A sermon for the First Sunday Epiphany, The Baptism of Our Lord; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Humorist David Sedaris once wrote that it is rare when you are aware of doing something for the very last time. But here we are, my final sermon from this pulpit, at least in this context of life.
It is meet and right that my final Sunday is during Epiphany, for it was during Epiphany almost exactly 10 years ago that I preached my very first sermon from this pulpit. Some of you were there! My subject that morning was Jonah. I had arrived. I guess that would make Blacksburg Nineveh!
This is Epiphany, the season when we celebrate God’s light spreading to all the nations. We celebrate the coming of the Magi, the kings, as they pay homage to the king of kings. The readings during Epiphany tell us about the early days in Jesus’ ministry. We hear the stories of the wedding at Cana, the temptation of Jesus, his first miracles, and specifically today, we stand on the shores of the River Jordan as we witness Jesus’ baptism at the hands of his cousin, John.
John’s preaching was not quite what you would call “seeker friendly.” He didn’t share cute little anecdotes when he was calling everyone to repent. But he got a good response, including this scene of ultimate affirmation, God’s pleasure shining on Jesus for all to see.
We also hear this morning about the growth of early church. Peter and John travel to Samaria and bring about another day of Pentecost among these new believers. God’s light and God’s word are spreading. Epiphany is a time to celebrate the light. Soon enough the shadows of Lent will be upon us. So we are wise to enjoy the star light while we can.
Epiphany is also a time when we consider anew our mission as a parish. God’s light and God’s word have spread over the last two thousand years and over thousands of miles to bring us to this day, to this place. Faithful people founded this parish, when Blacksburg was a mere outpost. Faithful people have kept this parish alive, through turmoil and triumph. And we have gathered yet again, God’s faithful, to continue that mission.
So much has happened during this past decade, to me, to this congregation, to this town. We’ve said many goodbyes, but we’ve also welcomed so many new faces as well. Christ Church has remained a steadfast home. It is from these hallowed stones that the Gospel has gone forth to the town, to the campus, to the New River Valley. The Gospel has gone forth not just in words but in deeds. We as part of the Body of Christ, the family of God, have reached out our hands to the poor. We have stood for justice. We have sought to bring peace to a frightened and hurt population.
My departure does mark the end of an era for the parish, just as any departure does. I pray that I leave the parish stronger than when I arrived. I pray that our commitment to campus ministry is stronger as well. I know the quality of the students who comprise the Canterbury Fellowship. They are a very gifted group of committed young people that will add much to the life of this parish – mark my words!
We cannot know what the future holds for this parish, for campus ministry, for Virginia Tech. But our commitment is a matter public record. Do not let that passion wane. Keep the fire burning, Christ Church. Truly the future of the church depends on it.
Next week, Bishop Powell will be with you for his last official visit. He and Dorothy know quite well the treasure that Christ Church is for the diocese. Despite times of transition, Christ Church has remained steadfast. I pray God that someday I might find a new parish family that is THIS good! It’s not going to be easy!
I think one of the best measures of a parish is how well we do hospitality, and Christ Church, you’ve got quite a reputation! We sure know how to throw good parties. That’s a sign of health that cannot be denied.
It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life (so far) to serve among you, to laugh with you, to cry with you. God has been honored in this place, and God’s love has been shared with all who have entered here. Christ Church is much more than bricks and mortar, and that has been proven to me over and over again. Let us celebrate, people of Christ Church. God’s light and God’s word are spreading, and it has been a very great joy for me to help lead this remarkable family as we seek in our own way to spread the light. Amen.