River Time – Rev Kathy Guin
Today on this Feast Day - we’re gathered at the River. Or as they say in the Northern neck of Virginia – Rivah! But not to make light of it – today is a big day. We know it’s a big deal when we see the Big Capital Letters stating that we’re celebrating The Baptism of our Lord. So what do we find as we look at this story?
As we hear Luke tell the story, we see everyone is focusing on who John the Baptist. There were great crowds coming all the way out into the desert to seek John. John was preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins. Jesus is barely noticed in this scene. It’s John who’s making the big splash.
But then things change after Jesus is baptized. When Jesus is praying - that the skies opened up and the Holy Spirit like a Dove descending, came down on him. Then we hear “You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased.”
So how do we see this scene in our lives on this Day – where are we? Are you focusing on the image of God’s booming voice -that is affirming and strengthening Jesus for ministry? Are you focusing on the gentleness of the image of a dove descending - that through Christ’s Baptism, we Receive God’s Spirit? Where does your heart led you?
I was thinking of these connections when I spoke to Shirley Jones, our wonderful parishioner, who is out of the area taking care of her nephew right now. As we were talking, I saw an incredible light piercing through the thick wall of clouds. We talked about this sight, which reminded me of our Gospel passage and the focus of gathering at the River. Which of course led to singing the Gospel song “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Then she shared a story of how her Momma would take all the kids down to the river before going back to school. Not everyone could swim, so they’d wade and splash. And many years later they all talk about the way they’d return there each year. What an incredible gift this is to her children to remember and hold onto in life!
We hear echoes of this story in the song “River” by Leon Bridges as he sings:
In my darkness I remember
Momma’s words reoccur to me
"Surrender to the good Lord
And he’ll wipe your slate clean"
Take me to your river
I wanna go
Oh, go on
Take me to your river
I wanna know.
The River, Change and Redemption are central to our lives with Christ. Often we underestimate God’s powerful love or we just see Christ’s love just as a sweet comfort in our lives. Or we mistakenly see repentance as self-loathing vs keen insight, an awareness that grows over time as we mature in our faith.
Faith means we know we are already in The River of God’s Infinite Love. The invitation is always there to gather in the River, to remember we’re there with others and the absolute Joy found in forgiveness. God is a riverbed of Mercy, calling you by Name, claiming you as a beloved child.
Returning to the River to Remember, we are blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the path Christ shows us, God promises to forgive, renew, and restore us at all times.
Jesus said that “Whoever believes in me. ‘ Out of their heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” As you pray of the power of the living water in you, here’s another translation (The Message) of this passage as we find John describing the work of Jesus who will “ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you. Changing you from the inside out.” The connection of the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit is in you. We are connected, and when we come together then we live graciously.
There’s a story told about a desert monk of the early church, Abba Joseph. A young monk came to see him and said, “As far as I can say my prayers, I fast a little, try to live in peace and keep thoughts pure. What else can I do.”
Abba Joseph stood up and spread out his hands toward heaven, and each of his fingertips was lit with flames. He said to the young monk, “If you want to, you can be totally fire.” Here’s our deep water invitation to live out our Baptism, a baptismal faith on fire with Christ’s redeeming love through the gift of the Holy Spirit!