1. Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon?
a. I can’t say that I have;
b. at least not up close.
2. But once, when I was flying to the west coast,
a. The pilot announced over the intercom
i. that if we looked out the window, we could see
the Grand Canyon.
b. I did and sure enough, there it was,
i. Snaking through the vast expanses of the
ii. Cutting through it for miles in each
3. I have always marveled at the fact that the Grand Canyon
a. was caused by the Colorado River.
4. As I looked down however,
a. I noticed that the bottom of the canyon was not only
filled with water,
b. But with trees and other plants.
5. And that the water,
a. Which had cut the desert so deeply, had also given it
6. When people ask me, I always say, I have never seen a
a. at least from no closer than 30,00 feet in the sky,
i. flying over the American Southwest.
b. But really I am wrong. I’ve seen plenty of them.
7. Because we find deserts in more places than the
a. We find them in churches
i. where members are indifferent,
ii. priests are burnt out,
iii. and the empty pews outnumber the
b. We find them in communities
i. when gentrification and overdevelopment
eradicate both neighborhoods
ii. and the ties that have bound people
together for generations.
c. We find them in nations
i. when the ideals upon which they were founded
ii. and those in power engage in rendition and
d. We find them in ourselves;
i. when we lose our jobs, our security,
ii. or the people we love through divorce,
illness or death.
e. In short deserts are found wherever we are cut off
from those things we trust in to give us life.
8. The people of Judah in the 6th century BC
a. that we hear about in the first reading
b. may have lived by the rivers of Babylon;
c. But because the Babylonians forced them into exile in
i. their lives were a desert.
9. The Christians in the 1st century AD
a. that we hear about in the second reading
b. may have lived as simply as the carpenter whom they
i. or as richly as the emperor who ruled them.
c. But because the Empire persecuted them from
d. and they were as divided over what they believed
i. their lives were a desert.
10. Which is why the Gospel Writer Matthew,
a. remembered a man named John who lived the in a
b. But he was there by choice,
c. And called other people out into that desert,
i. So that he could wash them there.
11. That is what the word baptize means in Greek; “to
a. Jesus was baptized by John in the desert, according to
b. And for that matter, mark, Luke and John.
12. No matter how they otherwise begin their Gospels,
a. All four evangelists begin with the story of Jesus’
13. Because something happens to Jesus at his baptism
a. the gospels imply, happens at ours.
14. Jesus hears God,
a. proclaiming that He is God’s beloved Son.
15. And while we do not know what Jesus himself
experienced at that moment
16. For the evangelists the meaning of Jesus’ baptism is
a. The moment the water touches Jesus’ head,
b. God’s spirit “descends” upon Jesus
c. And in the middle of that desert
d. That spirit reveals the deepest purpose of Jesus’ life.
17. Of course, few of us remember our baptisms.
a. As children we were oblivious to that moment
i. when we were washed with the water that
makes such promises.
b. And as adults we often continue to be.
18. And thus especially in matters of faith,
a. we can find ourselves in a desert of doubt, apathy
19. But you know, that is nothing new
20. For the prophet we call second Isaiah was there,
a. Writing the words we hear in this morning’s first
21. He speaks of a servant
a. who will bring justice, liberty and will open the eyes
of the blind.
22. The Church would come to understand these words
as referring to the servant Jesus;
23. But a prophet living six hundred years before Jesus’
birth would not have meant them this way.
24. No, he was speaking to those people of Judah living in
their desert of exile in Babylon
25. They were that servant
a. And that every time they remembered that,
b. They returned to who they truly were as God’s people
i. And rediscovered the deepest purpose of their
26. Peter, the first leader of the church after Jesus, was
in the desert too
27. At least according to Luke,
28. Who writes in today’s second reading,
a. of a time when the early Church was deeply divided,
i. Over who should be allowed to be part of us;
ii. and who should be seen as one of them.
29. In the midst of that desert of division
a. which threatened to tear the church apart,
b. Peters pronounces that “I see that God shows no
c. Rather in every nation whoever fears God
d. and acts uprightly is acceptable to him”
30. And every time they remembered their baptisms,
a. which made them members of God’s church,
b. They remembered the purpose of their lives was to
i. a people who showed no partiality,
ii. and a community that was open to all who
wished to enter.
31. And they discovered that even that desert could
become a place of life.
32. We Catholics like to think that we are safe from the
a. That tear at other Churches,
b. That tore at the early church.
33. Just as we Americans like to think that are safe from
a. that tear at other nations
34. But as we have seen nothing is safe from the desert;
a. It creeps slowly into our churches, our nation our very
35. Whenever we begin to lose our purpose and thus
forget who we truly are.
36. In just a few weeks our country
a. will begin the official process for choosing candidates
for the next election
37. We will hear many speeches, from both sides,
38. and at least some of them will speak of justice and
39. of shed blood and the American spirit.
40. These speeches will try to do what second Isaiah did
41. Peter did for the early church
42. And John did for us all
43. remind us of whom we once were;
44. so that we might be that way again.
45. But long before any candidate opens their mouth, the
church opens hers;
46. Today; as we recall
47. Jesus’ baptism as the moment
48. which reveals the deepest purpose of Jesus’ life and
thus who he truly is.
49. And reminds us that our baptism does the same.
50. When I flew home back home from California so
many years ago,
a. by the time we were over Arizona it was already dark.
b. But the Grand Canyon was still there, cutting through
i. its waters making it a place of life.
c. I just couldn’t see it.
51. But I didn’t need to; I could remember it.
52. Just like baptism.
a. It is there, an undeniable part of our history and life;
b. Never to be undone;
i. Calling us to follow Jesus the beloved Son,
ii. To be God’s servant
iii. And to work and pray so that justice might
iv. Divisions healed
v. and God’s purpose for the world might be
53. Nothing, not even the desert, can separate us from
the promises of our baptism.
54. We can only forget them,
a. but even then they are still there waiting for us to
b. and when that happens,
c. we remember that we are God’s beloved daughters
d. and in that we discover who we truly are.