Sermons

Sunday, January 11: Baptism of the Lord

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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.” This feast of the “Baptism of the Lord” is about renewal, refreshment and a “change of heart” in all of us. The violent events in Paris, this week bring to my 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, deep 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 to much genocide in Europe, Asia and Africa; and knows no particular geography or people. Our prayer 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.

On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I see in this in the parents, grandparents and godparents who bring their children here – at the very start of an infant’s life. So filled with life and so much in need of a family’s faith and love to fully embrace, and grow on this long and complex journey.

I’m also fascinated about 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 truly 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 important questions: How do we live the moral life now? And how to best equip the next generation for the moral and ethical demands, questions 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 to us? Nonetheless, Christmas is about 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 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.”

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

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