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Sermon for the Baptism of the Lord

Once, there was a poor man who had a dream. And his dream was his vision. And his vision was his dream. And his dream was of a heavenly city where everything was perfect. Growing very weary of his living, he decided to go in search of his heavenly city of his dreams. Gathering what few belongings he had, he started on his journey and he walked. All day long he walked. And as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams - how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. All day long he walked with this one thought and it was evening time. He had not yet come to the heavenly city of his dreams. He decided to make camp right where he was. Taking out his crust of bread, he gave thanks to the god of the universe and he ate his crust of bread. And then just before he went to sleep, he took off his shoes and he put them in the path facing them in the direction that he would continue his journey the next day. And, then, the poor man went to sleep.

Little did he know that in the middle of the night, trickster came along, picked up his shoes and turned them around, facing them back in the direction from which he had come. Early the next morning, the poor man awoke. Taking out his crust of bread, gave thanks to the god of the universe, ate his crust of bread, and then he walked to the path, and he slipped on his shoes. And he began to walk in the direction that his shoes were facing. All day long he walked, and as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams and how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. He walked until it was almost evening.

He looked off in the distance and he saw it! The heavenly city of his dreams! It wasn't as large as he thought it was gonna be, and it looked strangely familiar. The poor man walked until he found a strangely familiar street, and he turned down the strangely familiar street, and he walked until he found a strangely familiar house. And he knocked on the door, and when the door was opened, he was greeted by a strangely familiar family. The poor man went inside and lived happily ever after in the heavenly city of his dreams.

A new awareness, a new appreciation, a new power. Any time our consciousness is raised to the next level, it is a born-again experience, and we become like children once more. "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child," said Jesus, "will never enter it." Heaven is not a place, a geographical location. It is not coming with signs to be observed so one can say, "There it is!" in the parking lot or on the street corner. Rather, heaven is in the midst of you.

With our newborn curiosity, everything becomes a new experience and we become as fascinated with the box as with what's inside. The right hemisphere of our brain is open to accept the unexplainable, the unexpected and the unpredictable.

Every four years the world of United Methodism holds a worldwide two-week long event called General Conference. It was at one of these conferences that I was having a birthday. Not just any birthday. It was my 40th. I awakened early and welcomed the sun to the day, giving thanks for my birthing so long ago. Thanks to my parents and grandparents and thanks to God who made all this possible. I walked into the day thinking, "My birthday, my 40th birthday. Heh!" Nobody there knew it was my birthday so I had no happy birthday wishes. Business as usual. Then I thought, "Forty years old today, forty years. If people knew it was my birthday," I thought, "these are words I would hear, 'Over the hill, 40,' 'It's over at 40,' 'It's all downhill from here, 40, uh.'" The heavyweight of being 40 formed and rested on my head and shoulders and grew heavier and bigger with each passing moment. Throughout the day I would stop and ponder and rest. "Goodness," I remember pondering once, "I don't remember pondering or resting this much yesterday." By the time I walked down the street to my hotel room, I was a bent-over, little, old man. On the way home, somebody asked if they could help me find whatever it was I had dropped on the sidewalk. "No, thank you," I said, "but you'd better tie your shoe or you'll trip and fall." I walked slowly to the hotel and even more slowly up the four flights of stairs to my room. I fell into bed winded and exhausted.

The next morning I awoke with creaky bones and stiff joints and the weight of forty heavier than ever. I made it to the gathering place on time and waited for the meeting to start. I was one of a team of ten sent to follow certain petitions through legislative committees to plenary sessions. Each day before breakfast, we would gather to report on the activities of yesterday and to plan today's strategies and make assignments. A resource person was asked to advise, help, and lead us through the process of the General Conference. We were meeting in her room. I looked around at the newsprint on the walls trying to remember which color was mine when I heard the group break into a chorus of "Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you!" I turned and saw a flame from a single candle stuck in a cupcake. It so happened that today was the birthday of our resource person. After the candle was blown out and birthday wishes and congratulations given, the resource person was asked to reflect on her life. "Let's see," she began, "I have been to fourteen of these General Conferences, (now, remember, these happen every four years) and I have been a part of many changes." She continued to share glimpses of her fascinating story, then paused and said, "There are many more changes that need to come about." Then she looked directly into my eyes, pointing her finger at me, not blinking and not moving and said, "If I had your youth, this is what I would do." Thelma Stevens turned 82 that day - twice my lifetime. She lifted the weight of 40 off of my head and shoulders and I was born again, given another life. Today I am 16 and enjoying every minute of it. (Chuckle)

Every person's experiences are valid and necessary, a story that needs to be told. And in the telling, a healing to those who tell and those who hear.

The golden eagle is extremely important to my Caddo people. The golden eagle is next of kin to the water bird, and it is the water bird who brought to us our medicine in the form of a cactus. And at another time I can tell you more of this story. To have an eagle feather, then, was something that was important. We never killed the bird to get our feather, for if you killed the bird, then there is no power in the feather. And what we would do, we would dig a hole about three feet around and maybe about three feet deep. A person would get into the hole and squat down and then the hole was camouflaged. And then it was baited with meat. The bird would fly overhead, and as the bird would fly overhead and see the meat, the bird would fly down to grab the meat, but because the meat was tied to the ground, the bird would have to struggle with it. Whoever was inside of that hole would hear the struggle and would reach up through the camouflage and would grab the bird between its legs and stand up, and when they would stand up, the bird was upside down flapping its wings. Now, if that were you and you were holding that bird, you would reach and you would take a wing feather or you would take a tail feather. You never took more than one, for if you take a handful of feathers from the wing or the tail, the bird cannot fly, and if the bird cannot fly, there is no power. So we would take a wing feather or a tail feather and then we would turn the bird loose, and the bird would fly away, and if that were you, then you would have your eagle feather. But it would not be your eagle feather. Instead, you would take it home and put it some place safe, keeping it for a time when somebody did something that you appreciated. Then you would give to them an eagle feather. And so we earned our eagle feathers by doing things that people appreciated. Now some have said to me, "But, Dayton, I thought that you earned your eagle feathers by bringing home the heart of a mountain lion or the teeth of a grizzly bear." And I have to say to them, "Well, we did not get feathers for doing things that were stupid. We got feathers for doing things that people appreciated." So if you came home with a carload of groceries and your children helped you to unload the car, that might be worth an eagle feather. If you were going out for the evening and you said to the oldest child, "I want you to baby-sit with your younger brothers and sisters," that might be worth an eagle feather. Well, it might be worth two depending on little brother and sister. And so we would earn our eagle feathers by doing things that people appreciated.

By the time that I was born, the eagle had disappeared from the hills in Oklahoma. But Grandma and Grandpa, they talked often of the eagle and they said there were eagles at one time. Grandma, she said when the eagle is gone, the Caddo people too shall be gone.

I went out to seek my fortune - which I'm still seeking - had a variety of experiences and found myself in Washington State - the north central part of the state. I was asked to be a resource person for this camp. I had never been to the Olympic Peninsula and that was my first time. It was the third week of July, and it was the third day of the third week. There was a large lodge with a large picture window on one end and a fireplace on the other. There was an activity happening in front of the fireplace. As I was sitting there with my back to the wall, there was a flicker in the corner of my eye and I looked out of the window and as I looked, I saw a golden eagle flying by. I grabbed my camera and I ran outside to get a picture of it, but when I got outside, the bird was gone. I have no idea what happened to it, uh, but, I saw it! And it made me feel good. I ran back inside and I said, "I just saw an eagle!" And everybody said, "Ah, so what! There's a lot of them around here. You'll see more." I said, "But it was my first one." "You'll see more," I was assured. The day happened and good things happened to me. And I know it was because I saw the eagle.

I had no cabin responsibilities at this camp, and as often as possible in the summertime, I sleep outside. And, so I was sleeping outside. Early the next morning I awoke. As the power of day was overtaking the power of night, the sun had not yet come to the day. Everybody was still asleep. Aaah, I take that back. For, you see, the sandpipers, they were down on the beach and the squirrels were chattering in the trees, and the chipmunks, they were scurrying in the marsh. But the two-legged's - the human beings--they were still asleep. I went down to the beach, and I started my morning walk, and I was walking west. I saw the Olympic mountains. How beautiful they were! Their heads white with snow. "How old they must be, I thought, and what stories they must have." I sat for my morning meditation and then I returned to camp. On my return to camp, the tide was in and I was walking up onto driftwood. And as I was walking, the sun began to come to the day. There is power in the sunrise. And so I stood, up on the driftwood, and I stretched out my arms to welcome the sun. And the sun popped full circle above the horizon a little north of Seattle. It was blazing red, and then it was orange, and then it was yellow. And then it was so bright that I could hardly look at it, and just as I was going to look away, right in the very center of the sun, was a dot. A speck. And this speck, this dot, began to grow, and as it began to grow, it began to take a shape, a form, and then I recognized it. It was a bird, and the bird was flying toward me with its wings spread out, and it was soaring. And as it got closer, it was an eagle. A golden eagle!! And me without my camera. I stood there watching it flying toward me at eye-level. And about 30-35 feet away from me, it looked up and saw me, and it flapped its wings and stopped. And then it turned and went straight up and turned again and continued in the same direction, which was over my head, but now it was about 3-3 1/2 feet above my head. No more than that. And as it came flying toward me, I thought, "I can do it! I can jump up and I can grab its feet and I can pull it down and I can get myself an eagle feather!" (Chuckle) Well, these were the thoughts that were going through my brain, but my body was not responding. I just stood there with my arms outstretched. And as the bird flew overhead, the bird got directly over my head and turned and went straight up, flapping its wings even harder. And as it flapped its wings, a wing feather came from the wing and began to spin! And as it began to spin, I reached out and I grabbed the feather and I pulled it toward me, and I turned to say thank you to the bird, but the bird was gone. I have no idea what happened to it, but I had my feather. I went running back into camp and everybody was still asleep, but not for long. I went in waving my feather and I said, "Look what happened to me today!!" Everybody jumped up saying, "Ookayyy, what's going on, Dayton, what happened?" And so I told them the story, just as I've told you the story. "Nah, Dayton," they said, "that didn't really happen. That was just a dream."

Well, be it a dream or be it reality, I'll leave that decision to you. One thing I know is that on that day I received a very special gift from a very special person, and it was with that gift that I became a storyteller. This then is a storyteller's story.

"A new covenant I will make with the people," says God. "Not like the one that I made that they broke when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. A covenant they broke though I was their husband," says God. "But this is the covenant that I will make. I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, 'No God,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," says God, "for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more."

We enter into this covenant. It is a contract with each party having a responsibility to each other. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive a new awareness, appreciation and comprehension of creation. We realize that we have a power that has always been there since the beginning of our existence as human beings. And that is the power to change tomorrow, to change reality from what it is to what it should be. The creation story is not over. It is not finished. God is still creating and has declared us as co-creators, co-authors, of the next chapter. Tomorrow is up to you. What are you going to make of it? Will there be a voice from heaven saying, "You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased."