January 7, 2018 Baptism of the Lord

Jesus Is Calling My Name, arr Jeff Wood   Chancel Choir

Spirit Says Do, African-American Spiritual, arr. Mark Freundt


We need leaders who recognize the harm being done
to people and planet through the dominant practices that
control, ignore, abuse, and oppress the human spirit.
We need leaders who put service over self,
stand steadfast in crises and failures, and
who display unshakable faith that
people can be generous, creative, and kind.

–Margaret Wheatley[i]

[i] www.margaretwheatley.com

As Good As Your Word Frederick Ohler[i]

[i] Frederick Ohler, Better Than Nice And Other Unconventional Prayers (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), p. 25.

good God
good Word
living, active
Being verb-
we have reduced You to a noun
a being
a word
subject made object that we can control.
Your Word is open
our ears are closed
or distracted to death
barraged by words of ad garble
Tower of Babel.
Your Word is creative
(“Let there be”-and it is-and it is good-it is very good).
Your Word is enfleshed
(in His being and saying and doing and dying and rising
truth before us, grace in person).
In our beginning
is Your Word
Being made flesh.
May we be
as good
as Your Word


Mark 1:1-15 (Scholars’ Version)
The good news of Jesus the Anointed begins with something Isaiah the prophet wrote:

“Here is my messenger, whom I send on ahead of you to prepare your way! A voice of someone shouting in the desert, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

So, John the Baptizer appeared in the desert calling for baptism and a change of heart that lead to forgiveness of sins. And everyone from the Judean countryside and all the residents of Jerusalem streamed out to him and got baptized by him in the Jordan River, admitting their sins and John wore a mantle made of camel hair and had a leather belt around his waist and lived on grasshoppers and wild honey. And he began his proclamation by saying, “Someone more powerful than I will succeed me, whose sandal straps I am not fit to bend down and untie. I’ve been baptizing you with water but he will baptize you with holy spirit.”

During the same period Jesus came from Nazareth, Galilee, and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And right away as he got up out of the water, he saw the skies torn open and the spirit coming down toward him like a dove. There was also a voice from the skies: “You are my son, the one I love-I fully approve of you.”

And right away the spirit drives him out into the desert. And he was in the desert for forty days, being put to the test by Satan and he was among the wild animals, and the heavenly messengers looked after him.

After John was turned in, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming God’s good news. His message went: “The time is up: the empire of God is arriving! Change your ways, and put your trust in the good news.”

Leonard Cohen
I saw the dove come down, the dove with the green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and flood. It came toward me in the style of the Holy Spirit descending. I had been sitting in a café for twenty-five years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender, said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I want your step to be light.

Sermon (transcribed from audio)–

If you go to the Web page and it says “staff” and you can read about the various staff at Southminster and under my thing it says one of my favorite Sundays is evolution Sunday which is Darwin’s birthday. And that’s kind of true, but actually there’s a Sunday that I really like. And that’s Baptism of the Lord’s Sunday. That’s actually today. It’s a Sunday that kind of is a wonderful centering Sunday and it’s also right near the beginning of the year which is today. And as I mentioned at the beginning of the service, I’m going for a few days out into the wilderness, but I am going to go to plan the services and as I’ve been thinking about that and thinking about what to do and what to say and kind of getting feedback and getting to know you a little bit. I’ve got and some feedback like with the survey and what not is “we want to know more about you John you’re good with all of the intellectual and the book stuff and we did read the Bible through cover to cover and that’s a bit bookish”, so I thought okay I will. But do you really know what you’re asking for?

Because my personal story is not that it’s any worse than anybody else’s or better or any different. It’s just that it has an abyss in it. Five years ago, I lost my son to suicide, and I know that was that was before you. And you don’t know that story; you don’t know him, but it’s here. He was twenty-five years old and he took his own life. So how do you relate to that? So everything that I do, and I’m not making an excuse for it, but everything, I see everything I say is colored by that experience and part of that is “What kind of a parent am I? What kind of a minister am I?” and those questions are there. And sometimes I go to the abyss and I look right in it. And you should know this, just you should know, just because it’s good information to know that those who are most at risk of suicide are those who have lost a relative to suicide.

So I go to the abyss because that’s there and I’m happy to say- I’m lucky to say- I’m alive today. Had a friend of mine who I now, well she became a friend after I did an interview with her. She has agoraphobia. She never leaves her house. She is lesbian and growing up in Appalachia in the Bible Belt. And she has other some other mental health struggles but she says, “I remember going down to the river and I was ready to take my life. And I had a revelation. And this revelation was that you don’t have to do it today. You don’t have to do it. I mean you can do it tomorrow but you can’t you know if you already do it today you don’t have that choice tomorrow.” So that was how she survived and sometimes that’s what life is like.

This is from the Big Lebowski. You know this film? This is the final scene. I’m not going to go through the whole scene of the thing but the line is “the dude abides”. And sometimes that’s what hope is.

I had a church member from my first church back to a couple Betty and John. And they both passed away this past year. They were in their 90s. John was on the PNC when I came to that first church, my first church, and they were really pillars of the congregation as well as the community. They have probably been members-I think John grew up in that church-he was a member for 90 years, I guess. But they were at that time I think when I was there probably 50 years of membership and she talked about, you know, the church she says, “Yeah we’ve been through a lot” and she said to me about the previous minister she says, “Well I didn’t him much, but he helped other people. You know, I abide.”

And I thought, “Yeah that’s what it means in part to live within community”-it’s to abide with ups and downs, with strikes, and gutters with life as it is and life as it can be. Today is, as I mentioned, is Baptism of the Lord Sunday and I was baptized three times. How many of you have been baptized? Now, I don’t do a lot of baptisms here. I think it’s gone out of vogue. But I think it’s a good thing.

I remember when I said I was baptized three times to the minister when I was going to go become a Presbyterian minister and I was kind of scolded about that because you know Presbyterians are only baptized once and that’s a big deal. We had ordination questions about being baptized once and if people want to come for another baptism we can’t give it to them. And I always thought, well, I didn’t always think, I used to follow the rules. But then I thought, you know why not? I mean if it’s something that’s powerful and meaningful. I was baptized as little baby, I didn’t know any better. I was baptized when I was eight when I was Assembly of God Church. And when I was 12, we went to the Southern Baptist Church and we all got baptized again whether we needed it or not.

But I think baptism is a powerful-is a powerful symbol and a means, and it’s a lot of things so you find John in the wilderness offering a baptism of forgiveness of sins. And people would go and they’d be baptized and so I think I could use that baptism. Maybe you could too.

So I’ll confess, confess the sense that I have not been as present to you as I might have been.

And that’s true.

Since Zach’s death has made me more impatient. Especially for things I think are trivial, and I’m not saying that’s a virtue. It isn’t, but sometimes people worry about things that are really I think kind of small. It’s like “dang” when we take you to the abyss and I don’t mean it that way but that’s where it comes in, so I apologize if I have done that to you.

There’s another aspect of baptism. So it’s forgiveness of sins and we could all probably get that again. But it’s also a baptism of belonging. We are baptized and we recognize that we belong on this earth or we belong in this congregation; we belong in this body; we belong in relationship with one another.

The voice comes out of the heaven and says, “You are my beloved” and that’s what we often need to hear so much. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation leader, said when he had self-doubt he’d go back and say and even remember his baptism. He would remember that despite his own shortcomings or his own doubts or his own insecurities or whatever it might be, he remembered who he was because the baptism itself reminded him of that. And so that’s one thing where we could all be rebaptized again or remember our baptism is that we belong here. We belong to this life, to this earth, to this family, to this community. To God however we understand God.

And then that last part of that was that John says, “that I baptize you with water. But one is coming who will baptize you with spirit”. And I’ve always wondered really what that meant. But I do know that spirit certainly is not static. It’s not a bird in a cage. It’s a bird that’s on the move. And I’m very pleased that our baptismal font is a birdbath because this is how I understand the life of the church you can think of the church or of faith or of doctrine or of anything as a bird cage. In other words you aren’t to leave it, you know. It’s the cage of belief. Or you can think of as a bird bath where you come in and splash around and get refreshed, and then with the wings of Spirit fly off again. And so I think of that part, and that’s more mysterious because that’s not as nailed down when we’re baptized. As Jesus talked about-or as John talked about- Jesus being baptized in the spirit it’s baptized into a movement. It’s something that’s fluid, it’s something that’s a verb, it’s something that’s moving, and it’s not something that one person defines for anybody else but witnesses to. That’s it.

It points to- says- this happened and Jesus is pointing around and he’s saying the empire of God, the Kingdom of God, this realm of Justice and Peace -pointing to that- and it’s here and we can participate in it.

And for me again, going back to my son, if there’s something that keeps me going is to realize that life is like that and it can change in a second. And so I really have this time to live the way I am called to live, invited to live. And so that’s why I find baptism, and I find the traditions of the church and the historical Jesus and all that stuff I talk about, personal. That it matters; that there is something that is calling me in my own personal life and in my collective life to live for. And that’s really what I wanted to say. And it’s rather random but losing, in my case, a son puts everything else on a lower plane and again I’m not saying that there’s an excuse or saying that’s a virtue because sometimes that’s just a numbing way to get through.

But there’s also a cool part of it too. It’s odd to say, but that is you don’t have to be afraid of much because nobody is going to do worse to you than that. So you can do anything you really are called to do and know that whatever happens that will be OK. And whatever happens you’ll be able to, in the words of Lebowski, be able to abide because that’s perhaps the biggest hope of all. Isn’t to solve the world’s problems sort of figure it all out. Or even our own. But to be able to abide through them and that itself is a great victory.


Welcome Carrie Newcomer
Carry nothing but what you must.
Lean in toward the Light.
Let it go, shake off the dust.
Lean in toward the Light.
Today is now, tomorrow beckons.
Lean in toward the Light.
Keep practicing resurrection.

Prayer of Thanksgiving From A New New Testament
This is the prayer they said:
We give thanks to you,
every life and heart stretches toward you,
O name untroubled,
honored with the name of God,
praised with the name of Father.

To everyone and everything
comes the kindness of the Father,
and love
and desire.

And if there is a sweet and simple teaching,
it gifts us mind, word, and knowledge:
mind, that we may understand you;
word, that we may interpret you;
knowledge, that we may know you.

We rejoice and are enlightened by your knowledge.
We rejoice that you have taught us about yourself.
We rejoice that in the body you have made us divine through your knowledge.

The thanksgiving of the human who reaches you is this alone:
that we know you.
We have known you,
O light of mind.
O light of life,
we have known you.

O womb of all that grows,
we have known you.
O womb pregnant with the nature of the Father,
we have known you.
O never-ending endurance of the Father who gives birth,
so we worship your goodness.
One wish we ask:
we wish to be protected in knowledge.
One protection we desire:
that we not stumble in this life.

When they said these things in prayer, they welcomed one another, and they went to eat their holy food, which had no blood in it.

Words of Institution from the Didache

Concerning the cup:

We thank you, our Father [and Mother], for the holy vine of David your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever.

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank you, our Father [and Mother], for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.

Partaking in the Bread and Cup
(All are welcome. No exceptions. Come, take a piece of bread, dip it in the cup, and partake in the bread and cup. Join the circle around the sanctuary to honor the Spirit of Love that transforms us into community).