11 January 2015
The Baptism of Our Lord
O Eternal God, who creates by Word, help us to find our voices and use them to give honor and glory to you, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.” (Barack Obama)
These words were said few years ago in a speech aimed at empowering the people of this country.
Do you feel empowered?
God has awesome speaking power. More than enough to change a room or the world. He speaks, and creates Light. The intricate mystery of waves and particles, which moves at the fastest rate that we know. Light, which describes the boundaries of our physical world. Which tells us how big our universe is. Which makes the darkness viable and gives hope to the desperate and despairing. Light. That is the power of a word from God. And light was just the first of the creations in the book of Genesis.
Paul also has some impressive speaking power. Not as much as God, but still impressive. In the passage from Acts, Paul has a short conversation with some John followers and they want to become Jesus followers. And then, when the people are baptized, they immediately begin prophesying and speaking in tongues. We are told that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have not experienced any speaking in tongues after our baptisms here lately. But even still, we know that there are consequences for the actions and words of baptism. Most of us have been baptized into the same life of the Holy Spirit.
Do you feel empowered?
John also has some marvelous speaking power. All he seems to do is tell people they need to repent and then he ceremoniously (or maybe unceremoniously) dumps people into a river. Yet people walk all day to see this happening and participate in it. A nine hour walk from Jerusalem is not just a day trip. It's a new life adventure. John the Washer, proclaiming the awaited time and washing people with repentance.
Even Jesus goes to hear the words and participate in the actions of John. Jesus's baptism was symbolic on so many levels. Not only because he took on the humanity we have: the sin and the relationships, but also because he took on the hopes and dreams that go with baptism, the heritage that comes with being a member of the human race in need of repentance. "Jesus is in solidarity with humanity, at one with us, and therefore at one with our downfall, at one with us wherever we may be." (preachingtip.com) As a human being, Jesus is God's beloved. We hear those magnificent words, out of the voice of God, shown with the dove-like apparition of the Holy Spirit. "You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased." God empowers Jesus with encouragement for the ministry he has to do in this world. And like a good mother, God doesn't just say "you are my son, my beloved" once. God says it again at the transfiguration, which we will hear in a few weeks. "This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him." Repetition emphasizes the point. God empowered Jesus.
Do you feel empowered?
Soft spoken words, loud booming words, flirting words. The words, I'm sorry, when meant or when not meant. The lies that build up in our systems because we didn't share the whole truth. It's all just words. The scriptures are just words too. Despite that they have power. They influence our lives, they question our beliefs and our doubts. They encourage and challenge us. Just words. Even this sermon. Me standing here telling you the good news of the gospel. And what does it do to you? You'll believe me more, you'll trust me better if I say it in powerful words, if I don't just get up here and say some words while looking down at the podium. But If I believe in the words coming out of my mouth and into your ears, they have power. They can hurt. They can resonate. They can challenge or comfort. And yet we forget the power we have of sharing our voices and our words. And they all come from one Word, the Word that was in God and was God.
God has empowered people across the world to use their voices. Martin Luther challenged the whole Christian world while standing up for his beliefs in the gospel and kicked the reformation into high gear. William Shakespeare started knock knock jokes with a line in Macbeth. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world with four words: "I have a dream." A phrase that almost always evokes emotion. (It gives me shivers.) He stood up for something he felt was more important than himself, and while he died doing so, he changed the face of the world.
Last week I almost tumbled into a funeral in Galveston while wandering around. All I heard was this line from the speaker, "She made Galveston what it was, which makes Galveston what it is today." I don't know what she did or who she was, but I am sure she used her voice in order to make Galveston what it is today. And then there is Mary, the mother of Jesus. All she said was yes, do it to me as God wishes.
Martin Luther, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr., the woman of Galveston, Mary, and all the people who have ever touched our hearts and minds with their words. They didn't know how influential their words would be. However, they said them anyway.
Do you feel empowered?
Each of us enters into this same baptism. We are baptized into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through this baptism, we are empowered. We are given voices. The vows ask us if we promise to continue the tradition. Continue teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayers, resisting evil, repenting, returning, proclaiming, seeking and serving Christ in all people, loving, striving, justice, peace, respect, dignity for every human being.
"The challenge for us is to accept a two way street. If Jesus is one with us, are we bold enough to be one with him? Can we like Jesus go into the darkness[es] of other people to open the eyes of those whose sight is dimmed by sorrow, raise them up from their daily deaths, and release them from the dungeons of life’s pitfalls? [...] when washed in the daring of Jesus we will hear the same heavenly voice that spoke to Jesus, as he came out of the water. It will also say the same words to us: “You are my son, my daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This has nothing to do with being worthy or good. It has to do with being bonded with God and each other." (preachingtip.com) Baptism bonds us to God and empowers us to speak the Word of God in this world.
We have voice. Not the same kind of powerful voices as God. We don't create light, but we can bring light into the darkness. We can create cracks. We can offer hope and comfort and support. All with a few words. I heard a story once of a kid in juvenile detention who went to a chapel service being held at the prison. The preacher spoke about that lovely phrase, loving-kindness. Something about hearing that phrase for the first time changed that kid's entire world.
We never know beforehand how influential our words may be. However, God gave us voices, a gift to share our stories, to speak love and light into this world.
We do not need to change the whole world. We do not have to sit and take all grime and darkness this world delivers. God has changed the world and is changing the world still today. Every time we break bread together the world is changed. It's not always about the grand gestures, its about the small everyday things that increase the quality of life for real human beings, for our neighbors. We know that we face challenges too great to imagine, and yet, the Word of God will not let us down. God came to be with us wherever we are.
Passionate, thoughtful voices are important. The creation of the world started with a word. The destruction of the world could happen with a word. One voice can change a room. God empowers you to be that voice.