BAPTISM OF CHRIST IS POWER TO CHRISTIANS
(Homily of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara on Sunday, 01.08.2012at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 2197 Jackson Avenue, Seaford, New York 11377. Bible Text :Mark 4:4-11)
“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 4:4)
I have something to confess. When my wife and I moved here in New York eight years ago, I said to myself “No, I’m not going to adopt the frenetic lifestyle of New York City. I’m not going to run up the stairs to the subway train or run up and down the escalators in Grand Central; I’m not going to rush in Manhattan during non-rush hours; I’m not going to push people from my way; I’m not going to run the red light. Like a good Californian that I was for 18 years, I am going to walk like a Californian. I am going to stroll along the byways; enjoy the sight of nature, stop and smell the flowers on my way. You know what? I lied to myself. Weekly, as I go to my office in Manhattan, I run up the stairs to catch Train #7 in Queens, run up the escalator in Grand Central, and push people on my way from the subway. I have become a New Yorker.
Life is difficult; wrote Scott Peck in his book, “The Road Less Traveled.” And we are not perfect as we should be. St. Paul reckoned it this way, “the evil that I do not want to do, I do; the good that I want to do, I do not do.Who shall deliver me from this life? Thanks be to God who gives me victory through Jesus Christ.,”
For sure, St. Paul as a man of God and missionary beyond compare, had done so many good deeds but he had done so, as he had acknowledged, not on his own merit, but only by the grace of God, working through the Holy Spirit
That is exactly what John the Baptist was saying when he saw his first cousin, Jesus, coming to be baptized. John was a powerful speaker, a very interesting and articulate person. Had he lived in our times, he would have been given a Talk Show. He went into the desert and yet people followed him. They wanted to hear him talk. He went to the mountains and people climb to hear him preach. He went to the muddy river of Jordan and yet people want to be baptized there. Imagine what kind of TV reality show he would put up if he were with us today? But then here comes a man, more powerful than he was, and yet coming to be baptized by him. Here comes Jesus, his first cousin, whom he had recognized by his own prophetic gift, to be more powerful than he is, the thong of whose sandals, he was not even unworthy to untie. And John said to the people, “I baptize you with water but He who is coming, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John did not want to baptize Jesus but at Jesus’ insistence that they follow tradition, he did, and when Jesus emerged from the water, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of the dove and a voice was heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The moment of baptism was the moment when the Holy Spirit enters the life of Jesus. And this is also the moment, when we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that we too, become children of God. During our own baptism, the Holy Spirit readily enters and communes with our human spirit---and we begin to live a new life, a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Do you believe this? Yes, we do. Sunday after Sunday, we recite the Nicene Creed---“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and together with the Father and the Son, He is worshipped and glorified.” But do we really believe it? Do the lives we lead and the relationships that we create really speak about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Sometimes I listen with humility to my Pentecostal friend when he said, “You Episcopalians and Catholics, believe the Holy Spirit is resident in you; we, Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit is not only resident in us, but we also president in us. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is really our presiding bishop.”
A story is told of a circus trapeze that walked on the tightrope attached from one end of the Niagara Falls to another. That would be from the U.S. side to the Canadian side. There was a large crowd admiring his courage and sense of balance. Then he said, “Do you believe that I can carry this log from the US side to the Canada side and back?” And people said, “Yes, we believe.” And so he carried the log and walked on the tightrope from the U.S. side to the Canadian side. And people applauded his achievement. Then he said to the crowd, “Do you believe I can carry another human being with me, from this end to the other while walking on the tight rope?” And the crowd again said, “Yes, we believe.” And the tightrope walker replied, “Then, if you really believe, may I ask for one volunteer?” And the crowd was completely silent---no one volunteered. Their level of belief is only head knowledge.
Faith in God sometimes requires from our lives a total dependence on the Holy Spirit. We walk by faith and not by sight. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham left his country and his people and went to the land which God was showing him, not knowing where he was going. Instead of settling in a palace, he lived in tents because he was always ready to hear where God was leading him. Many men and women after him have gone through the same experience. Men and women, boys and girls, even families who walked in prayer and obedience to God and God did not disappoint them. God called them people of faith and even some of them, like Abraham, did not receive the promise, their lives spoke of adventure, of holy experience, of divine visions, because they were looking not for the cities and houses and jobs made by human hands. Rather, they were ultimately seeking for a city, with a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God.
Perhaps it is symbolic that Jesus had to be born on the winter solstice, when the night was its darkest and the climate was at its coldest. Jesus was to come like a light in the dark, like the heat in the cold. He has come to ignite the fire of faith so that our weak bodies will be filled with energy, our despairing hearts will be filled with hope, and our fearful spirits will be filled with courage and strength. And here at his Baptism, Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He will preach Good News to the poor, he will heal the sick, he will set free the oppressed, he will bind the wounded, he will inspire the broken hearted, he will bring peace to those who are troubled and he will bring the kingdom of God to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Let me end my meditation with these words from the Gospel of John, “He was in the world and world was made by Him and yet the world knew Him not; He came to his own home and His own people received Him not; but to those who received Him, who believe in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”
Friends, by your baptism in Christ, you have received the adoption as children of God. You have been anointed by God in the power of the Holy Spirit. You have power to transform darkness into light. You have power to walk on the tightrope of your life. You have the power to triumph against all evil powers that threaten your existence. By the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will not only survive; you will prevail. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you-- in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.