The First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord

The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 3:15-17; 21-22

TODAY, I WANT TO TELL YOU A TRUE STORY (WELL, ALL MY STORIES ARE TRUE, BUT SOME ARE TRUER THAN OTHERS). AS A CHAPLAIN IN GERMANY, I HAD TWO WORSHIP SERVICES EACH SUNDAY; AT 8:00 AM, I HAD THE LUTHERAN SERVICE, AND AT 11:00 AM THE GENERAL PROTESTANT SERVICE. THIS SECOND WORSHIP WAS FOR ALL PROTESTANT DENOMINATIONS, INCLUDING A FEW “LATTER DAY LUTHERANS” WHO COULDN’T GET UP EARLY, SO IT WAS LESS LITURGICAL, BUT STILL WITH STRUCTURE. IN ORDER TO MEET THE RELIGIOUS NEEDS OF A SPECTURM OF DENOMINATIONS FROM ASSEMBLY OF GOD TO HIGH CHURCH EPISCOPALIAN, I HAD TO BE SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE IN SOME THINGS; SUCH AS HAVING THE EUCHARIST ONLY ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF THE MONTH, AND THEN HAVING THE PEOPLE COME TO THE CHANCEL RAIL AS WELL AS DISTRIBUTING THE ELEMENTS TO THOSE SEATED IN THE PEWS. THE ONE THING ABOUT WHICH I WAS NOT FLEXIBLE WAS WHEN A COUPLE WOULD ASK ME TO BAPTISE THEIR BABY. THIS I WOULD DO ONLY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CONGREGATION AS PART OF THE WORSHIP SERVICE.

THIS WAS A LARGE CONGREGATION, WITH AN AVERAGE ATTENDANCE OF OVER 350 EACH SUNDAY; BEING THE ONLY PROTESTANT WORSHIP SERVICE ON A SECURE POST HELPED. OF ALL THOSE PEOPLE, ONLY ONE PERSON TOOK EXCEPTION TO THE BAPTISM OF INFANTS DURING WORSHIP. HE COMPLAINED THAT I WAS VIOLATING HIS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND IMPOSING MY DOCTRINES ON HIM. THE FACT THAT I HAD ALSO BAPTIZED ADULTS APPARENTLY ADDED NO WEIGHT TO MY ARGUMENT THAT I WAS MEETING THE NEEDS OF ALL THOSE ASSEMBLED. EVERY TIME I BAPTIZED AN INFANT, I COULD BE CERTAIN THAT HE WOULD HARRANG ME AFTER WORSHIP AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH, SHAKE HIS FINGER IN MY FACE, AND TELL ME HOW OFFENDED HE WAS.

THINGS CAME TO A HEAD IN THE MOST WONDERFULL OF WAYS. I WAS IN MY OFFICE ONE DAY, WHEN MY SECRETARY STUCK HER HEAD IN THE DOOR AND, WITH A SMILE, SAID SOMEONE WANTED TO SPEAK WITH ME. THINKING IT TO BE A SOLDIER, I SAID “SEND HIM IN.” SHE USHERED IN THIS TINY SEVEN YEAR OLD GIRL. SHE HAD BEEN COMING TO WORSHIP FOR OVER A YEAR ALL BY HERSELF. I BELIEVE SHE JOINED THE YOUTH GROUP TO GET CLOSE TO MY SON, BUT ENDED UP ACTUALLY GETTING ABSORBED IN THE LIFE OF THE CONGREGATION, AND WAS PRESENT EVERY TIME THE DOORS WHERE OPEN. SHE CAME INTO MY OFFICE, SCOOTED BACK IN THE OVERSTUFFED CHAIR, AND, WITH HER SKINNY LEGS STICKING STRAIGHT OUT, SHE SAID, “CHAPLAIN GEORGE, I WANT TO BE BAPTIZED.” WHEN I ASKED HER IF SHE KNEW WHAT BAPTISM MEANT, SHE REPLIED, “GOD WILL WASH AWAY MY SINS, GIVE ME THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND MAKE ME A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH.” THINKING TO EDUCATE THE CHILD, I SAID, “YOU KNOW, THAT MEANS MORE THAN THE CHURCH HERE AT PATCH BARRACKS.” THE CHILD LOOKED ME RIGHT IN THE EYES AND SAID, “I KNOW; IT MEANS ALL CHRISTIANS EVERYWHERE WILL BE MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS. THAT’S WHAT I WANT.” THUS ENDED THE CATHECETICAL INSTRUCTION.

ON THE SUNDAY OF HER BAPTISM, SHE CAME TO WORSHP ALONE AS USUAL. HER PARENTS DID NOT CARE ENOUGH TO ATTEND, YET THEY DID NOT FORBID IT EITHER. DRESSED IN HER BEST, SHE CAME TO THE FONT ALL ALONE. I WAS GOING TO SPONSER HER MYSELF, BUT, IN ERROR, I READ OUT “WHO PRESENTS THIS CHILD FOR BAPTISM?’ THE ENTIRE CONGREGATION, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF ONE MAN, STOOD UP AND SAID, “I DO.”

AS I STOOD WITH THE CHILD TO GREET THE PEOPLE AFTER WORSHIP, I FELT A TUG ON MY HYMNAL. THAT ONE MAN HAD STUCK A PAPER IN THE PAGES OF MY BOOK. IT WAS A NOTE LIKENING ME TO THE FALSE PROPHET WHO PRECEEDS THE BEAST IN THE REVELATION TO JOHN. HE DID NOT THINK EVEN THAT CHILD WAS OLD ENOUGH TO BE BAPTIZED. I TURNED TO HIM AND, IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD AND THE ASSEMBLED CONGREGATION, TOLD HIM I REALLY WANTED HIM TO FREELY PRACTICE HIS RELIGION; BUT HE WAS NOT TO DO IT HERE, AND THAT HE WAS NOT WELCOME TO RETURN. NO ONE APPLAUDED, BUT THERE WERE A LOT OF SMILES ON THE STEPS OF THE CHURCH THAT MORNING.

THE HOLY SPIRIT HAD LEAD THAT LITTLE GIRL TO THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, YET, FOR SOME UNKNOWABLE REASON, THE SAME SPIRIT COULD NOT CONVINCE THAT 40 YEAR OLD MAN THAT WE ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST AND SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD. I CAN MAKE NO DISTINCTION AS TO HOW SOMEONE COMES TO THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, WHETHER AS AN INFANT OR AS AN ADULT AFTER CATHECETICAL INSTRUCTION. TO ME, TO DEMAND THAT ONE BE A CERTAIN AGE, OR TO PLACE RESTRICTIONS OR REQUIREMENTS AS A BARRIER TO BAPTISM IS A DENIAL OF THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. IF YOU WERE BROUGHT TO THE FONT BY YOUR PARENTS, OR IF YOU WALKED UP TO IT ON YOUR OWN TWO FEET, YOU WERE BROUGHT THERE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

LUKE WRITES A LOT ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT IN HIS GOSPEL. ON THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, WE READ AND HEARD ABOUT THE CHILD, JOHN, LEAPING IN HIS MOTHER’S WOMB WHEN MARY GREETED ELIZABETH. TODAY, WE READ ABOUT THE SPIRIT DESCENDING LIKE A DOVE AT THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD. SURELY, THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS WITH US AS HE FORMS US IN OUR CREATION, BECAUSE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE SPIRIT OF LIFE. SURELY, THE HOLY SPIRIT DESCENDS UPON US IN OUR OWN BAPTIZM, BECAUSE THE SAME SPIRIT OF LIFE THEN BEGINS IN US A NEW LIFE. WE CAN KNOW, WITH CERTAINTY, THAT WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, BECAUSE, AS WE LIVE THIS NEW LIFE IN CHRIST, WE HAVE THE EVER PRESENT ADVOCATE OF GOD LEADING US, PROMPTING US, SHOWING US HOW TO LIVE A LIFE THAT BEARS THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT. IT IS ONLY AS WE OPEN OURSELVES TO THE MOVEMENT OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD THAT WE CAN BE THE CHILD OF GOD WE WERE CREATED TO BE, AND DO THE WORK OF THE KINGDOM FOR WHICH WE WERE FORMED.

TODAY (AT THE 1030 SERVICE) WE WILL WELCOME A NEW BORN CHILD OF GOD, A NEW SISTER IN CHRIST, SHARON STURGEON, WHO BEGINS HER NEW LIFE AS AN ADULT. AS SHE IS WASHED IN THE WATER OF REGENERATION, AND RECEIVES THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE TOO WILL OPEN OUR SPIRITS TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN A REAFFIRMATION OF OUR BAPTISMAL COVENANT, PUBLICLY PROCLAIMING THAT WE ARE ONE IN THE SPIRIT OF GOD AND THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD IN THIS PLACE. WE WILL WELCOME HER, AS WE WILL WELCOME ALL WHO COME TO THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, TO JOIN US IN THIS NEW LIFE TOGETHER.

THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD IS THE SPIRIT OF UNITY; AS THE FATHER IS IN THE SON AND THE SON IS IN THE FATHER, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT WE ARE IN CHRIST, AND THROUGH CHRIST, WE ARE IN EACH OTHER AND IN THE FATHER. HOW, THEN, CAN WE EVER SAY NO TO ANYONE WHO COMES TO THE WATERS OF ETERNAL LIFE?

AMEN

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