Some years ago I was putting on a jacket – a tweed sports coat I had not worn in a long time. As I put the jacket on, I felt something crinkle in the left breast pocket. Isn’t that a great feeling, a little mystery, a riddle? What will it be? A $20 dollar bill? A bill that needs to be paid?
But this wasn’t money and it wasn’t a bill. It was much better. It was a treasure, a little envelope with a note from a 6-year old girl named Rebecca addressed to Fr. Tim, God and Jesus. She had been in the hospital in Ocala because a pain in her hip led doctors to find a tumor. When I visited her, the doctors were preparing to transport her to Shands hospital in Gainesville, where they could determine if the tumor was cancer. I had prayed with her in the hospital. Somewhere between Ocala and Gainesville the tumor disappeared. She later gave me the envelope and inside was a note that said, “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
That note came to mind this week because I see it so clearly expressed in this passage from Isaiah, although not in those precise words. This promise in Isaiah takes fuller shape. “Fear not, for I am with you.”
Good Shepherd is blessed to have many generations in this church, ranging from seasoned members – those who have been here a long time and those who are new – as well as a lot of young families. A number of our families have multiple generations within them. One of those families is the Van Hooks.
We - all of us - have a job to do this morning, which is to welcome Cannon Dean Van Hook into the risen life of Jesus Christ.
That isn’t merely so that we can be and raise well-rounded, capable and good people: good family, good schools, good career path, good neighborhood, good church, check check check check. It is so that our lives will be transformed forever. That we will have our eternal place with God, and that in us and through us Jesus will continue to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, which is our model of baptism. To this day we baptize with water. Water is the outward sacramental sign of the inward washing away of sin that is underway. The water is important as the sign. I understand that some prefer to bring their own water, lake water, Crooked Lake water. We baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that isn’t all we do. We then say, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” (BCP 308)
That makes all the difference. John’s baptism of repentance was very good as far as it went and prepared people for Jesus. The baptism of Jesus introduces a new element – the power of the Holy Spirit through which we invite God to shape literally every aspect of our lives – in our persons, families, schools, careers, neighborhoods and church – check check check check - putting all of those elements of life under his mantle.
Cannon is just 6 months old. He is already a solid guy, like his daddy. He has a ready smile and is a real charmer. He has a large and loving family that will nurture him. We look at him and see unbounded potential. And we should. But we also know that he will have hard times, too. It’s quite possible that someday some girl will break his heart. We all know. Life gets hard and it will for him.
And so we come together as the household of God to claim the promise. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Cannon will pass through water this morning to claim that promise in the person of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-5)
So we receive his promise of salvation for eternity. Eternity includes today. So what does it mean to “walk in newness of life”?
We are supposed to be different. Why? because of the promises we hold from God in our baptism that he is with us and therefore we shall not fear. Fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of anything else reveals weakness in our faith. We don’t fear because God is with us. Much of our sin is actually rooted in fear; fear of death, fear of want, fear of rejection or fear of failure. The Lord has a very simple answer. Do not fear.
How will we know how we are doing? We can turn to Galatians chapter 5 for diagnostic tools.
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
WE signed up for that. Cannon’s parents are signing him up for that, and we’re all going to help them do it!
How do we know we aren’t doing well? These are the signs that we are not being led by the Spirit:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Let’s go back to the little girl, Rebecca, who had the tumor on her hip. That was 10 years ago. She just turned 16. Not only is her hip in good shape, she competes in equestrian events and won one in December. But the thing is, no matter how that issue with her hip might have turned out, Jesus had her; and he has her now. She still faces risk in her life every day. She’s 16. She’s starting to drive. Jesus has her. She’ll leave home in a couple of years. Jesus has her. She’s got to figure out what she’s going to do with her life. Jesus has her. Think about your own hardships; she may face similar ones. Jesus has her. God willing, she will grow old. Jesus has her. She may wind up with dementia and forget her own name. Jesus has her. The same is true for Cannon. The same is true for you… and for me.
Life is hard. Whatever comes, remember what your Lord God promises:
“Do not fear, for I am with you.”