1 Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord – Jan 9, 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
We just heard Luke tell us that Jesus has been baptized–and was praying—”when the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Now, that was a “moment”. A significant, full, ripe moment. It established a relationship.
It’s the season of Epiphany and in the Gospel stories we will read during this season, God parts the curtain for brief, shimmering moments, allowing us to look beneath and beyond the ordinary surfaces of our lives, and catch glimpses of the extraordinary.
There’s so much to this story, but whatever else Jesus’s baptism story is, it is first and foremost a story of the sacred ordinary. It’s a story of profound humility. The holy child conceived of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by angels, worshiped by shepherds, and feared by Herod, stands in the same muddy water we stand in. The Messiah’s first public act is a declaration of solidarity. God is one of us.
The Jordan River is rich with sacred history. The Jordan is where the ancient Israelites entered the land of Canaan. The Jordan is where the prophet Elijah ended his ministry and Elisha began his. The Jordan which flowed under the same sky God first opened ‘in the beginning’, at the dawn of Creation, is where Jesus is baptized, in the muddy waters of the Jordan.
I actually had my own “moment”, during preparation time for this homily. I was struck by a commentary that gave an illustration of John’s words: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”We need to consider the ancient Mediterranean times in which this story was told and that meat was not readily available, like it is now. But wheat…now wheat, back then, sustained the lives of both the rich and the poor. But here’s the important piece of knowledge that woke me up:
Shively Smith, an asst. professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology writes: “Imagine a farmer with a pitchfork in her hand as she throws the grain up in the air, letting the wind assist in the sifting process. The wind blows the lighter fibers (“the chaff”) from the pile of grain, which drops, because of its weightiness, to the floor in front of her. Her process creates two separate piles. The first pile is composed of the weighted grain, which is a useful food and textile resource. The second pile is composed of the lightweight fibers blown all over the floor and in need of collection. From today’s passage, this sorting technique had already occurred. Now, the task before the farmer is to gather them in two different places—namely, the grain goes to the granary for storage and the chaff to the refinery for burning. In other words, in Luke’s account, baptism is not cast as the sifting process; but as a moment after the initial sifting when the relocation process is commencing.”
So, my moment…it had to do with the realization about what sustains life….that “Chaff” refers to the husk of the grain, which was effectively the superfluous material remaining after harvest. It could not be consumed, and therefore could not sustain life. Chaff could not sustain life.
In baptism we are named and claimed as Christ’s own, forever. It begins a process of removing the chaff from our lives, and finding what gives us life, the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers us.
In Elizabeth O’Connor’s book, Cry Pain, Cry Hope she writes of hulling, which is removing the natural covering of a fruit or vegetable – like husking an ear of corn. In the same way we eliminate the chaff, when we hull or husk, we are removing the outer covering to get to the edible, life sustaining corn. She writes:
“Today in an early morning dream I was addressed by a voice. It asked, “What are you doing?” and I answered, “I am hulling my heart.” The voice asked “Why?” and I answered, “I have need of a hulled heart.”
I awoke, as I have so often this year, knowing that in my sleep I was at work on my life, convinced that if I dug in its soil long enough, deep enough, it would yield me a liberating truth. Is that truth in the metaphor “hulled heart”? I think only of pulling off the green leaves of strawberries that the fruit may be eaten. But hulling means more than that. We strip corn and peas of husks and pods to reach the inner fruit.
What are the hard, protective casings around my heart that must be stripped away to reach the hidden grain? What must I give up to lie bare and exposed like peas in a pod or corn on a cob? What are the wrappings that keep the essence of my life from becoming bread for the world? “This is my body broken for you.”
All this year, old occupations have not had the same meaning. They are husks that wrap me too tight around. I want to throw them off in one grand gesture, but I am afraid of falling into the ground and dying. Or that I will stand cold and shivering in the dark, waiting for an angel that may not come. Nevertheless, I am haunted by the biblical fact that it was the people who sat in darkness who saw a great light.”
“You are the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother’s womb. I’ve written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don’t be afraid. Trust that you are beloved. That is who you truly are.”
I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. You are sealed and marked as Christ’s own, forever and you can do all things, through Christ who strengthens you. Amen.