Last Week after the Epiphany
February 15, 2015
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome, Italy
Sometimes there are moments in our lives that stand out…the times that shimmer with special significance and make us question whether we can ever return to life as it was before.
In my own life, I can point to some of these moments: the first time my family moved away from the town and home I had always known, the first time someone close to me died, the day I went to college, when I got married, when I was ordained as a priest, when my daughter Aja was born.
Each one of these moments changed the way I considered my life up until that point.
Moving to a new town made me realize that the culture and the rhythms of life that I had taken for granted were not as fixed as I once thought.
When my granddaddy died I realized a kind of grief…a deep-soul splitting grief…that I had never known before.
Saying goodbye to my parents’ home and becoming responsible for my own discipline and direction in college caused me to bid farewell to a carefree form of childhood that would never return.
Marriage and ordination made me understand that making commitments involve work and dedication, but that such commitments produce the deepest form of joy and satisfaction that I’ve known.
And of course, the birth of my daughter, opened up a chamber of my heart that I didn’t know existed…the wellspring from which unconditional love flows.
Knowing that love, and learning the lessons from each of these moments, made my life change forever.
It’s as if that one special moment in time cast a light back on the entire timeline of my life, and I was forced to both see the journey and path that I had walked up until that point, and know that it was impossible to go anywhere from there except onward.
Today is one of those days.
Baptism is one of those moments.
As I look at these three children, and the families who love them gathered together, I think back on how baptism is a special kind of transitional moment.
For those of us adults who bring these children to the waters, we are aware that their lives will never be the same again…and yet, they will need to be reminded “WHY” that is the case, as they grow and mature.
Why do the vows you make on their behalf today make it impossible to return to “life as it was” before this moment?
Why does the mark they receive mean that they are called into a special kind of community and fellowship…a body which is not bounded by church walls, nor denominational boundaries, but by the love of God that we have come to know in Jesus Christ?
Why do we allow our old selves to be “buried with Christ” and then expect our new selves to be raised with him?
Baptism is a special moment of transformation…in fact for those of us who are called Christian, it is THE moment that matters most…the moment that opens the door to an entirely different, and possible future.
And yet I think the hardest lesson for us to accept is that while this day is pivotal, and wonderful, and reveals all the majesty that awaits us down the road, we only experience the fullness of what we witness today, by journeying onward.
We live out the road of baptism, we grow in the faith, we rejoice in the gifts of a supportive and nurturing community, and we seek to find healing for our flaws together.
Each of these children will be moving forward from this day with a new identity…one that binds them to each other, to God, and to all the human family in a new, mystical way.
As sponsors, parents, and guides, it will be your task to encourage them to journey upon the road of baptized life.
You will be the ones who make the decisions on whether they go to church or not, whether they learn what it means to love their neighbors as themselves or not, whether they value and pursue spiritual growth and development or not.
You are the ones who know that their lives will never be the same after this moment…the question is: will you tell them so?
Today’s Gospel contains one such transformational moment in the life of Jesus, and the reaction of his disciples to it.
Personally, I have no clue how I would react to Jesus being transfigured in front of my eyes, nor the appearance of Judaism’s heroes of the faith in an instant out of thin air.
I’d probably be scared too!
And maybe out of fear, or out of a sincere desire to preserve the glory of that which I was witnessing, I’d want to control or capture the moment.
Because control made me feel safe. Or because capturing the moment would let me bask in that glory, and it would be enough to sustain me for the rest of my life.
Peter offers to make three tents, three dwellings for the pantheon he witnesses on the mountain that day, but Jesus leads him down off the mountain on a lifelong journey instead.
A journey that leads him to witness miracles, to confront his own demons of denial, and that eventually leads to following Jesus all the way to the cross and beyond.
If Peter had stayed on that mountain, the moment of transfiguration would not have been shared with others, and that’s what the glory was all about in the first place.
Like the manna that was gathered in the wilderness and hoarded, the experience would have turned moldy and wormy with time…unable to sustain him like the lifelong journey would.
Baptism is a mountaintop event.
It is a high point for the church and is a memory that each of you will have forever.
But if it remains only a memory, or if it is only a day, then we will miss out on the daily bread of the journey that baptism begins…and the world and our own lives will be diminished as a result.
How will each of you take this transitional moment and use it to further your journey, or to begin it anew?
How will you respond to the vows you make today…for yourself and on behalf of these little ones…to follow Christ and to share his love, respect and dignity for all human beings and this creation?
Only you can decide whether to begin the journey or not.
Only you can determine if this special moment of transformation leads to more life, for yourselves and for others.
With God’s help, let us go together to Jerusalem…let us go together on the journey…trusting that because of the Christ whom we follow, the special moments of transformation will not end today, but will meet us down the road.