Empowered by God’s Spirit, A sermon by the Rev. Bob Wohlfort

This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Bob Wohlfort, Transitional Pastor, on Sunday, January 7, 2018.  Read readings and psalm were Genesis 1:1-5,Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11.

Before we ponder and wonder about the baptism of Jesus and reflect about yesterday, January 6…Epiphany, I want to relate a dream from 10 days ago.

[This portion of the sermon was delivered at the beginning of the worship service]

I was in a large college dorm room clearly occupied by a number of us given the mess all around me and the number of beds that were scattered about. I alone was in the room. I was frantic!!

Within an hour or two I was to be on stage in my role as a major character in a play! (Why in all the world am I doing that? I have never been in a stage production before!) I did not know my lines; I could not find the script no matter how hard I searched. I was alone and there was no one to assist me. Gratefully, I woke up before I learned my fate.

At first I associated the dream with my occasional condition that I have named, ”All that schooling ruined my psyche.” I believe that there are quite a few of you who have been tormented by this type of dream:

-there is an exam next period and you have not prepared;

-your major report for the class is due today and you do not even have your topic selected;

-the final exam is tomorrow and not only have you not studied…

-you have not been to a single class and you do not know which classroom is your to enter.

-or you have your own variation of… “it is late on Sunday; tomorrow is Monday and doom awaits.”

Yes this could be that occasional “All that schooling ruined my psyche” nightmare that visits me from time to time from which I am much relieved to awaken. But then again…so I became my own therapist and did what I so often asked of my clients, “Why, do you suppose, did you have this dream at this time in your life?”

Why indeed?!?! This is an OSLC dream! I have stood here; I have presided at this altar; I have preached from this lectern…all in the role of helping out; filling in; our pastor is on vacation…with relatives; is under the weather; at a conference.

This week; today; and the unknown number of tomorrows and Sundays are different…I am your pastor! This is my role! And… where is the script!?!? What is the script?

Into that lonely and frantic search in my dream a number of you lovingly, imaginatively and led by God’s good Spirit wrote or spoke to me variations on these wonderful words. “Remember, Bob, you are not alone…you are not alone.”

 [Here ends the portion of the sermon delivered at the beginning of the worship service]

I am not alone. You are not alone. I believe this is one of the essential messages of this day of the celebration of the baptism of Jesus. There is, in my opinion, one sure and certain promise given to us by our Lord, Jesus the Christ: I am with you…always… always.”

Jesus did not have the same motivation to be baptized as the people who were ahead of him in line or those behind at the Jordan. They were there to be baptized for repentance. Jesus was there to identify with all of humanity and that desire coupled with the dramatic revelation of God’s voice; the heavens torn apart and a dove (God’s Spirit) sitting upon the shoulder of Jesus…gives new life and meaning to this event called baptism.

We who have been baptized…who are part of this mysterious event of water and words have been born again/born anew. We are a new creation…we are destined for greatness. Destined for greatness?? You bet!

How so? you legitimately inquire. How so?

How so? I am about to tell you how so and this, in my mind, is where today, Jesus’ baptism, and yesterday, Epiphany merge.

Epiphany is nothing more or less than its word…to make known; to become manifest; to become known. Which is to say, not only how Jesus became known…very importantly how you and I become known as one who is a disciple of our Lord.

So, settle in…I will tell you story…a story of a woman who lived among us here in Hanover and OSLC and Kendall. I will tell you a story of a person I never met personally and a story of a woman who I came to know this past week…especially on Friday.

I am, of course, referring to Dorothy Jean Hall. She died a week ago today at the Kendall Health Center. Her memorial service was Friday in the Gathering Room at Kendall. I was told that on average for a service such as this there are 50-75 attending. For Dorothy, I estimate there were 300…a measure of how much she was loved, respected, admired and enjoyed. A number of you here this morning were in the congregation. Liese represented OSLC with loving words for this woman of faith, service, and friendship.

The Executive Director offered a moving tribute that was something like this: “ On behalf of the Kendall community, I thank Dorthy’s family for your gift of Dorothy to us, the residents and staff.”

There were many tributes, anecdotes and stories. One gripped my mind and heart along with tears because of it great beauty. It was told by a staff member who arranges a variety of activities for the community.

She recalled the time when the Dartmouth College Women’s Basketball team joined some of the Kendall women for tea. Before long there were small groups of players and residents engaged in lively conversation. As the afternoon was winding down, one of the players approached the staff member relating, with great joy, how much she enjoyed being with Dorothy. Dorothy concurred how wonderful their time was.

The student, a senior, offered, “I’m graduating this year and at the last home game we seniors are honored and we are accompanied by are parents for that tribute. But my parents are unable to come…the live far away. I would love it for Dorothy to be my “Mom” that night and I know that it is too much to request and I want you [staff member] and you, Dorothy, how much I enjoyed you.”

Without hesitation the staff member said to the student, “Would you really like Dorothy to be there with you?” “Oh, yes, yes!” Dorothy, are you up for this.” “Of course.”

“Of course.” Dorothy is ill and in a wheel chair. So, for the next couple of weeks the PT Department worked with Dorothy so that she could walk with this senior that special night.

The staff member scoped out the court to determine how many steps Dorothy would need to navigate.

The Senior Night arrived…and the Health Center is under quarantine! Special permission is sought and granted; a Kendall van is secured, Dorothy, the staff member and the senior connect and you can easily imagine the rest of the story.

So what does this story of Dorothy Hall and Kendall staff have to do with Baptism and Epiphany?

Everything! Everything!

We are baptized into the life, ministry, energy and Spirit of Jesus the Christ to be Jesus in our world. We are to make manifest; make known; show; be known as a disciple of Jesus in the world.

More accurately, we are empowered by God’s good Spirit to be the best possible version of who you are in this world.

You see…Dorothy was simply being Dorothy. Lifting up her life is not intended for you and me to be Dorothy in the world. Dorothy was Dorothy! We take inspiration from her so that we, as a Child of God, will make known God’s love by being the best possible version of who you are; you are; you are; who I am.

In like manner the staff member was being the best possible version of being a loving staff member as she could be.

I am reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. One of the moments that stayed with me was when he, at age 14, viewed the arrival of The Beatles to The USA and their debut on the Ed Sullivan show and seeing tapes of their concerts. As the saying goes, “he was blown away!” Blown away by their freedom, their energy, their aliveness. In the enthusiasm of conversations with his musical friends one of them quipped, “So, you want to be like the Beatles.” “NO, no, no. I do not want to be like the Beatles. I want to be the Beatles.”

To me, he was asserting that he wanted to be free, wild, creative… not like the Beatles…but the best musical version of Bruce

Springsteen that Bruce Springsteen could be! With that as a guiding force it is no mystery that Bruce Springsteen is at the top of his musical game 50+ years later!

So…for Dorthy Jean Hall; for that creative and spontaneous staff member; for Bruce Springsteen; and most certainly most of all, for Jesus, the Christ, who calls us, the Spirit blessed baptized to make manifest the best possible version of who we are in this God’s world we offer ourselves and our lives.

Finally, arising out of these recent moments of celebration, remembrance and thanksgiving I offer one of Mary Oliver’s poems that speaks to us about death and about living:

When Death Comes – By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
 
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
 
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
 
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
 
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
 
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
 
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
 
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
 
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
 
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
 
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
 
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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