Karen Hollis | January 8, 2023
Baptism of Jesus
Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen
I’m very excited to be here – this is the kind of moment we see coming from a long way off, and then suddenly we find ourselves here. I spent some time this week unpacking boxes in my new office and putting books on shelves . . . I have a lot of books, some of which were gifted to me during COVID, when my books were in 3 different locations. Now that they’re all together, I feel like my library is bursting at the seams – not a terrible problem for a book lover . . . but I might need some more shelves! One of the books I put away is a little one called Transitions that I read in seminary. The main point I always remember is the difference between transition and change. Transitions are seasons, like the one we’re living through, where relationships end, relationships begin, we move boxes, we paint offices, feel feelings. A change, on the other hand, is simply experiencing something different, like your new congregational minister arriving on Sunday and leading worship. A change is straight forward . . . the transition includes everything it took (and will take still) to get them here!
Transitions require a lot of process and tasks to be done. As a congregation, you engaged in a thorough process of visioning, learning, and clarifying your values and call. The MPS committee methodically carried out their search with prayer and discernment. Since signing the call papers, there has been diligent communication about moving my household, a coordinated effort to update the congregational minister’s office, conversation about priorities for the new minister, and surely many more things of which I am unaware. I imagine you’ve had conversations and read information about what was happening at Comox United . . . perhaps you even came today with curiosity.
I have also been preparing. When I arrived on Gabriola in 2018, I had already been in paid accountable ministry for 10 years, though this was my first time as a congregational minister. I spent the next 5 years there growing into this role and identity. I spent a lot of energy exploring scripture, emerging ways of thinking about church, and intentional ways of getting from where we are to where we want to go as communities of faith. I became a weekly preacher, settled into a rhythm of sermon writing. Christ Church Gabriola is a shared ministry – so I played with the liturgical traditions of the United and Anglican churches to see what could emerge from their mingling.
We’ve all been preparing ourselves on the inside, as well. When one chapter ends and another begins, if we’re so fortunate, we can lean on time . . . it’s that Holy Saturday space where we can grieve, hope, dream . . . sometimes we take an inventory of our memories, how our expectations compared with reality, where we can process feelings, ideas, beliefs. Sometimes we want to push through Holy Saturday to the other side . . . walking through it can be a bit agonizing. It is ultimately a gift of composting and allowing that which came before to help nourish what is emerging. Holy Saturday takes the time it takes and has surprises and turns along the way. I imagine one element of this internal processing for you all is grieving a former pastoral relationship that, due to circumstances outside anyone’s control, could never fully develop. For some that grief work will continue . . . luckly there are no firm boundaries or timelines on transitions. They take the time they take.
My internal transition began some time ago. Over a year before I began dialoguing with Comox about a call, I knew my time on Gabriola was coming to an end. I didn’t know the timeline, but I knew God was calling me forward in ministry and in life. As I told my Gabriola congregation at the end of December, my heart simultaneously broke and opened to new possibilities when I acknowledged the truth that God’s call for me was changing. This is part of being human – we can’t get around it . . . we just have to walk through it . . . fortunately we are never alone. God walks with us.
Along the way, my mother passed away after a 2-year journey with cancer . . . she passed a year ago in February. Part of my preparation for coming here has been to acknowledge . . . accept that I’m moving into a new chapter without her. Death is a part of life . . . and it just hurts so much sometimes. And God walks with us in the stuff of death and life . . . and transitions in between. Life is probably one long transition.
With regard to this transition of establishing a new pastoral relationship . . . I invite you to reflect for a moment on what this transition is like on the inside for you. Perhaps you come with hopes and expectations, bring strong feelings, memories. I invite you to just take a moment and crack open the door of curiosity.
One of the ways humans approach change and the transitions that accompany them, is ritual . . . like a wedding or a graduation. We have several rituals in the church: confirmation is how we mark coming-of-age. Communion is our regular ritual of remembering our relationship with Jesus and his role in our faith. Ritual brings together the physical and spiritual to acknowledge a new reality. It brings together everything external and everything internal into a moment of affirmation – a moment of yes!
For me the ritual of baptism is one of the most beautiful of our tradition. In baptism God affirms us as God’s own . . . as God’s beloved. We bless with water, because water cleanses our bodies, it quenches our thirst, it rushes down rivers and waters thirsty plants; water is wonderful for playing and splashing, and it is a powerful force. Water is powerful enough to harm us . . . and is specifically gifted to heal us. So John calls out to all who long for renewal, for a new beginning and relationship with God. He calls the people of his day . . . he calls to us today . . . Jesus even hears the call and joins us in baptism.
We have not only been preparing for a new pastoral relationship, but in the liturgical cycle of the church, we have also been preparing for this day of Jesus’ baptism. We walked through Advent and celebrated the birth of Christ in the world and in our hearts. It’s a small liturgical hop from Jesus’ birth to his baptism. While we love feeling the joy of Emmanuel, God with Us, when the person of Jesus comes to baptism, the gift that is already present here, begins to unfold. In baptism, everything that is seen and unseen about Jesus’ call to ministry comes together in a water blessing, in an affirmation from God. Whatever was Jesus’ own preparation, we do not know and probably can’t know . . . but we all know what it is to be human, what it is to begin something huge and to align ourselves with our calling. He is ready, and comes freely to the ritual of baptism, to be with all those who are committed to a new chapter, to a new relationship with God, and are ready to work for a new world that reflects God With Us.
Here at Comox United, on the Sunday where we celebrate Epiphany – new insight – and make that insight tangible in the ritual of baptism, we begin a new pastoral relationship. The actual ritual of covenanting will come on another day, but this is the beginning. With a little more time to prepare, I would have set up stations around the room with water for us to bless one another with the reminder: “you are beloved of God.” I will save that for another day. Still, for those here in person, before you leave the sanctuary today, you might want to visit one of the stations in the room with rocks and water, and perhaps touch your finger to the water and bless yourself, reminding yourself: “you are a beloved child of God.” Or perhaps you want to offer a rock into the water as a symbol for part of you that needs to be washed clean today for a new beginning. Or offer a rock for a part of you that needs to know we have arrived . . . that needs to know the seen and unseen converge here today . . . and do so with gratitude that God is a constant companion to our lives and ministry. Those on livestream or video, perhaps you will make your own water blessing today.
As a whole community of faith, in all the ways we come, with everything we bring, we are made new today. Let us receive God’s blessing and give thanks.