This blog entry comes from my sermon preached at Good Shepherd on the Hill, Austin Texas, on the First Sunday after Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Let us pray. Almighty God, in this time of darkness, give us the light we need to see our path in a world of confusion and fear. Lead us to those places where your voice can reach us above the noise of distraction; and may we create a moment of quiet in which to hear you. Amen
The Gospel reading: Matthew 3:13-17
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.”
A Moment in Time
Today I want to talk to you about the Church Calendar. Now, everybody, relax. I know this is a terrifyingly titillating topic for a Sunday morning. Let me assure you: if you had a good night’s sleep, eaten a nutritionally dense breakfast and took your blood pressure meds, you will be all right. I will walk you through this and all will be well.
Now, to our topic for this morning: The Church Calendar
We love calendars! We are obsessed with them. Google “calendars,” and you will find hundreds of 2020 calendars available for purchase: simple ones, decorative ones, business ones, all styles, sizes and shapes.
All of them have one thing in common. They are Gregorian calendars, the international standard first introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory. While there are at least 40 other calendars in the world, the one internationally used calendar is the Gregorian Calendar.
So back to my first observation: We appear to be obsessed with them! My take on obsession is this. Obsession goes deeper than just liking something; it has unconscious implications as well. For example, we all love how our calendar is organized and convenient; and how it allows us to keep track of important dates, appointments, work commitments, errands, on and on.
On a deeper level, however, it appears to protect us from insecurities, unconscious fears and needs. For example, most of us have some fear of the unknown, for which we employ an arsenal of control behaviors to protect us. Our calendar is one of them! It offers us a reprieve from this fear. We develop a conviction that once an event is on the calendar, it will happen as we planned. It provides a sense of knowing what will happen next, shielding us from the fear of the unknown. And most significantly, it deceives us into thinking that we are capable of managing a phenomenon that in reality, no one can predict or control, the phenomenon that haunts our nights and frazzles our days. That phenomenon is Time.
Now I know how long a second is; and that 60 seconds make a minute; and 60 minutes make an hour; and 24 hours make a day; and seven days make a week. It sounds so orderly and contained and predictable. It’s always the same, day to day, person to person. And yet, is it? How do you explain that one person will tell you time flies; while the next says it crawls. Why does it take forever for a traffic light to turn green yet on the same day, for the same person, time races past him as he attempts to finish a task before deadline?
That’s not all. Despite the constants: 60 seconds in a minute; 60 minutes in an hour, these are only constants as we look at them in the present tense. Time is also cumulative; it has a past and a present. Which means we don’t all have the same time, do we? When you hear, oh, you have all the time in the world, what does that mean, when at the time of birth, one person has decades to live and another has only hours. And if you consider the same question asked at this split second, how would you answer? Do you have decades yet to live? Or years? Or frighteningly only hours? We don’t know! And there is no way of controlling for or predicting how much time anyone has in the world.
With that unsettling thought, let us turn our attention to the Church Calendar also known as the Liturgical Calendar.
The Church Calendar is similar to the Gregorian with its 365 days split somewhat evenly into twelve months, fifty-two weeks, holidays and seasons. That is where the similarities end and the differences begin. Recall the enormous New Year’s celebrations just twelve days ago? On the Church Calendar, New Year’s Day was just a blip on the screen in the middle of Christmas. For us the new year started the first Sunday of Advent that four-week season devoted to preparations for the celebration of Christmas. And unlike the Gregorian Calendar where Christmas is a one-day event, the Church Calendar devotes twelve days to Christmas. After Christmas, the calendar follows the life of Christ as we mark Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost, back to Advent.
While the Gregorian Calendar tracks and organizes our life through days, weeks, and months, the Church Calendar tracks our soul journey through the life of Christ. And while the Gregorian Calendar does its best to manage time, only the Church Calendar dares to take into account that one expression of time that defies containment, definition or categorization. It is nowhere on the Gregorian Calendar. It remains invisible, mystical, and profound. It is the Moment.
Epiphany is the season of the Moment; that moment when something happens that catches us unaware, that illuminates our understanding, that transforms our perspective on life and self, on God and our faith; that moves us.
Unlike Advent and Christmas that come with extensive to-do lists for us, Epiphany is the season when God has the extensive to-do list; when God does all the work. He picks the time and the setting to provide content for an Epiphany. He sets up the scene and supplies the props. He auditions and picks the players. And he does the talking. You see, we can’t make an epiphany. Only God can orchestrate an epiphany.
That’s why Jesus showed up at the Jordan River where his cousin was baptizing folks and asked John to baptize him. Now John knew that Jesus was not seeking the baptism he had to offer. His baptism was a baptism of repentance, and as far as anyone knew, Jesus didn’t need that. Jesus needed an Epiphany baptism so he made himself available where there was a good chance that God would be likely to speak. Jesus needed clarification and confirmation as to his identity and his destiny. John’s water was not powerful enough to do that. Nonetheless, Jesus prevailed upon him and John consented.
God picked the River Jordan. God supplied an audience and the water and the words of John, and he picked John the Baptist even before the man was born. John baptized Jesus, and as Jesus rose out of the water, John stepped away and God took over. He opened the heavens and sent his mystical messenger that Holy Ghost Dove to alight on Jesus, and then God spoke. Jesus listened. He paid attention. He wasn’t distracted; he knew something was happening and he paid attention to his Heavenly father’s words. “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
That Epiphany confirmed for Jesus his identity and his destiny. At that moment, Jesus knew exactly who He was and what he was destined to be and do. And when he experienced his epiphany, so do we. Not only was Jesus’s identity confirmed for him; it was confirmed for us as well.
I think that Jesus was expecting something when he approached John the Baptist that day. He may not have known precisely what or when, but he made himself available, and paid attention. I would wager that you made yourself available here today, in hopes of an epiphany. In hopes of hearing something that might illuminate your life path; that might re-define your perspective on life; re-define your identity and destiny. Maybe something in the sermon? In the powerful Scripture Frank just read? or the lyrics of a song that Sam picked? Or in the words of a prayer Kathy offered up for us?
It can happen! I’d suggest you came to the right place. You have to be here next week too when Kathy is baptizing baby Lucia. You will witness it. Take notice. Pay attention. When Kathy calls that Holy Ghost Dove into this place to touch the water in the baptismal font, it will happen. The Holy Spirit will be here, swirling around the room, hovering over the water, transforming it into something so powerful, that when touched to Lucia’s forehead will transform her into God’s precious daughter for life, cleansed from sin and born again to continue forever in the life of Jesus – Don’t miss it!
And what about communion? When Kathy offers up the communion prayer, do you hear what she asks God to do? She asks Him to send his Dove down to us, to touch the bread and wine, to transform them into food so powerful that it nourishes us to live forever in Christ! When you hear that word, SANCTIFY, prepare yourself! Pay attention. There’s an epiphany about to swirl around you.
You can miss it if you’re not paying attention. Maybe you’re mentally making your list for after-church grocery shopping during the communion prayer. Maybe you are distracted by the cute babies during the baptismal prayer. If that’s the case, do not despair. You have all the time in the world, right? . . . . Well, you always have next Sunday, right? hmmm . . . Or tomorrow? Maybe? Hey, no worries. God always gives us another chance. He does not despair. Just don’t let time get away from you, because while God may have all the time in the world, we obviously do not.
For that reason, I’d suggest we make ourselves available to the times and places where God is most likely to speak. Like Jesus did. Make yourself available in worship, prayer, song and quiet. Immerse yourself in God’s creations: nature, music, art, and space. God has been known to speak through them. And when you are in those places, don’t pick up your phone. Don’t check the calendar. Don’t click on the remote. Don’t go grab a bag of chips.
Instead, be still. Be brave. Quiet your mind. Listen for the fluttering of a dove’s wings. Lift your face to feel the breath of the Spirit. Wait for the silent words of God.
Somewhere in time there will be your moment. Pay attention. Listen. It’s coming. And when it does, everything will change. And you will have all the time in the world. You will have eternity, and nothing will be the same. Amen.