The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for the first Sunday after the Epiphany  

Based on Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3: 13-17

Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts, minds, and bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight this day.  Amen

This morning, we have another opportunity to reflect on how God makes Godself known in the world-of how God manifests Godself to humanity.  This morning, coming to us through the lens of yet another favourite bible story- the story of Jesus’ baptism in the muddy waters of the River Jordan by his own cousin, John the Baptist.

 It’s another one of those wonderful stories for our reflection as we bear witness to God’s love lived in and through the person of Jesus, now fully grown to manhood.

Some biblical scholars would suggest that we could pair these last four verses from chapter 3 of Matthew’s gospel Margaret read for us this morning with the first eleven verses of chapter 4 as Jesus, now clearly identified as God’s son, is immediately thrust into the wilderness for the work of testing and refining his acceptance of this blessing and responsibility into the hard and gritty work of making God’s vision of Shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom, a reality.

 But for today, we have only the four verses for our consideration that begin with Jesus’ arrival on the shores of the Jordan River. 

 Here we encounter along with Jesus, his cousin, John the Baptist who has been preaching a baptism of repentance to a growing crowd of his own followers and his prophecy that one more powerful than he is to follow.

 Here, in this morning’s reading, we meet Jesus and John as they enter into a dialogue about the appropriateness of the John, thought to be the less powerful leader of two, instructed to baptize Jesus, the longed for embodiment of God’s promise to God’s people over the centuries.

 Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described as the one who will not break a bruised reed nor quench a burning wick; Jesus, the one who will not grow faint or be crushed but who will instead become the one whose teachings will be like light to the blind and freedom to the oppressed and whose leadership will lay the groundwork for new, fruitful, and equitable ways of being in relationship.

Jesus, the one whose living and whose dying will bring God’s dream for the world to fruition, is blessed, identified, confirmed, and authorized for his life’s call right here in the muddy waters of the Jordan River this morning.

The story tells us that though John initially protests to Jesus’ request for baptism, Jesus encourages him to take the lead so that what has been prophesied will be fulfilled-come to pass.

And so it is, John does exactly what is asked of him.

 Indeed, we are told that, just as Jesus came up from the water, “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 

 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It feels like another one of those Kairos moments where time seems to stand still, doesn’t it?

 It feels like one of those ‘you had to be there’ experiences as Jesus’ is blessed, his identity is named, and as he assumes the mantle of authority of clarity and purpose for his life’s work - the creation of communities of healing and wholeness where the first shall ultimately be the last and the last first.

We would do well, I think, in the season of Epiphany to continue to reflect on how God blesses, calls, and identifies each one of us alone and together to new understandings of our meaning and purpose; to new understandings of what it is that God would have us be about as leaders and as followers in the Way modelled for us here in this foundational story from Matthew’s gospel.

During this season as we move from darkness to gradually increasingly longer days, and, as we anticipate entering fully into the blessings and the challenges of being the church in the year 2017, we would do well to reflect deeply on what it that God would have us be about, alone and together as the body of Christ in this time and in this place.

We would do well, I think to pray on and reflect deeply on our changing identity as a church in this time and in this place.

We would do well to consider how God makes Godself known to us in so many different ways and how God calls us to new opportunities to be blessed and identified in her ministries together as builders of God’s vision of Shalom right here and right now.

 This, being especially mindful of the upcoming annual congregational meeting set to take place in just a few Sunday’s time.

 We would do well, also, to be mindful of and considerate of how leaders are formed and strengthened for serving the church.  It happens not because we choose to respond by saying ‘yes’ but rather, this formation and this strengthening happens by testing, refining, and strengthening our skills and by making mistakes that are graciously received as part of the learning all along the learning curve that is life in community.   

 Just as Jesus enters immediately into a time of testing and refining of his skills in response to being blessed and identified by God to work for the kingdom that is emerging here and now, so too, are each of us called to risk learning to embrace and sometimes to let go of those calls.

This morning we will be hearing a word from one of our board members, Berkeley Scott, as he puts forward a call for contemplation around serving in new capacities as leaders; of considering letting go of leadership responsibilities that no longer feels fulfilling; and of considering what it might look and feel like to be blessed into assuming new roles or responsibilities.

 But before we go to that consideration for your on-going discernment, I have invited our current board chair, Susan McAlpine to come forward and to offers some of her thoughts on her experiences of being blessed into the learning curve of administrative and spiritual leadership oversight here at Knox.

 …welcome, Susan!....

 Let us continue to reflect on how our readings from scripture this morning have informed our understanding of the season of Epiphany, the time in the church year when we are on the lookout for how God blesses each one of us alone and in community as God’s beloved ones.  Let us be on the lookout for how we live out the responsibilities conferred upon us our various roles as leaders and as followers in the building of this particular community of healing and wholeness here and now.

May it be so, amen.