Sermons

January 11: Call on him! Baptism of the Lord

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6-7.

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On Thursday of this week, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the victims of the cruel terrorist attack in Paris. He said: “Let us pray at this Mass for the victims of cruelty. So many. And let us also ask for the cruel ones, that the Lord may change their hearts.”

The violent events in Paris this week bring to mind an idea. It comes from the 17th-century thinker and Christian, Blaise Pascal who wrote: “Evil is never done so thoroughly as when it is done with a good conscience.”

In our times – when a few people act according to twisted logic, or a misguided conscience, profound psychological disturbance — and acts of terror performed in the name of religion. “Evil is never done so thoroughly as when it is done in good conscience.” Sadly our time – has witnessed far too much genocide in Europe, Asia, and Africa; and knows no particular geography or people. Our prayer this day is for renewal and refreshment, and the invitation to a “change of heart.”

Today we listen to the prophet Isaiah — this is a particular favorite of mine. He writes: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come receive grain and eat, drink wine and milk.” And later, the prophet goes on to say: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.” I have always enjoyed the sentiments of this prophet, and I used this particular passage on holy cards commemorating my ordination day, some forty years ago. I have witness people call on the Lord while he is near – and in this particular parish church.

I have a vision on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a view of the parents, grandparents, and godparents who bring their children here at the very start of an infant’s life. Filled with life and so much in need of a family’s faith and love to fully embrace and grow on this long and complicated journey.

I’m also fascinated by the relationship between John and Jesus, cousins as the gospels tell us. The idea that “He must increase, and I must decrease,” is so uncommon a stance for John, as he sees Jesus come to his baptism. Both would suffer violent ends, and yet spark a spiritual revolution – at the very core of our souls, and refreshed in the waters of the Jordan and celebrated in sacrament of baptism. Theirs was a genuinely life-giving relationship, role models in a modern sense, and of the kind rooted in “generative moral authority” that increases the ethical, religious and spiritual capacity of others. Indeed, “This is my beloved son; on him, my spirit rests.”

Such a power prompts us to ask essential questions: How do we live the moral life now? And how to best equip the next generation for the moral and ethical demands, problems, and challenges ahead? With today’s feast, we conclude the Christmas season, and we move on to the “Ordinary Sundays” of the Church year. Maybe “ordinary” is a strange term for us? Nonetheless, Christmas is about the incarnation and birth of Christ as the “human face of God” among us. Epiphany is the manifestations of those gifts that engage us in life itself. The Baptism of the Lord is about the vision to see the journey ahead and to seize it.

I’ve always enjoyed this poem “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, a Baptist minister who once served in San Francisco. He writes:

“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone. When the Magi and elders are home. When the shepherds are back with their flock. The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To release the prisoner. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among all peoples. To make music in the heart.”

The Christmas season is over, but now begins Christ’s work – and our work in his name.

San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.

 

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