Epiphanies come in many forms. Some of us have realizations about our personality. I remember the day I was dealing with something my daughter did wrong and I all of a sudden found myself saying the exact same thing my father would say. Here I was…. Growing up to be just like him… an Epiphany.
Other people realize that the person they should have been with all along was the girl next door. You get the idea; an Epiphany is a sudden, out of the blue realization about how the world really is and what needs to be done.
The type a lot of us can understand is a job epiphany. We wake up one morning and say, what am I doing? I never wanted to be a mortician; I wanted to be a lion tamer; and off we go to lion taming school; or some such thing.
Jesus was a tradesperson. He grew up in a family in which his father, and his father’s father were also people who worked with their hands. The word in Greek which got translated as carpenter could also be the word for stone cutter, tekton; but either way he built things and worked with his hands.
Then one day he realized that he was supposed to do something else, destined to do something else. Maybe he was listening to the monks over at Qumram, maybe he was hanging out at the back of the crowd listening to his cousin John; but he sensed, at the end of his 20’s; that his life was going to go in a different direction.
Called By Name
The prophet Isaiah seeks to comfort the people in rough times. It is like he looks out at a person who is struggling with the questions as to why life is like this, and he says: don’t be afraid, don’t worry, it will all be all right.
Why? Because you are God’s.
Formed, called by name, created as precious… this is what you are. And in knowing that you can face anything.
I think this is the beginning of any epiphany we have about our career or purpose. Whether you are thinking you might take up the ministry, like Jesus, or that whole lion tamer gig I was talking about – there comes a time when you think about who you are deep inside, what you were created to do, and how you feel about that.
Isaiah is right, there is a lot of strength that can come from the simple knowledge that we were created for something… that we were loved into life by God. That we were formed in a way that was intentional and that none of this is a mistake… not the way I look, not the way I think, not the way I feel.
When you know this and truly feel it do you start to think about what is motivating you, about whether you are living up to your full potential and it just makes you see the word differently. This is what Isaiah was on about, he was telling his friends, his fellow people that they needed to get back to basics, that they needed to remember who they were and that God was at the very heart of what they believed about the world, and if they did that, they could face anything.
So this is where we start our exploration of baptism, we start by knowing that there is a purpose in life, and that we are created for a purpose… life is never an accident, our life is never an accident… we were formed
for some reason, perhaps a reason we have not even begun to imagine…
Down by the River
There is an American Folk Spiritual I love, I am not going to sing it for you, but it is a simple tune with a haunting melody – the words go like this:
As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!
O sisters let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sisters let's go down
Down in the river to pray
Now, in the way I picture everything like a story, this is what they were singing while heading down to the banks of the Jordan to be baptized those many long years ago. And I think it happened like this; people heard there was this crazy preacher… they went out to watch… they got captivated… they started to warm to the message… they came back the next day, then the next…. They started humming along… they had an epiphany, they made a decision, and they waded out into the water…
And they went back to their lives…
Well, most did. Jesus had quite a different experience. He heard the voice of God calling to him, welcoming him, reminding him, challenging him…
Perhaps he was more open to it. Perhaps he was more suited to it. Certainly, as he preached throughout his life he told his followers over and over that they could hear that same voice, take up that same calling, and feel that close to God.
But for now, right now, he was the only one that came to know God’s love so strongly that he was ready to give his all… in fact, he was so in tune and close to the divine that he called God father, and felt God call him son.
I think that part of what happened to Jesus has to do with what Isaiah had been talking about, about the purpose of life, and discovering it. Imagine if one day you knew, just knew, why God had put you here… and the ideas of what you could accomplish just came pouring into your mind… For Jesus he finally saw his destiny, and knew he needed to set out in a new direction.
It was a powerful moment and it changed his whole life. It changed him. This was his epiphany moment.
So there is the very real sense of purpose that we are talking about embracing… but there is something deeper happening here as well, there is a sense of belonging, of love, of acceptance of the person. Jesus knew he had a destiny; but what he felt was loved.
He felt that God had accepted his crazy dreams and ideas, that it was ok not to be just like Joseph, that no matter what was coming God was on his side.
When we put these two things together, a sense of purpose and a sense of love, we have created the most powerful force in the universe.
Jesus spent the rest of his albeit short life trying to get this same thought across to us – you are God’s beloved. You are just as much created by this sense of love and acceptance and Jesus was. You are just as capable of living out a great destiny as Jesus was.
I wonder why we feel it is so hard to accept this? Perhaps it was that I was clumsy when I was a kid, or that I had friends make fun of me for the way I looked, or that I actually look at the celebrities on the screen or magazine covers and know I am not like them… but there is always this nagging sense that I am not enough… not smart enough, not skinny enough, not compassionate enough… a whole slew of things…
Anyone else ever feel that, or is it just me?
So here is the thing. Because of that sometimes I think I have nothing to offer and don’t bother. You can take that in whatever way you want… I sometimes do not paint because I am not a master artist. I have not yet learned to play the guitar because every time I pick it up I know I am not as good as other people… and sometimes I am too shy to start a conversation.
Just think how much a pervasive sense of love could change this. To know that we were totally accepted, totally loved, totally liked… unconditionally.
What an incredible difference that would make if we could just feel it, just know it… we would throw down our nets and follow…. Oh wait… that is the point of these stories isn’t it.
Jesus heard God’s voice at the moment of baptism and left everything to share God’s love. James and John heard God’s voice in Jesus acceptance and left everything to share God’s love. Paul heard God’s voice while on his way to Damascus through a vision and left everything to share God’s love….
See a pattern? These epiphanies of love, these a-ha moments, do have the power to change everything. And the reason they can change everything is that love is such a powerful counter to whatever we feel is going wrong with the world… Love, and knowing you are loved, strengthens you from the very core of your being.
Living Your Baptism
I think in the end, this is what baptism is all about – it is about accepting our true nature, accepting our giftedness, accepting the love that God is offering.
And when we know those things deep in our hearts we are so strengthened to love others that we help them find this very truth about themselves as well.
Jesus discovered in the moment of his baptism that God’s love had empowered him to do great things. We might not remember our own baptisms, but as we think about what they meant, about what it means to renew our faith, hopefully we will come to know that very same love and be strengthened by it.