“An Epiphany in an Ordinary Setting: The Waters of a River”     January 13, 2013

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22                                                                             Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   In preparing my sermon for today I did an internet search by asking “How many rivers are there in the world?”

A.    Nobody had an answer which tells me that there wasn’t anyone who wanted to count that high.

1.     What the internet did want to answer was the question “How many major rivers are there in the world?”

2.     Wikipedia listed.

3.     The Nile River is considered the longest at 4,132 miles.

4.     Just a few hundred miles behind the Nile were the: Amazon, Yangtze, and Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson thanks to Lews & Clark.

5.     Coming in as Wikipedia’s last major river was the Tagus which flows through Spain and Portugal.

6.     It is 625 miles in length.

B.     Not even making the list of major rivers was the River Jordan.

1.     It is only 156 miles in length.

2.     To compare, it is roughly 170 miles from here to Roanoke and the Jordan River is at least two exits less than that.

3.     The Jordan River starts in Israel in the Hilak Valley near the border with Lebanon and Syria and then flows into Lake Hula which is awfully marshy and then into the Sea of Galilee and finally the longest section which is the part with which most of us are familiar in order to end up in the Dead Sea which is well named.

II.                 Compared with other rivers the Jordan is a pretty ordinary river.

A.    On the surface it would appear that there is nothing special about its waters, except that there was an epiphany that occurred in those waters.

1.     There was a man sent of God whose name was John as the prologue from John’s Gospel states who also makes an appearance in Luke’s Gospel.

2.     Some people had come out to the Jordan River to question John as to whether or not he was the Messiah.

3.     I don’t know about you but I’ve been asked a lot of questions in my life but no one has ever asked me if I was the Messiah.

4.     There are plenty of reasons for why I’ve never been asked that question.

5.     But John was asked that question so there’s some stuff going on.

6.     Now John was weird, but he wasn’t deranged even though a few people may have wondered about that.

7.     He answered clearly and straight forwardly “I baptize with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)

B.     The one of whom John spoke showed up, his name was Jesus, and this very ordinary looking Jesus was baptized in the very ordinary waters of a very ordinary river called Jordan and this Jesus began to pray according to Luke when “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” and all that seems to me to be pretty extraordinary.

1.     In the liturgical year this Sunday is always Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

2.     For us Christians what happened in the waters of the Jordan was an epiphany for us although we’re a little confused as to what exactly happened.

3.     As you read the Gospel accounts some would seem to indicate that everyone heard the voice from heaven and saw the dove while others would seem to indicated that only Jesus heard the voice and saw the dove and that he talked much later with his disciples about what happened that day.

4.     I don’t know – I wasn’t there.

5.     But I do know this – we Christians read the scripture passages about the baptism of Jesus every Sunday after the Epiphany and we see what occurred in the waters of the Jordan as revelatory because we believe this is one of those events we begin to understand who this Jesus is and what he is about.

6.     Wikipedia and the rest of the world may not consider the Jordan a major river, but it is the “majorest” river for us for a number of reasons, most particularly because of the epiphany related to Jesus’ baptism.

C.     There’s a lot that can be said here but at his baptism Jesus is accepting who he is as the Son of God and what his mission will be for preaching the good news, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, dying on the cross and putting his trust in God the Father to raise him from the dead.

1.     There may have been a few people back then who thought Jesus was using the waters of the Jordan in a very ordinary way – to wash his face, but we Christians believe that Jesus was accepting his extraordinary mission to save humanity and to save the world.

2.     The time of preparation was over – it was time to get on with it.

3.     And the Holy Spirit came like a dove to empower him for that work and the voice from heaven came to affirm him in his commitment to that work for God’s sake.

III.              Today we are going to celebrate two baptisms at our 11:00 a.m. worship service and at all three worship services celebrate the reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant.

A.    The things and matters and purposes into which Jesus was baptized we are also.

1.     Our commitment is to join him in his life, death and resurrection and that is no small commitment.

2.     However, it helps to remember that the most important commitment is not our commitment to him (although you’d better take that seriously) but his commitment to us and he made that commitment because of his commitment to be the Son of God and to do God’s will.

3.     And to those who make that commitment not only is power made available through the Holy Spirit, but there is affirmation.

4.     The words spoken along ago are spoken again “You are my son, you are my daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

5.     As you come forward this day to touch the seemingly ordinary waters in these baptismal founts and tap the water to your forehead as the words echo in your head “Remember your baptism and be grateful” remember that there is power and there is affirmation.

6.     Allow the seemingly ordinary water which is part of what you may have thought was going to be an ordinary ritual for you become an epiphany for you.

7.     These waters are actually holy and God means for them to help you to become holy and God wants you to become holy because He loves.

8.     He knows you by name and before you even done one thing right He is saying “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

B.     Come to these waters and let these waters carry you not just 156 miles and not just 4,132 miles but all the way through this life to the life that awaits you by the crystal fountain that flows by the throne of God.