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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
1st Sunday after the Epiphany
January 11, 2009
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church

Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
Today  we  come  to  the  waters  of  baptism,  to  the  Jordan  river  and  see  John  the  
Baptist  in  his  strange  clothes,  calling  the  people  of  Judea  to  repent  of  their  sins  
and  be  baptized.  The  hills  there  are  rough  and  dusty;  what  trees  grow  are  not  
particularly  tall  because  it  doesn’t  rain  much.  Mostly  there  is  brown  grass  and  
some  shrubs.  According  to  our  gospel  reading,  many  people  were  responding  to  
John’s  call  --  walking  from  the  city  of  Jerusalem  and  the  countryside  of  Judea  to  
get  to  the  river.  They  gathered  there  so  John  could  wash  them  in  the  shallow,  
muddy  waters  of  the  Jordan.  It  was  a  ritual  washing,  symbolic,  showing  their  
decision  to  turn  from  their  sin  and  live  again  in  the ways  of  God.  Those  who  
came  to  John  were  serious.  Why  else  would  they  have  walked  so  far  to  arrive  at  
this  unimpressive  river  and  listen  to  this  odd  prophet,  be  dunked  in  murky  
waters,  unless  they  truly  desired  to  reconnect  with  God,  to  be  blessed  by  God,  to  
have  some  sort  of  change  occur  in  their  lives?   So  they  came  and  they  were  
baptized.  

They  are  like  us,  looking  for  hope,  wanting  to  take  a  step  that  will  truly  make  a  
difference  in  their  day  to  day  living.   Maybe  this  baptism  would  be  it  for  them.  
But  then  John  told  them  his  baptism  was  only  a  beginning.  As  the  people  walked  
up  from  the  river,  still  dripping,  he  said  “someone  is  coming  after  me  who  is  far  
greater.  Look  to  him.  I  baptize  you  with  water,  but  he  will  baptize  you  with  the  
Holy  Spirit.”   John’s  baptism  of  repentance  was  a  good  thing;  those  who  
participated  had  turned  back  to  God  and  were  washed  as  a  sign  of  their  
decision.   However,  a  different  baptism  was  coming,  one  that  would  signify  God’s  
decision  to  claim  people  as  his  own,  one  that  would  transform  human  lives.   

Today  we  have  the  honor  of  welcoming  two  new  brothers  into  the  fellowship  of  
the  Church,  the  Body  of  Christ,  through  the  sacrament  of  Holy  Baptism.   Nicholas  
Di Donata   and  Joseph  Schwenger   will  be  made  new  people  this  morning  in  the  
waters  of  baptism.  The-boys-they-have-been-up-until-now  will  die  with  Christ  as  the  
water  is  pour  over  their  heads,  and  a  new  boy  each  --  a  new  Nicholas  and  a  new  
Joseph  --  will  be  born  within  them.   They  will  receive  the  grace  of  God,  and  that  
grace  will  be  at  work  within  them  to  change  them  into  the  likeness  of  Jesus  
throughout  their  lives.   From  now  on  they  will  be  called  “sons  of  God”  and  
“brothers  of  Jesus.”   They  will  be  our  brothers  in  the  family  of  God’s  people  
throughout  the  world.    In  baptism  they  will  receive  forgiveness  of  sins,  the  
promise  of  everlasting  life,  the  assurance  of  God’s  never-ending  love  and  mercy.   
They  will  receive  the  gift  of  the  Holy  Spirit.    Thanks  be  to  God!

Our  gospel  reading  from  Mark,  this  morning,  might  be  seen  as  an  odd  take  on  
the  traditional  hero  story.  Hero  stories  abound  in  human  culture,  in  every  human  
society.  It  is  human  nature  to  hope  for  someone  to  come  and  rescue  us  from  
ourselves,  from  one  another.  We  long  for  a  hero  who  will  save  us  from  the  
trouble  we  get  into,  from  the  dangers  of  the  present,  the  uncertainties  of  the  
future;  from  things  that  threaten  us,  things  that  hurt  us,  things  that  frighten  us.   
Some  hero  stories  are  elaborate,  some  are  simple,  but  regardless,  they  generally  
follow  a  similar  structure.  The  hero  is,  in  most  ways,  an  ordinary  person –
someone  we  can  relate  to -  until  he  (or she)  has  a  unique  experience  that  sets  
him  apart  with  special  powers  or  capabilities.   Once  our  hero  assumes  his  
particular  strength  he  goes  off  to  fight  evil  and  save  the  day  for  the  “good  folks.”

It  is  easy  to  see  how  most  “hero”  tales  follow  this  pattern.  A man  is  bit  by  a  
spider  and  he  becomes  Spiderman,  able  to  build  webs  with  his  hands  and  scale  
tall  buildings  to  rescue  people.  Clark  Kent  is  just  a  news  reporter  until  he  steps  
into  a  phone  booth (they’re  gonna’  have  to  get  a  new  prop  for  him;  there are  no  
phone  booths  any  more)  and  changes  into  his  Superman  outfit -  then  he  can  fly  
and  has  super-human  strength.   Batman  and  Robin  live  as  ordinary  gentlemen  until  
they  put  on  their  bat  suits  and  jump  in  the  batmobile.   I  assume  it  is  the  same  
with  Ninjas  and  X-men,  too.   The  hero  always  saves  individuals  or  cities  from  
doom  by  being  stronger,  or  smarter;  a  better  fighter,  or  more  clever  than  his  evil  
opponent.

This  storyline  is  so  engrained  in  our  thinking  that  we  expect  it  whenever  there  is  
conflict  and  someone  steps  forward  to  resolve  the  situation.  We  assume  that  
person  is  going  to  be  brighter  or  stronger  or  more  skilled  or  to  have  superior  
weapons  to  defeat  the  enemy.  That’s  how  the  story  goes.   And  we,  human  beings,  
yearn  for  someone  to  come  and  save  us  --  to  rescue  us  from  predicaments  that  
are  unmanageable,  to  fix  relationships  we  don’t  know  how  to  mend,  to  shield  us  
from  pain, to  protect  us  from  the  death  that  is  inevitable.  

Today  Jesus  is  initiated  into  his  “hero-hood”   you-might-say   at  his  baptism.   At  this  
moment  it  is  revealed  to  us  just  who  he  is  and  why  he  is  here.   Mark’s  gospel  
does  not  have  a  narrative  about  Jesus’  birth.  There’s  nothing  about   Mary and  
Joseph,  angels  and  shepherds,  nothing  about  the  baby  Jesus  being  born  as  
Emmanuel,  God  come  to  live  among  us.    Mark  begins  his  gospel  by  simply  saying:  
“the  beginning  of  the  good  news  of  Jesus  Christ,  the Son  of  God.”  Then  comes  
the  familiar  quote  from  Isaiah  about  sending  a  messenger  to  “prepare  the way  of  
the  Lord.”  And  that  is  all  Mark  has  to  say until  we  get  to  our  gospel  reading  for  
this  morning.    So  Jesus’  baptism  is  the  moment  of  revelation,  the  unveiling  of  the  
hero.  

Our  reading  notes  that  Jesus  was  baptized  by  John,  and  it  says  that  as  Jesus  
was  coming  up  out  of  the  water  he  saw  the  heavens  “rent  asunder”  “ripped  wide  
open”  and  the  Spirit  descending  like  a  dove. [Holy  Mackerel!  -  the  barrier  between  
heaven  and  earth  has  been  ripped  in  two;  God  is  loose  in  the  world!!]   Then  
Jesus  heard  a  voice  that  told  him  “you  are  my  Son,  my  beloved,  and  I  am  well  
pleased  with  you.”    That  lays  it  out  pretty  clearly.  This  is  the  one  –  this  is  the  
hero  who  has  come  to  save  us.  

And  yet,  elements  of  this  story  are  puzzling;  they  do  not  correspond  to  the  usual  
hero  stories.  Usually,  the  hero  takes  the  leading  role  in  the  action – to  show  that  
he  is  decisive  and  strong,  someone  we  can  trust  and  follow.   But  in  this  story  
Jesus  doesn’t  “do”  anything.  He  goes  to  John  with  all  the  rest  of  the  people  and  
lets  John  baptize  him.  This  isn’t  some  glorious  scene,  either.  …  Some  of  you  may  
have  been  to  the  Holy  Land,  to  a  special  sight  on  the  northern  part  of  the  
Jordan  River  where  church  groups  are  invited  to  re-enact  the  baptism  of  Jesus.   It’
s  very  nice -  the  river  is  somewhat  deep  there  and  the  water  is  fairly  clear.  But  
that  site  is  much  too  far  from  Jerusalem  to  be  the  authentic  location  of  Jesus’  
baptism.  The  place  where  John  baptized  Jesus  was  further  south,  in  the  rolling,  
barren  hill  country  of  Judea,  where  the  river  is  narrow  and  the  water  is  dirtied  by  
sediment.  It  is  not  picturesque.   Nor  was  Jesus’  baptism  different  from  the  others.  
He went  down  into  the  water  like  everyone  else.  According  to  Mark,  only  Jesus  
saw  the  heavens  break  open  and  the  Spirit  descend.   To  all  appearances,  Jesus  
was  just  another  citizen  being  washed  by  John.   That’s  not  your  typical  “heroic”  
scene.

When  I  was  young,  my  favorite  of  the  cartoon  heroes  was  “Popeye.”   Popeye  was  
a  simple  character  --  a  skinny  fisherman,  just  a  regular  fellow  for  the  most  part.   
He  was  always  getting  beat  up  by  big  ol’  Brutus.  After  a  beating,  Popeye  would  
lie  on  the  ground  in  a  raggedy  heap  while  Brutus  made  off  with  Popeye’s  
girlfriend,  Olive  Oil.   Olive  Oil  would  be  hollering  for  Popeye  to  save  her,  but  
Popeye  would  be  helpless,  until…  he  was  able  to  open  his  trusty  can  of  spinach  
and  pop  the  contents  into  his  mouth..  (The  only  superhero  I  know  of  who  got  his  
powers  from   eating  vegetables.)   Once  Popeye  had  downed  that  can  of  spinach,  
his  arm  muscles  would  bulge,  he  would  spring  to  his  feet  and  chase  after  Brutus.  
When  he  caught  him,  Popeye  would  give  Brutus  a  pounding  and  carry  Olive  Oil  
safely  back  home.  Now,  that’s  how   a  hero-story  is  supposed  to  work;  that’s  how  
we  would  like  to  be  saved.

But  the  true  story  of  our  salvation  is  altogether  different.  Jesus  is  not  a  muscle  
man.  He  does  not  have  super-human  strength.  His  mission  is  not  to  beat  up  the  
bad  guys  for  us,  or  get  us  out  of  trouble,  or  shield  us  from  pain,  or  fix  our  
problems,  or  protect  us  from  having  to  die.   He  has  come  to  live  with  us,  to  
show  us  how  to  be  grown-up  human  beings  who  trust  and  love  God,  to  show  us  
how  to  face  death   knowing  we  will  be  raised  to  unending  life.    Jesus  is  a  
completely  different  sort  of  hero.   For  one  thing,  he  is  real.  He  is  like  us  in  our  
humanity,  even  though  he  is  God’s  Son.  He  does  not  see  through  walls  or  leap  
over  tall  buildings.  For  another,  his  objectives  are  good  for  everyone,  not  only  
for  a  few.  His  aim  is  not  to  punish  the  ‘bad’  and  reward  the  ‘good;’  he  has  come  
to  heal  all  creation.  Jesus  has  come  to  bless,  to  feed  the  hungry,  to  find  the  
lost,  and  to  confront   unjust  powers  in  this  world  with  truth  not  with  weapons.   
We  see  right  from  this  initial  story,  Jesus’  baptism,  that  this  is  a  different  kind  of  
salvation  narrative  from  what  we  are  used  to  hearing.   We  notice  right  away  that  
ours  is  a  different  kind  of  Savior.  

When  we  are  baptized,  we  become  different  people  because  our  lives  are  joined  
to  Jesus  forever.  We  die  to  ourselves  and  live  to  Jesus.  Which  is  to  say,  once  
we  are  baptized  our  own  interests  and  desires  take  a  backseat  to  God’s  Word  
and  God’s  ways.  It’s  a  transition  that  just  happens  because  of  what  we  receive  at  
baptism,  what  God  does  for  us.   When  we  are  baptized,  God  comes  down  from  
the  heavens  to  smile  upon  us,  as  God  will,  today,  look  lovingly  upon  Nicholas,  
upon  Joseph.   In  baptism,  God  reaches  out  and  touches  us,  as  God  will  touch  
these  two  this  morning,  and  says  “my  child,  whom  I  love  dearly.”   

From  your  baptismal  day  on,  you  cannot  possibly  wonder  if  God’s  love  is  only  for  
other  people  besides  you;  in  baptism  God  calls  your  name  and  says  “you  are  
mine.”   You  and  I  become  new  people  at  baptism  because  God  becomes  truly  our  
Father,  our  Mother.    God  lavishes  gifts  upon  us  in  baptism --  forgiveness  and  life,  
and  the  Holy  Spirit  to  guide  us,  to  strengthen  us  from  within  so  we  can  believe  
and  follow.   God’s  love  shows  itself  so  tenderly  at  baptism.  For  it  is  God  who  
draws  nearest  as  the  child  is  held  over  the  font,  as  the  water  is  poured  over  his  
head.   Today  God  will  breathe  that  first  breath  of  everlasting  life  onto  Nicholas,  
onto  Joseph,  a  promise  of  what  is  yet  to  come.  And  with  our  help,  their  family  in  
Christ,  they  will  know  themselves  loved  beyond  measure,  held  in  the  goodness  
and  grace  of  God,  now  and  forever more.                             amen.