St. Mary Nanoose Bay

January 13, 2019      

The Baptism of our Lord

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22                

I hope you were listening closely to the readings today – especially the first verse of the first reading from Isaiah, and the last verse of the Gospel reading from Luke. Together they make beautiful bookends to the story of our lives as followers of Christ.

            Let me refresh your memory!             

Firstly from Isaiah – “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.“ (43:1)            

And lastly from Luke – “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (3:22)            

What do you hear?  I hear something very wonder-full.

We, you and I, have been created in the image of God. We are God’s sons and daughters. God knows us by name. And we belong to God; no conditions, I’m just stating a fact. There is nothing we can do to “not belong.” We are beloved of God. And the fact that who we are is based in this love, is pleasing to God.            

Can we just sit for a moment with those words?            

Can we take in this sense of belonging, this deep and profound connection with the Divine?..............            

Unlike even our best human relationships, there is no chance of God bailing. The One who created us created us to be in relationship. With God. Forever. Period.           

  It’s on our end of the relationship where the drama, doubt, fear and lack of commitment is. We pretend we’re not worthy, we try and earn God’s love (which we already have!), we compete with others for Love, we hoard what we have been given, and harbor doubts that the rug might be pulled out from under us – that God would treat us like some of the people we have known.             All these shenanigans are what God invites us to be free of – to let go of the fear, drama, doubts, false humility and lack of self-esteem.              

I hope you also heard the wonderful verse in Luke about fire. Because I’ve been meditating on this verse since it caught my attention in Bible Study this week:            

John the Baptist is explaining to the people he is baptizing in the River Jordan that he is not the Messiah, but reassures them that the Messiah is coming, and….. in his and their lifetime! We hear him saying, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And then here comes the verse I want to reflect on with you, “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.”            

Is this a scary image for you? Does it conjure up hell, death, suffering??           

Initially it did for me. But if I believe how the readings today begin and end, I’m challenged to look for another way of interpreting this image.            

Fire has positive and negative connotations: we’ve already imagined some of the scary ones. Like all forms of power, fire can create good or harm. Fire, used for good, releases the power of the sun for heat, and light; and it cleanses. It revives a dying forest or farmer’s field by burning what is no longer useful or thriving so it can begin to thrive again. The ash from the fire fertilizers the newly opened space. Fire is a symbol of transformation, the tool of the alchemist. It is the hearth, the centre of a  household.            

Fire changes everything it encounters. Nothing can be unchanged. It is either consumed, converted or purified, warmed or steeled. Nothing goes away from fire unchanged.            

And so it is with God, who is sometimes referred to in the Holy Scriptures as a Holy Fire. Little by little, God’s fire burns more and more brightly in us, giving warmth to those around us.              

In this passage from Luke, John uses the image of the farmer, winnowing fork in hand, clearing his threshing floor and gathering what is worthwhile and life-sustaining from the harvest into his storehouse, burning the useless material left over.            

What is left over is what allowed the grain to grow – the stalk and leaves – and what protected it, the seed coverings, but once mature, those things are no longer of value. What’s valuable is what is inside –  the kernel, the essence, that which is nourishing and contributes to others.            

So it is with us, if we engage with God with open minds and hearts, and allow our spirits to grow and mature, we need to let go of those parts of our life that no longer serve – our egos, our possessions, our preferences, our secrets, our regrets, our fears, our doubts.            

We need to be purified, simplified. And that transforming fire, the trial by fire, that Holy Fire will free us and open us up to new life. Because everything that was created was, is, and will be re-created by God. Nothing goes to waste. Everything is recycled, re-used, made unto good.            

Just think of the people who have let God turn their lives of self indulgence or destruction into good. Those who come out of jail, or addiction, or those who abused their power to hurt others. We all know people who have let God turn their lives around and are now helping others.            

So if we know we have been created by God, and are known and loved by God, and if everything we surrender is transformed by God, what is it that we can offer up to God to be burned?            

What are you hanging on to that no longer serves you or others? What fear or worry or behaviour is keeping you from the light? What needs to be burnt away to create space for light and new growth? What is it?              

The fire is waiting. It is unquenchable. There is so much in this life, in this world that once released, once burned up, once transformed, could change everything. There is so much unnecessary stuff we can clinging on to.

Can we let go? Do we trust?              

Come to the table of love this morning.

Come and eat.

Know you are beloved and let God transform you.