Tag Archives: Baptism

The power to practice love | Sermon for 1 Epiphany

 

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.”

I am among the most fortunate of people, because I know that my father loved me.

In a picture from when I was just a couple years old, you can see his hand touching my cheek, a simple gesture of physical affection that characterized his relationship with me and our whole family.

Dad and Me Orlando 1970He held me in his arms (and he held my mother and my siblings, too), and he told me he loved me in countless ways. When I shared that picture on Facebook, my sister instantly responded that she recognized his gesture — the “sense memory” is as strong for her as it is for me.

The last time I served as a deacon at the altar with him before he died, a similar account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord was the appointed Gospel reading. After I read the Gospel, Dad got up to preach but then stopped, saying, “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to sit down, because this is my son, my beloved, and I want to listen to him. I want to hear what he has to say.”

My wife and I have spoken many times about what a blessing it is for both of us to have had this kind of unconditional love in our lives. Even though we do not have children of our own, we have been privileged to share our love with others, especially our “emotional daughter” Anna and our grandson Alex.

You have it in your power to give this kind of love, too. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup — the same kind of blessing that my father was. You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear from you that you are well pleased with them?

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Jesus heard these words from God at his baptism in the Jordan River.

Baptism was for him, as it is for us, an act full of symbolic meaning.

Our service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer outlines several symbolic meanings that the water holds for us.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. (BCP 306-7)

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we will renew our own Baptismal Covenant and our baptismal vows.

The vows are not about how to earn God’s favor. Rather, they are promises we make about how we will live as God’s beloved children, how we will “continue forever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Baptism is to us a sign of God’s grace pouring over us; the promises we make are about what we will do in practice to share that grace with each other and with the world.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

That is, will you practice being graceful and generous with your fellow parishioners, your clergy, and your fellow-Christians? Will you practice prayer that keeps you in touch with God and the needs of God’s people?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

That is, will you practice demonstrating grace by standing firm against those who do harm to others, and by recognizing when you are the one doing harm and making amends to those you have hurt?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Being a Christian is meaningful to you; will you practice telling other people about God’s blessings? Will you practice showing them that you have God’s peace?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

We had diversity and inclusion training at my work this week, and we learned that promoting diversity requires conscious action. It’s easy to be with people like yourself, but you have to practice choosing to be with people who are different.

 Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

That is to say, will you practice remembering that every human being craves the touch of a father’s hand on their cheek, the loving embrace of a mother, the gentle word from a friend? Will you practice sharing that love with others and will you practice encouraging those in power to make sure people are being cared for?

As baptized Christians, we are filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

That means you have it in your power to practice the kind of love that Jesus practiced. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup, a neighbor or an enemy, someone who is poor or someone in power — you can be for them the same kind of blessing that Jesus was.

You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children and demonstrate Jesus’ self-giving love by your actions.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear that God (and you) are well pleased with them?

 

Keep your clothes on | Sermon for Proper 7C

 

The men were roughly clothed, generally in coarse blue cloth, very carelessly put together. The women came in with their invariably noiseless, gliding step, in very wild garb; they were shrouded in blankets, their heads closely covered with various wrappings ….

Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of the famous novelist, shared these impressions in a series of articles called “Missions to the Oneidas” in The Living Church in 1885 and 1886.

I spent this past week at the Episcopal Tri-History Conference in Oneida, Wisconsin.

Parishioners at Church of the Holy Apostles and members of the Oneida Nation were our very gracious hosts as participants from the three historical societies of the Episcopal Church met to consider the encounters between Episcopal and Anglican churches and the indigenous people of North America.

Despite the appreciative portrayal of writers like Susan Fenimore Cooper, the tragic history of those encounters is more about European and American colonists’ attempts to “civilize” indigenous people or, frankly, to take their land, send them to distant reservations, and transport their children to residential boarding schools in order to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

The archivists and historians in the US and Canada have become painfully aware how church and state conspired over the last three centuries to make indigenous people and their cultures disappear.

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I wonder if the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance to his cave on Mt. Horeb appeared like the Oneida women, wrapped in his mantle and shrouded in the “sound of sheer silence.”

He, too, was being threatened with disappearing – Jezebel and Ahab had marked him for death after he prevailed over the false prophets loyal to the king and caused rain to fall after three years’ drought. He had run forty days and nights into the desert, far from his home.

But God gave Elijah a command: Stand on the mountain. Wrap your mantle around you and do not be swept away by the wind, the breaking rocks, the quaking ground, the fire, the noise.

Elijah must not fear those who seek his life, but he is to go back across the desert and fulfill God’s mission.

Keep your clothes on, and keep speaking truth to power.

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What a powerful jolt Jesus got as he stepped off the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee!

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

The poor Gerasene man’s many demons shouted in his head and caused him to shout at Jesus.

Jesus gives the demons a command – leave this man alone – and they rush out into a herd of pigs, leaving the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind.”

Though the townspeople are even more freaked out than they had been by the naked man living in the tombs – and he and they both probably wish he’d leave with Jesus – the man is sent home instead to share the good news of what God has done in his life.

Keep your clothes on, and keep sharing good news with your family and your neighbors.

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Paul had neighbors all around the Mediterranean, and Galatia must have been a fairly cosmopolitan Roman province, where “Jews and Greeks, slaves and free,” men and women lived and worked.

He really struggled to keep the members of his congregation there from going back to the old Law, though, to rules and regulations about who was in or who was out, what food was right to eat, what days were appropriate to observe as festivals.

Paul also struggled, according to Edward Blair, against “the Jewish nationalism of the time, which was emphasizing separation from Gentiles and strict loyalty to everything Jewish, not only in Palestine, but in the Roman world as well” (Blair 297).

His people’s focus on legalism and political separation, their disunity, is disheartening to him. “I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted,” he says.

“As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Keep your clothes on and act like you are one in Christ Jesus!

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Bishop Mark MacDonald is now the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In his keynote address at this week’s conference, Bishop Mark spoke about the resilience of Native American communities like the Oneida Nation and like many of the First Nations among whom he ministers in Canada.

The Oneida, for example, though they sided with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, lost their land in New York state to their neighbors and had to relocate to Wisconsin. Here in Wisconsin, the same New York fur traders and logging companies who had driven them from their land tried to do it to them all over again.

Nevertheless, over the past 200 years, the Oneida Nation has rebounded in many ways. On the civic side the Oneida Nation is a leader among Native American communities, and on the religious side Owanah Anderson, the former native missioner of the Episcopal Church, praised Holy Apostles as “the Canterbury Cathedral of Native American ministry.”

But Bishop Mark went on to talk about a harder truth. Despite centuries of policies enacted by church and state meant to dispossess them of their land, wipe out their language, and eliminate their religion and culture, the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity has been widespread. Some 80% of First Nations people in Canada are baptized, Bishop Mark said, a much higher percentage than their “more rapidly secularizing” neighbors.

He suggests that about 5% of indigenous people practice their traditional religion, and about 5% practice “normal” European Christianity. The broad middle – most of whom are baptized, remember – make their way in the world as best they can, and are to be commended for their resilience in the face of efforts (even by fellow Christians) to make them disappear.

The resilience of communities like the Oneida, Bishop Mark says, “reeks of resurrection. It smells like the Gospel!”

The resilience of others in the face of hardship and death may smell like the Gospel, but that Gospel often comes shrouded in clothes that look strange to us.

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Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they’re wearing beaded necklaces, praying to the Great Creator, and singing in their native language.

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but we find their their political views troubling.

Some keep their clothes on and speak truth to power, but their club music is loud and unfamiliar (and we don’t know the dance steps).

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but their stories of mental illness and stigma, recovery and healing make us uncomfortable.

Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they make us aware of our own biases and cause us anxiety when they behave differently than we do.

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It’s in the differences between us, and the resilience with which we all deal with the situations we live in, that the Gospel will be found if we have eyes to see – to see past what Mother Teresa calls “Christ in all his distressing disguises.”

It’s in the power of the resurrection over everything that threatens to make anyone disappear that we recognize we have all “come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace” (BCP 101).

We all came up out of the same waters of baptism, we were all reeking of the oil of anointing, and we all put on a new baptismal robe.

Let’s embrace our enemies, our neighbors, even our fellow-Christians – as strange as they may seem – like Christ Jesus would and does embrace them! Let’s make sure that we are looking for resurrection rather than looking to make anyone disappear.

That’s what it means to keep our clothes on and clothe ourselves with Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

Featured image: Oneida woman ca. 1900 from Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.

Forgetful of the cleansing

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

One of the first insights I had about the Daily Office after I entered recovery was that, even though the rubrics say the Confession of Sin is optional at the beginning of Morning Prayer (BCP 79), for me it is required.

It’s so easy for me to be “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins,” to press forward without remembering the hard-won lessons of my recovery and my new life.

It’s easy for me to start thinking things are fine, but how quickly I can slip back into the thoughts that led me into trouble in the first place. How little I really want to do what is good, how little I want to wait for anything, how little thought I give to anyone else, how little self-control I have!

The grace that filled me when I entered recovery, admitting my powerlessness and my need for God’s help, is the same kind of grace that is given to us in the sacrament of baptism.

It occurred to me today that we make our Confession of Sin and then say the Apostles’ Creed each morning so that we do not become “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.”

The point is not to rehearse our past sins over and over — they have been forgiven, and we are made new in baptism. Rather, the point is to learn from our experience in order to better trust in the hope we have been given.

The point is to be mindful each day of our need for God, and each day to recommit ourselves to walking in the steps laid out for us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:10-11)

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

My beloved: Where does the story begin?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

My beloved, with whom I am well pleased

The day before Matt Gunter’s ordination as the Bishop of Fond du Lac, he and the clergy of the diocese met with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She began our time together by inviting us to reflect on this passage and on our own identity as God’s beloved.

I’ve written before about my own experience serving at the altar with my father, who called me his beloved and told me he was well pleased with me.

My own father said it plainly to me: I am his beloved. Still, I wonder why it seems so hard to believe I am God’s beloved.

Where do we begin the story?

As clergy, we had just gone through Holy Week and celebrated Easter with our parishes. We had just recounted Jesus’ crucifixion and were still pondering his resurrection.

Bishop Katharine asked the question of us: Where do we begin the story?

Do we begin with our sinfulness, for which Jesus paid the price? Do we begin with our identity as God’s beloved, for whom God would do anything, even die on a cross?

Sin is a crucial — crux is the Latin word for cross — part of the story. But is it the beginning of the story?

We reflected on the question, each of us answering it in our own heart.

But I still wonder, why is it easier to think the story starts with our sin than to think it starts with our being beloved?

You, my child

On Wednesday mornings we sing Canticle 16, the song of another father to his beloved child, John.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (BCP 93)

May you know God’s tender compassion today and always, know yourself to be God’s beloved.

That’s where the story begins, and that’s where God wants it to end.

Beloved

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The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

I received an email a couple weeks ago from a young woman asking to be baptized at St. Thomas, the parish I serve in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

She did not grow up in a religious household, but she has pursued deeper and deeper spiritual engagement and is now led to make a mature commitment to Christianity.

In the Daily Office readings this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on her request as I read about Peter’s vision regarding the Gentiles. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he saw that the Holy Spirit had come into their lives, too. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing from those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

This young woman knows that the Spirit is in her life, and that Spirit is moving her to make a public act of faith.

Jesus himself makes the same public act in this evening’s reading from “the beginning of the good news” according to Mark.

The Spirit is surely already present in the life of the Son of God, just as the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” — Jesus does not need baptism in order to receive the Spirit, but the Spirit moves him to reveal his identity in a public way.

And what is that identity? “You are my Son, the Beloved,” says the voice from heaven; “with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

All of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ share in his identity as Beloved.

I look forward to the day — soon, I expect — when we will welcome another Beloved daughter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

Our common life

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I had a Twitter exchange with a fellow Episcopalian, Brendan (@indybrendan), last night about the Daily Office.

He said he couldn’t get into Morning Prayer because he’s not a morning person, but he’d be glad to pray for me during Compline before he went to bed.

Megan (@revlucymeg) piped up and said, “that’s why we have a daily cycle — everyone takes an office,” and I promised I’d have Brendan’s back at Morning Prayer. This is how the Church fulfill’s St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.”

On Thursdays there’s a baptismal slant in Morning Prayer. Canticle 8 (BCP 85), appointed to follow the Old Testament lesson, recounts the Exodus — linked in Christian imagination to the Easter Vigil and baptism. The Collect for Guidance, customarily read on Thursdays, places our identity and our work in God, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (BCP 100). In the first Prayer for Mission on that same page we pray to our heavenly Father for “all members of your holy church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you.”

I added this morning, in honor of Brendan, a favorite prayer from Compline that underscores our mutual dependence, not only as members of the Church united by Baptism, but also as creatures united by life on God’s round Earth.

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 134)

Hasten the coming of your kingdom

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O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Morning Prayer on Thursdays has a baptismal flavor.

After the Old Testament reading on Thursdays, we say or sing Canticle 8: The Song of Moses, in which we praise God for saving the people of Israel at the Red Sea. For Christians, the Exodus story is especially linked with the Easter Vigil and baptism.

At the Vigil, we retell the Exodus story and make it our own, singing in the Exsultet that “this is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell.” The Easter Vigil has been, since the earliest days of the church, the time when new Christians are baptized.

The Prayer for Mission above reflects that same baptismal emphasis. It is our prayer that everyone will come through the waters of salvation, that everyone will enjoy new life, that everyone will be filled with God’s spirit, that God’s kingdom, already here in part, will become fully realized.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes the kingdom as “sabbath rest” in the passage appointed for today. He suggests that the way is still open for us to enter into God’s rest, to enjoy life and peace in the kingdom of God.

He writes, quoting Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7). Every day we begin Morning Prayer with that same sense of urgency.

Come on in, the water is fine! Bring your friends, too! Don’t wait — jump on in!