First Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of Our Lord January 8, 2017 (Year A)
Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
On a post this past fall, blogger John Pavlovitz wrote the following:
“I am a Christian.
Actually, it’s more accurate lately to say that I am still a Christian.
I now say this with much trepidation. I say it with great fatigue. I say it somewhat begrudgingly. I say it with more than a good deal of embarrassment—not of Jesus, but of so many of his people and so much of the Church who claim to speak for him.
It now aligns me with bathroom bullies and politicized pulpits and white privilege and overt racism, and with bigotry toward so many groups of people who represent the “world” I grew up believing that God so loved.
There are things that used to be a given as a follower of Jesus, that no longer are.
For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself.
It no longer requires Jesus.
And so the choices are to abandon the idea of claiming Christ altogether to avoid being deemed hateful by association in the eyes of so much of the watching world—or to reclaim the name Christian so that it once again replicates the love of Jesus in the world.
I am trying to do the latter.”[i]
Typically, I am disappointed when there are no babies to baptize on one of the four major baptismal feasts. Today is one of those feast days, and we have no children to baptize. And I couldn’t be more pleased.
All too often, and for very good reason, the power and significance of the renewal of our own vows gets lost in the joyful chaos of beautiful babies and their families and friends.
Today, we have no such distraction from the power of the promises we will renew this morning. And these are no easy promises to make. They are even more difficult to keep. And that’s why we need to renew them over and over again. That’s why we need to be reminded of their power, and their promise.
The first part of our Baptismal Covenant is a re-affirmation of our assent to the ancient text of the Apostles Creed. While many of us have difficulty agreeing with the theological constructs of the Creed, we are asked in our renewal of our vows to agree to step into the ancient tradition that is Christianity and to bind ourselves, through this hymn to all those who have come before and who will come after. It also binds us to all our brothers and sisters who follow Christ but who call themselves by different names. Rather than a litmus test of belief, it is a hymn of unity, an invitation to ecumenism. It is, for us, an invitation to “step into the river” of our faith, much like Jesus does at his own baptism.
The second part of our baptismal promises ask us to live out our lives faithful to who it is God calls us to be, and to do the work God needs us to do.
In simpler language, the church asks us:
Will we continue to practice living in beloved community?
When we fail, will we return?
Will we live out Jesus’ love in our words and our actions?
Will we treat everyone with whom we come in contact as God’s beloved, because they are?
Will we take on the pursuit of justice and peace as our mission for our lives?
These promises are easy to rattle off and forget. But if we approach them as the sacred covenents they are, promises between us and the God who made us, they hold the power to transform us, and the world in which we live.
That transformation is the vision of God, and the forces to keep transformation from happening are strong. That’s why, while we only need be baptized once, we need every opportunity to remember our vows and recommit ourselves to the work they compel us into.
These promises are not just what we are supposed to do, they are our very identities as Christians – they are who we are, or who we are meant to be.
This week we remember Jesus’ baptism and renew our own. But there’s a catch. Jesus’ baptism was the start of his public ministry. It was his baptism that propelled him into the world to speak truth to power and love to the marginalized. His baptism was no private affair, meant to comfort him in the privacy of his heart. And neither is ours.
Our baptism, if we take it seriously, propels us into the world to speak words and do acts of truth to power and love to the oppressed.
That is the point of these promises we make this morning.
When Jesus comes out of the water and takes his first breath, we are told that three things happen for him: The heavens are opened to him, God’s vibrant spirit fills him and he knows himself fully as God’s beloved child.
That is the hope. That is the promise for us, if we are willing to get in the river.
Joining in the struggle for God’s dream for the world opens the divide that often exists for us between our existence and our longing for a sense of God in our lives.
Taking the risk of doing God’s work in a world hostile to it exposes us to the energy of God’s spirit flowing through us.
And, ultimately, when we ask the hard questions and do the hard work of speaking our truths in love on behalf of those who suffer we know ourselves fully as God knows us and by the name he calls each one of us: Beloved.
Beloved. That’s who we are.
If you long for a deeper sense of God in your life, get in the river. If you want to know what if feels like to be filled with the Spirit of God, get in the river. If you want to know yourself as the beloved child of God you already are, get in the river.
Do not stay quiet. Do not give up. Do not stay on the shore. Get in the river, because that’s where the world needs us to be and it is where Jesus is, waiting for us.
Pavlovitz ends his blog post with this: Saying I am a Christian “is much more difficult … these days than it has ever been, but I still do say it.
I am still a Christian—but I refuse to be one without Jesus.”
These promises that define us and shape us as Christians are easy to rattle off and forget. This morning, let us make them as the sacred covenants they are, promises between us and the God who made us, that they might transform us and, through us, the world.
© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[ii] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .