The Baptism of Our Lord A’23
8 January 2023 (8am service)
Matthew 3.13-17
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“O God, help us to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Amen.” – Sr. Marina Wiederkehr


Christmas is over and we are now in the season of the Church Year known as “Epiphany.” Epiphany is a Greek word that means “manifestation.” Manifestation, of course means to “show something.” That “something” in the Church’s case is the showing of Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-awaited Messiah – the very Son of God. The first showing was to Israel, and the second showing was to the Gentiles as symbolized by the Magi, or the “three wise men” as subsequent Church tradition called them. These seekers who followed the star to Bethlehem brought with them gifts fit for a King. The gift of Gold was the symbol of great wealth. Frankincense was a costly and fragrant resin reserved for King’s palaces and for temple worship represented the divinity of this child-king.  The third gift was Myrrh, another costly resin, that was used in the embalming process, and pointed to Jesus’ future sacrifice. The initial eyewitnesses to this marvelous good news were a pretty small audience, but an audience nonetheless, for what good is a manifestation if there are no eyewitness to actually see it understand it, and pass it on to those coming after them.  Someone can paint the most beautiful painting in the world and place it in a gallery but if no one ever comes and sees it and appreciates it, its blessing remains hidden.

Alas this was and is true about Jesus’ coming into the world. There were those who for various reasons were unable to see Jesus for who he really was and as a result were unable to see God for who God really was, and couldn’t even see themselves. Perhaps some were simply too busy and self-absorbed to notice. Others had a preconceived idea of who a true Messiah would be and how they would act. The gospel tells us that there were also people who were filled with expectations looking for a powerful prophet king that would rout the Romans from Jerusalem and deliver the Jews from the Roman occupation.  A baby was definitely not on their radar screens and their GPS would have never led them to lowly Bethlehem. The Messiah was manifesting all over the place but they couldn’t see him for who he was. Their lack of vision rendered them blind to the God that was safe and gentle as a baby and as kind and faithful as a carpenter.

Today’s gospel fast-forwards thirty years from Jesus’ childhood home where he was visited by the wise men to Jesus at age thirty at the river Jordan where his true identity would be manifested during his baptism by John the Baptist.  The whole Trinity gets involved with the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Because of our identification with Christ in baptism we too are God’s beloved sons and daughters.

This status of being God’s beloved is given freely to us. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians was talking about this when he wrote: “to the praise of his glorious grace, because he has made us accepted in the Beloved.”[1] This is absolutely true on the days when we feel like it’s true and on the days that we don’t!

It’s been said that most preachers really have only one or two sermons and all the rest are just variations on the same theme. I think that’s probably true. Today I preach one of mine. It’s a message that is so simple its profound, so easy that its hard and it is simply this – you are accepted and loved by God unconditionally! As the 19th cen. Poet William Blake put it in his poem “The Little Black Boy”: “And we are put on earth a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love…”[2]

Many good and God-fearing people have the hardest time when it comes to being able to accept God’s unconditional love. Once I was at the Shell station on JFK filling up my tank when a man suddenly stepped around the gas pump and handed me what looked like a coupon of some kind and asked, “Did you get one of these?” I took it and thought to myself ‘Maybe I’ll get a discount’ but upon closer inspection I was struck by the following words: “DO YOU BELIEVE THIS GOOD NEWS? Jesus did it all for you, filthy, rotten you.” I’m sorry but I don’t find any Good News in that message.

I think Episcopalians have some truly Good News to share: “You are God’s beloved with you God is well pleased.” Because of God’s grace and love we have been made acceptable! There is nothing filthy and rotten about any of us as human beings– we all have been made in God’s image. None of us have any difficulty believing that some of our actions disappoint God, others and even ourselves, but what is harder to believe is that God is so good that gratuitous grace and love are showered upon us in spite of our disappointing actions!

As author Brennan Manning puts it: “God’s love is based on nothing, and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure> We’re it based on anything we do, and that anything was to collapse, then God’s love would crumble as well…We don’t have to earn this love, neither do we have to deserve it. It is a free gift.”[3] This is truly Good News! It’s a wonderful message but it seems to have a short shelf life, it tends to evaporate quickly. So, how do we ever let this message sink in to the point that it changes our lives?

I heard a sermon once that I think answers the question. They were also preaching on the subject of God’s unconditional love and the preacher asked the question, “How does a cucumber become a pickle?” The preacher answered, “By marinating in a jar of vinegar and spices.” This was their metaphor for the process of our coming to finally believe that we are God’s beloved children, warts and all, by soaking in the message of God’s love day in and day out. To experience this at the core of our being is our hearts true longing and it’s the true longing of so many people who are all around us. May we be both a receiver and a transmitter of this wonderful love that Christ may be manifested all over central Arkansas, and beyond. Amen.





[1] Ephesians 1.6

[2] Blake, William, “The Little Black Boy” from Songs of Innocence

[3] Manning, Brennan, Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, (Chosen Books: Grand Rapids, MI) p.18