St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Love – This is what baptism is about

    June 05, 2022

    A story from someone who was there that day…

    It was a big crowd that day. We were all together in one place and, up to that point, I had no idea that many people cared about Jesus’ movement now that he had been crucified. You see, when someone dies in such a horrible way, people usually don’t admit to knowing them. But Jesus was different somehow.

    He taught us about what was truly important to God. And what was truly important to God is that we love one another and take care of one another. Sometimes that means we are kind when we’re feeling a bit grouchy. But most of the time, it means that we have to find ways of making sure everyone has enough to eat and a place to sleep and clothes to wear.

    This was news to so many people! For centuries we had all been taught that following the rules were what was important. And, it is! Most of the time, rules are helpful because they make sure everyone is being fair. But sometimes the rules and the laws that are created are unfair because powerful people sometimes get lost in wanting more power.

    And Jesus taught us that we all have to pay attention and make sure that all of God’s creatures are cared for. That means we have to break the rules sometimes, even and especially when it’s scary to do so.

    So, Jesus was… how do you say… controversial. Not everyone liked him because people who were powerful, who had a lot of money and got that money by treating people unfairly, those people wanted things to stay the same. They didn’t want to lose their money or their power. So Jesus created controversy. He always made us think about the way things are and helped us imagine a world where no one felt left out. This is why it was so surprising to me that so many people believed in him!

    I mean… I did. And my friends did. But then, we followed him everywhere. They called us his disciples because we were trying to follow his discipline of loving our neighbor. And we were trying to teach other people how to do that too.

    And we witnessed miracles – especially after Jesus died! We saw him in and amongst the faces of the people around us. We felt his presence whenever we broke bread together. We knew he was with us still.

    Was this true of all of these people too? Had Jesus appeared to them too? Did they also know him in the breaking of bread with one another? Because there must have been about 100… 150… maybe 200 people! Maybe more! How did this happen?

    But I’m getting ahead of myself… As I said, it was a big crowd that day. And we were all in one place. Peter had asked us to come together. It was 9am, which meant we all had to get up at daybreak so that we could walk to be here in time. Peter wasn’t sure exactly why we had to meet, he said, he just knew that we had to be together.

    All in one place. All those people. All in one place.

    People from my own homeland of Galilee were there. But there were also people from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia. People from Phrygia and Pamphylia and Egypt and Libya. Even people from Rome and from Crete. I only spoke a few languages so I only know this because others told me where all these people were from. I mean… it’s not like I could understand them.

    As we were all sort of milling about suddenly from above us, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind! And it filled the entire place! Hats and scarves went flying. Things started spinning and floating. The air kept moving! And rushing around… and moving! And there was so much air and it was making so much noise, that none of us could speak.

    Until suddenly it stopped. And it got so quiet you could hear a seed drop in the soft soil.

    I looked up… and it was like you could see lights or fire of some kind, circling everyone’s head! It was, to say, the least, a little scary. And I think we were all scared. What WAS that? What’s going on? What does this mean?

    And I got so anxious that I burst out… “What does this mean?” Only… instead of me speaking Aramaic, I was speaking Greek: ti simainei afto? Except… I didn’t know Greek. Or did I?

    And the person next to me, who I had been speaking to only moments ago, asked the same question. Only, he was speaking Arabic: madha yaeni hadha? And I didn’t know Arabic! Or did I?

    Suddenly, the place was filled with all kinds of languages and we all understood each other!

    We were all asking “What does this mean?!”

    [PEOPLE SPEAKING WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?]

    And we were saying it over and over again because… we just could not understand it!
    It kinda sounded like we were all had a little too much wine, ya know?

    But then Peter, who had called us all together, got up and started talking. At this point, I had no idea what language he was speaking… but it didn’t make any difference because we could all understand every word. Almost as though all of the ignorance and irresponsibility and wrong-headedness was suddenly gone and we were all on the same page!

    Peter said: People of Jerusalem: What is happening is exactly what our prophet Joel told us would happen! Joel told us that God declared this: I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your children shall all prophesy. And your young shall see visions. And your elders shall dream dreams. Upon those who are oppressed and those who have privilege, all will receive my Spirit! And everyone who calls on the name of God shall be liberated!

    I remember that Jesus talked like this too. He would remind us of what the prophets said and explain it in a way that helped us all understand that God is all about Love. He would say things like: If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God. And I remember thinking to myself, it’s like God and Love are one thing.

    Jesus was God’s gift to us and Jesus taught us to Love so completely that, to us, his love became God’s Love. It was all the same. God’s Love was Jesus’ Love. Jesus’ Love was God’s Love. And so if we learned how to love one another like Jesus taught us, then God’s name must be Love!

    And, I burst out: Agape!
    And suddenly everyone was calling God’s name of Love!

    [PEOPLE CALLING GOD’S NAME OF LOVE]

    So this is what it’s like, I thought to myself. This must what it’s like to truly know God and speak God’s name just as easily as I can breathe in and breathe out.

    In the early days, I heard tales that John the Baptist said Jesus would baptize by fire… this must be it. That God’s Spirit would come to rest on all of us and we would all come to know God’s name so deeply and so intimately, that we would all be able to call out to God because we all know God like we know our own breath.

    Love. This is what baptism is about.