Sermon: "The Voice in the Storm," January 8, 2017

The following sermon was delivered celebrating the baptism of Francis and Lillian Sieber. It was done in the style of a letter to those who had been baptized in the ancient church. I was inspired to do this by my friend Ed Searcy, whose baptismal sermons are always addressed to the baptized. -Rev Ryan Slifka

January 8, 2017
The Baptism of Jesus
Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17
Rev. Ryan Slifka

Dear Lily and Francis (or Frankie, if you prefer):

Today is an important day for both of you. Today is the day that your Mom and Dad have brought you forward to our community of faith. Today is the day that your Mom and Dad have said “Yes” to God’s ancient promises for you and your lives, and have made promises of their own to share this promise with you so you can experience life and discover your destiny. A destiny that is found in following the Way of life that Jesus set for us so long ago. And today this community of faith that loves you and accepts you unconditionally has welcomed you as part of Jesus’ body in the world. Like I said—It’s an important day. Maybe it’s the most important day.

Today is an important one because it’s your baptismal day. But it’s also another Sunday. Which means it’s another service of worship like any other, complete with readings from the Bible, our sacred story as people who follow Jesus. One of the readings for today is a pretty obvious one—Jesus’ baptism. But the other is a less obvious one. It’s the twenty-ninth Psalm. The Psalms being the songbook of the bible.

Truth be told, when I first read it I wasn’t quite sure why someone decided to put this song together with the story of Jesus’ baptism. His baptism is so calm seeming. But here the sky is black. Thick clouds gather over the sea. Off in the distance you can hear the sound of thunder. Rain starts to drizzle. Then, thunder again, closer. The rain begins to pour down. And then thunder again. And again, closer and closer. Then suddenly a flash of lightning that lights up the whole sky. There’s a loud crack and the thunder booms so close it feels like it’s right overhead. Again, a flash, and one of those really old, really tall cedar trees outside busts in half. Then it sizzles in flame. Thunder booms again and off in the distance the mountains, the glacier seem to skip in the air. The sound is so loud it feels like the earth is shaking. And then the wind blows so hard that it knocks over trees that line the coast line.

Like I said, it seems like a strange reading for today. It’s especially strange because a stormy sea was the scariest thing the people who wrote this could possibly imagine. They were desert people. Dry is normal. Dry is good. But the sea’s this dark, scary place. Where storms come from and ships get lost. For our grandparents in faith the sea was so scary that it represented chaos, and evil. All the things that we can’t control. All the things that disrupt and destroy our lives as humans. It’s scary.

The stormy sea. For them it was the most terrifying thing they could imagine. But there’s something amazing about this Psalm. In the middle of the storm, they hear something. “The voice of the Lord is powerful,” it sings. “The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. The voice of the Lord makes the mountain skip like an ox, flashes forth flames of fire… shakes the wilderness… causes oaks to whirl… and strips the forest bare.” There’s all these natural disasters, one after another, just piling up. But with every single one the singer of this song says he hears the voice of the Creator. “The Lord is enthroned over the flood,” she sings. “The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” And it ends with this hope for a blessing. “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace.” In this Psalm, we not only hear the voice of the Creator, this voice brings with it a sense of being safe. Being calm. Being unafraid.

Behind this terror, this destruction. They knew there was more to life that what we can see. They could hear the voice of the God who Created… and is Creating. The Source of all life, the Love at the heart of everything echoing through the ages. Inside the flood, the darkness, the fear. We hear a voice that will never be drowned out. One that will never be defeated or destroyed. A voice that will never be silent. One that promises strength. And brings with it peace.

They could hear voice of the Lord in the midst of the storm. Frankie, Lily, this is why I think this song not only fits for today, it might be perfect. Because this is the voice that speaks to you today. In Jesus’ baptism, as he brought his head up from the waters. It’s said that the heavens opened. God’s own Spirit fell on him like a dove and shone a light on him. Then a voice spoke, the same voice heard in the storm of our psalm. A voice saying "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus’ baptism wasn’t the beginning of his life with God. But his baptism threw him into the storm of human life. Jesus reached out to all of the broken ones, the hurting ones. He fed the hungry ones and challenged people with full stomachs like us. He felt their pain. He knew our pain. The storm overtook him, and broke his body. He was drowned in a sea of the world’s anger and hatred. And yet, in the end, the storm didn’t have the last word. Because the last word is strength. It’s peace. It’s resurrection. A life raft for all who reach for it. As the Psalm says “The Lord is enthroned over the flood. The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”

I realized that this is the perfect reading for a day like today. Because even though the world you’re growing up in seems to be filled with the sound of anything but the sacred. Lily… Francis… today I am here to tell you that the same voice that brought everything there is in the universe to life. The same voice that gave our ancestors courage, hope, and peace in the midst of suffering, humiliation and despair. The same voice that claimed Jesus as its own, the same voice that no storm could ever drown out or silence. This same voice speaks now to you.

And today this same voice sets you on the same course of Jesus. Today this voice summons you to the stormy seas of human life. For your life to be a vessel of mercy, grace, and justice, bringing healing, courage, and peace to all those who find themselves lost at sea. Today this voice promises to never set you adrift, to never leave you alone, or to leave you behind. No matter what life ahead throws at you. Because today, Lily and Francis… today the heavens open, the Spirit descends like fire, and the voice of God says “these are my beloved children. With them I am well pleased.” Today the voice of the Lord has spoken—loud and clear. And will never ever shut up and never be silenced. Because, like the Psalm says “The Lord is enthroned over the flood. The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”

So, Lily and Francis. Today is a special day. Welcome to the Body of Christ. Not only is today the day your mom and dad give your lives over to God’s care, to Jesus and his Way. Not only is today the day this community of faith that loves you welcomes you with open arms as part of Jesus’ own body in the world. Most importantly, today God has said “you are mine forever.” And neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers. Nor height, depth, nor anything else in all creation. There’s nothing anyone can do, or anything you can do, that will ever change that fact.

May you remember today, even if we all have to remember it for you. Today may the LORD give strength to you. May you hear the voice in the midst of the storm. and remember your baptism, and be thankful! May God give you the strength and courage to become more like Jesus. And may he bless you with peace, now and forever!

Yours in the deep love and peace of Jesus,

Rev. Ryan Slifka, and the Community of St. George’s United Church. AMEN.