Debbie and I are the collectors in the family. There is always a nuclear family in the larger family that has an interest in the things that represent heritage, that stand as symbols of what the family has meant and what they have gathered over the course of, well, centuries. I have the beautiful Bible given to my grandmother by the international Brotherhood of Electrical Workers upon the death of my grandfather. We have a table that Gretchen left to us when she moved to Arizona and that she is going to have to break into my house and steal in order to get it back because I like it a lot. We have a lot of individual things which we weave together to make a picture of the family we come from.
We are not the people who want the really good antiques; that is someone else in the family. Not that we’d turn the antiques down, my dad has a nice drum table I want someday but I am in no hurry for it. But we are the ones who want items of significance, items that are markers of a particular place and time. Grandma Carnahan’s High School Graduation program, type-written and mimeographed in an old style duplicator, with that weird smell. She was Kathryn Moyer back then, just an eighteen year old girl, beginning her adulthood.
That is the kind of thing that attracts me, things that say, this is where we were, this is who we were, this is where we were going, this is what we felt, this was our joy, this was our sorrow. It is a little voyeuristic, I know, but in some of these cases, it is the only contact we have with that generation, the only clues as to the people they were, and the lives that they lived, so we take what we can get.
And so there is almost always at every family gathering, a moment when some of the accumulation of previous generations is shed to the younger. Debbie’s grandmother Emily passed away recently and the odd habits she had in parceling out the precious things was carried on and we got one cup and saucer out of a set, as did each of the other grandkids so that in order to have a set, we’d all have to come together for a tea party, but even that is a clue, a relationship key, it marks Emily for who she was and what she thought about things.
I wonder what we will leave behind for the collectors in the next generation. I’m not sure that Caitlyn will get the precious knick-knack affections that Debbie and I have, but I wonder how we will mark our time, signal who we were because I do not see the same things in our collection of stuff. I do not see the unique thingamabob that we have acquired on our own that will mark us for folks to remember, or to come to know us after we are gone.
we have other people’s treasures, to be sure, and that certainly marks us for the kind of people we are, but I wonder sometimes as I am trying to find out where I can put this or that, into which file to place which document, how to pack this or that figurine to ensure its survival.
Because we celebrate events in our lives. We mark the time by use of the landmarks which can stand for us and open the floodgates of memory. They are the sentinels standing on the ramparts of memory, controlling our access, leading us to the path where we meet people long since dead, days long since past.
Debbie had a birthday recently. She joined me in my forty-sixishness and that was a landmark. We have been married for twelve years, fifty-percent above average this past August, also a landmark. I have been here at Faith for seven years last September which is another landmark for me and for you guys. Those are all significant days in our lives.
But they are not just landmarks, signal moment, isolated and discrete.
They are still true. I am still married to Debbie for twelve years. even this coming August I will be married to Debbie twelve years, when the odometer turns to thirteen it does not eliminate the moment when twelve became true. I am still six and playing with my Tonka dump truck the real metal one with the sharp edges and the dump bed that really held about five shovel-fulls of dist and that was strong enough to sit on and ride around the yard. Just because I have grown past that particular age, that particular moment, does not remove it from me, it is not something that happened and can only be observed in the abstract.
I can still feel the metal edges on my butt. I can still feel the thrill of unwrapping it; I can still see the pleasure on my dad’s face, you all know that pleasure, when you know that you hit the gift lottery and found the perfect thing. I am still the kids who got the truck who played the games who proposed to the girl, who felt the call to ministry, who went to seminary, who took the youth group to Tennessee, who answered the call, who celebrated his daughter’s seventh birthday at Disneyland, who stands here today.
All of those isolated sentinel moment are not past in the life of a person, of a human being born of woman. They become a part of you; they become something that changes you. I know that when people think of change they think of becoming a vegetarian or some other life-altering transformation, some earth shattering change that <dramatic voice> alters the very fabric of your reality.
But the first time you discovered that you liked sushi, or Indian food, or pizza; that moment changed you. The first time you fell in love, the first time you fell out of love, the first time you were forcibly ejected from love, each of them changed you. The first time you ever tasted a strawberry, or saw a tulip all changed you and not just the first time, the hundredth time you saw a sunset still changed you.
Few of the things that Debbie and I have inherited from various relatives over the years have a lot of transformative power. They are sentimental clues to feelings that we had for people who have died, but they are the signs of changes that happened to other people, clues to the ways that our forebears have been changed into the people who changed the people who changed the people who raised us.
But those items are isolated, they are disconnected by distance.
I think too often we tend to think of our events that way. As Isolated, little islands that you cannot return to when you leave, little moments that somehow die when they are past. I had a chat with a young person a little while ago, on the phone, via text message, because that’s how they apparently prefer to communicate so in have trained my clunky thumbs to become far more smooth on the screen than they ever were designed to be, but they used the phrase, “Well, but I’m only thirteen once.”
Like thirteen was an island in the sea that had to be lived on for a year, and then left forever.
But at sixteen, she is still thirteen. She is thirteen and three, forever inhabiting the skin she wore at thirteen, forever changed by what happened to her during that year, forever moving through life as that person, and every other person she has become. You cannot leave thirteen behind; no matter how hard it is for some of us to remember what we were like back then. The things that have happened are always a part of us, no matter how hard we try and “live in the now” we cannot shed the days gone by until our memories fade, and our breath at last stops.
Until then we are all four, and fourteen, and falling in love, and losing a tooth and getting married and mourning a loss and celebrating a victory and being baptized.
Especially being baptized.
Baptism cannot be just something that happened. It is not an event that points to something else, like a china cup points to Emily and her china hutch or a Bible in a cedar box points to my grandfather and his death.
You were baptized but now, you are baptized.
Every day, like being thirteen, plus thirty three baptism changed you forever and is not something to be looked at through the rear view mirror, even the Baptism of Jesus Which we celebrate this morning is not something that happened so long ago that we can now only look at in a rear-view-mirror. If it were, then all of the baptisms since would be just the same. Single events, membership rituals to signal to the world that you were one of the club, in with the in crowd.
But it isn’t that.
It isn’t just another day in the life of Jesus and it isn’t just another day in the life of any of us. In His baptism Jesus enters into the waters of forgiveness, something that Luke leaves out of his account but which is more clearly seen in Mark’s Gospel. He enters into our condition, joining us in the soup, so to speak. He has no need of repentance nor forgiveness since he is the very image of God’s will to forgive and to save and yet he enters anyway.
Jesus is not acting that day for solely that day. He is not enacting some kind of play meant to teach a lesson to the crowd, a momentary parable for those who are present to see.
Jesus is getting baptized for all time. Jesus is transforming the very act of baptism from a symbol of God’s grace, to the actuality of God’s grace. No longer an act of repentance, remember He had nothing to repent, Jesus makes of the simple waters a way for God’s love to reach through the veil of sin and death that kept us separated and for that love to make us whole.
Not for a day. Not for something to look back on and to remember, but forever.
The baptism of Jesus is where He comes and joins us in this baptism, this ritual of washing and of pleading for forgiveness so that we can join Him in His blessedness. WE die with Him, drowning our old selves and rise from the waters transformed and if we fail to hear the voice of God giving us the divine assent and blessing, it is just because we have water in our ears.
From that moment on we are no longer the person we were. Not just in the same sense that I was talking about earlier, that we are changed by the earthly events in our lives, by the birthdays and anniversaries, but because we are changed on a whole different level.
You were not baptized. You are baptized. Your life has been freed by joining Jesus in this water, the water he strides into this morning so that death and sin and fear and despair might have no more hold on us the way that they did on our un-baptized bodies, we are wet with the waters of baptism all the days of our lives now, we are too slippery with water for the devil to grab a hold.
So why do we feel so dry sometimes? Why do we feel so lost and so alone? As if we were not there in the water with Jesus, as if we were not alongside the great host of the baptized who have had their old selves washed away, drowned in these waters and have risen a new creation, saved, changed, transformed, forever.
You are still there. In every minute of every day there is that same moment of rising from the waters to the Holy Spirit and the voice of God and the knowledge that there is no more need to fear what may come, no more need to dread the coming of the dawn because while the path we tread might be daunting and difficult, our destination has been assured by the one who made the simple act of washing, the most basic part of self-care I can imagine, into something that lasts not just a day, or a week. Is not ephemeral like the idea of being clean is ephemeral, trust me I have a kid living in my house.
Now it is changed, you are changed, and the water never leaves you.
Do not seek to dry off, to make of this baptism an event, a single moment. All you have to do is to let go of it and allow it to drench you in God’s grace every day until your last day.
I am six and I am thirty. I am graduating and I am getting married, I am celebrating one, two, five, ten twelve years of marriage. I am the sum of all of those things and most of all, like all of us, I am baptized. Today and every day we are rising from the waters renewed and refreshed, and we are moving on in the name of Jesus, soaking wet, the Holy Spirit perched on our heads, knowing the blessing of God.