of sin in his baptism, he lived without sin. But he did need to mark this pivotal moment with a spiritual sign. His baptism clearly separates the first thirty years of his life, his private life, if you will, from the start of his public life and ministry.

It’s also a signal within a family. Continue reading

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