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Homily: Baptism of the Lord 2014
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Homily: Baptism of the Lord 2014

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Water. It is such a strong symbol and sacramental sign. It is used through the Church and its sacraments. Many will come and go through the doors of the church, dipping their fingers in the holy …

Water. It is such a strong symbol and sacramental sign. It is used through the Church and its sacraments. Many will come and go through the doors of the church, dipping their fingers in the holy water fonts, blessing themselves. But on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we need to take a moment to pause and remind ourselves of the meaning and obligations that this carries for each and everyone one of us. What does that look like for you?
And so we end this season as it began – with John the Baptist, at the River Jordan – this time, reluctantly washing his cousin Jesus as he begins his public ministry. What does your ministry look like? And how does a cello player, among the rubble of Sarajevo, provide insight to what we are called to do?

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  • 1. 12 January 2013 Baptism of the Lord Princeton, NJ As you may know I have four sons – all grown now. But Teresa and I can still remember that one December day, just after Christmas, when our youngest, who was no more than 5 at the time, looked up at us and said in a lamenting voice, “Christmas is over.” And indeed, on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we bring our Liturgical Advent/Christmas Season to a close. A season that began with John the Baptist – a voice in the desert – preparing the way of the Lord, helping make straight the paths and baptizing all who were coming to him. And we now close the season with John, after much protesting, baptizing his cousin Jesus in the same waters of the Jordan Water. It is such a strong symbol and sacramental sign. Thus we began our liturgy with the Sprinkling Rite using water from our baptismal font. The font – which is central to our faith, made clear by its physical location in the center of our church. The font - where the waters of baptism flow just about every weekend. The font - where during a funeral liturgy the procession in and out of church pauses so that its water can be used for a final blessing upon the casket. The font – where waters are used to fill the holy water fonts around the doors of the church where many, often by habit, dip their fingers and bless themselves when they come and go. But on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we need to take a moment to pause and remind ourselves of the meaning and obligations that these baptismal waters carry for each and everyone one of us. For all those uses of water, of course, are designed to remind us of one thing - that we are baptized, which in turn reminds us that we were initiated into the discipleship of Jesus – we belong to Christ. It is our ID card, our mark, our branding – one that tells everyone where we are and who we belong to. And when we complete the sacraments of initiation with Confirmation, that mark is sealed and signed and we are forever identified. Many of us grew up in our faith learning that Baptism was the necessary fix to get rid of that ‘mark’, that ‘stain’ of original sin. And while that was and is still true it is only a part of the sacrament. Baptism is simply not just the negative erasing of original sin but it is the positive call to be a disciple. And Pope Francis recently reminded us, as disciples that we need to go out to the world and make noise. We need to wake up the world. We need to be a witness of doing things in a different way by how we act and live! We need to follow his lead and show that it’s possible to live differently in this world. To show that we can live and behave in a truly different way by loving and serving others without expecting anything back in return. I know we are all just getting over the indulgences of the holidays and it would have been a bit easier to listen to a homily which only required passive listening...but to the contrary, on this Feast Day we are reminded of our commitment to be active members of the Church…a lifelong commitment to be a disciple of Christ. We are reminded of our own baptisms, and our own initiations, and our own commissionings to do the work of Jesus…to be a representative of Christ…to call the little ones to the Father. We are blessed at St. Paul’s to have a very active community with over 50 ministries and hundreds involved. But what does your discipleship look like? No doubt, it is different for each of us. For some it may be raising your children, or caring for a family member or neighbor, or it may be some sort of volunteering. At the same time there may be some who think they have nothing to offer. 1 Deacon Jim Knipper
  • 2. Some may feel so broken, why bother. Some who may be so angry at the Church, why participate? Some who may be surrounded with so much loss, that it is hard to envision ever being able to call forth from our personal deserts the ability to make straight the path. There was such man in Easter Europe who faced that same dilemma. And his response is now commemorated with a statue in the town square where he lived. Not because he was a war hero, a politician, a famous athlete, or even a rock star. Rather the statue is a tribute to him being like John the Baptist, for being disciple-like, of calling out to others who were in need. And the story goes like this…. One day during the war in Sarajevo, a bomb was dropped on a bakery where twenty-two people were waiting in line to buy bread. All twenty-two people were killed. A citizen of the town, a man named Vedran Smailovic, decided that he wanted to do something to mark the death of these innocent victims. He said, “I am a simple man. What can I do?” Before the war Vedran played in the Sarajevo orchestra, but once the war started everyone was afraid to venture out of their homes just to hear music. With no performances to play, he walked the streets near his home trying to find work and stay busy. But when he heard about the bakery bombing, Vedran dressed up in his tux and tails, took his cello and a chair and went to the site. He sat there amid the pile of debris for twenty-two days, one for each of the victims of the bombing, and played his favorite pieces. He braved the artillery fire and ducked sniper’s bullets and went on playing his cello, trying to show people that there is hope…there is a better way. So today, in that same town square is a stature of Vedran sitting on his chair playing his cello. People will often bring flowers to put around the base of the statue, always twenty-two flowers to honor the twentytwo people who died. He is a hero to them….he is a John the Baptist to them…he is one who walked the steps of Christ…he is the one who looked to make crooked paths - straight, to make rough roads smooth. And so we end this season with the Gospel story of John baptizing his cousin Jesus in the River Jordan. It was the beginning of his public life – his inauguration - his rite of entrance into his active ministry. So, too, our baptism is calling us to do the same – to be an active follower and disciple of Christ. For baptism is more than just our admission into the Church. It is more than just the removal of original sin. It is more than just belonging to the Church – it is about being church, of doing church and about living church in all that we do. In closing, we hear at the end of this Gospel, as Jesus comes out of the waters, a voice from above crying out, “You are my beloved son – with you I am well pleased.” That is the voice that cries out to all of us living out our baptism. Those are the words that our ears need to hear every day – from each other and in our prayer life. That is why we keep using the sign and symbol of water – so that we will never forget who we belong to. So the next time you are sprinkled with water or attend a baptism, or bless yourself with water from the font - remember your call and your commission and the commitment we all have to each other, in Christ. And never forget the voice from heaven that calls out to you each day: you are my beloved son and beloved daughter – with you I am well pleased…Go be my disciple. 2 Deacon Jim Knipper