10 January 2021
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
We’re back to the beginning…again. Advent and Christmas and Epiphany (which not coincidentally also includes New Years) always take us back to the beginning. The beginning of creation…the beginning of Jesus’ ministry…the beginning of a new year…It seems like we are always beginning again…thanks be to God for that.
Today, we stand on the threshold of a new year…not only did we move from 2020 to 2021, but today marks the seventh anniversary of the beginning of my ministry with you all. So today, I’m standing by the font so that we can mark this new beginning…again.
The font…the waters of baptism…is where all of our Christian journey’s begin. It’s where we return to renew the vows and promises we made or were made on our behalf at baptism. It is where we will renew the covenant we have with God. This is where it begins.
“We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water” (BCP, p.306), is the way the prayer for blessing baptismal water begins. Water is a gift…but so is everything…all of our life and everything in it…is a gift from God.
“Over water,” the prayer continues, “the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.” We heard that this morning in our Genesis reading. This water is the primordial sea from which all life emerges…
But it’s also the Sea…through which God “led the children of Israel out of their bondage…” and it’s the River Jordan…“In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John…” (we heard that today, too). The water in the font is the primordial chaos…the seemingly impossible path of salvation…and the place where we maybe first hear, that still small voice that whispers…“You are my child, my beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
In the waters of baptism, the prayer says, “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” In water…by water…through water…(and the Holy Spirit) in this place, we are reborn…We are renewed…We are re-enlivened and recommit ourselves…to begin again…over and over and over.
Sometimes the renewal of baptismal vows on days when we don’t have a baptism can feel…sort of pro forma…sort of perfunctory…but today…after the year we’ve had…after these long months…after the past few days we’ve lived through…I don’t want this this ritual of renewing vows to be fleeting…I can’t have them be superficial…because I need some renewal…some refreshment…I need to be reconnected with…and deeply rooted in that good ground of being…that eternal sea of love from which we all draw life. Don’t you? I want us to leave here with more than a passing reminder that we are blessed…I want us to reaffirm our place in love and goodness…and to hold fast to that…so that we can energetically rise to the challenges facing us…so that we can enter this year with hope…so that we can recommit to…and more fully live out the ministry of reconciliation of all people to God and one another to which we are called.
So I invite you to get a small glass or bowl of water, wherever you are, and as we give thanks…as we renew the covenant…as we recommit to our vows…as you make that commitment…I invite you to dip your fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross over yourselves…to feel that tangible reminder of your baptism… to physically reconnect with the ground of your being which is love…and to with all your heart, soul, and mind to embrace your call to work for reconciliation.