Sermons

January 10: Cleansing Waters — Baptism of the Lord (B)

“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I have formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7.

Today we listen to the great prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist, and celebrate with Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River.

Our holiday celebrations come full circle to this affirmation that Jesus is the human face of God among us, and with these striking words: “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.

Jesus’s humanity remains a marvel to us. What about the wonders in our own lives? Is there a point in your life when you hear a distinct echo, however faint, of God’s voice in you, saying: “You are my beloved daughter or son, I am well pleased with you!”

We begin a new year with health concerns because of Covid-19 as well as troubling political turmoil in our nation’s capitol. Looking for an appropriate prayer, I discovered George Washington’s “Prayer for His Country” composed in 1789. His prayer for the new nation speaks well today. See below.

It’s a time to re-set priorities and make New Year’s resolutions. But in a profoundly spiritual sense, we need to refresh ourselves in the cleansing waters of the Jordan and re-dedicate ourselves anew at the cross of Jesus Christ.

During our long, isolated days of the Covid-19 winter, here’s an observation that landed in my lap over the holidays.

Watching TV, an interview with the Irish actor and wit, Peter O’Toole, fascinated me. The other day, Turner Classic Movies, the cable TV channel, aired David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” Going back to my high school days of 1962, when I saw the movie at its release, it remains my all-time favorite film.

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O’Toole’s portrayal of T.E. Lawrence was the actor’s breakthrough role. At the time of World War I, Lawrence was the famed British officer who would personify England’s foreign policy in the Middle East for generations. David Lean’s cinematic vision boldly captured images of arid lands, their precious water, and an environment that furthers our grasp of all tribal desert people, including John the Baptist.

To accommodate the 3 hour and 46-minute film, TCM added an interview, conducted in 2007, with Peter O’Toole that explores the late actor’s insight into the film and his legacy.

At one point, the interviewer asked the actor: “What do you want to be written on your tombstone?”

Ever the story-teller, O’Toole leaned back and recounted the story of his favorite leather jacket that he had sent to the “Sycamore Cleaner because it was stained with years of dirt and grime — including Guinness, and bloodstains and marmalade, one of those jobs…”

Months later, the cleaners sent it back with an unexpected delay, enclosed in plastic wrap and a handwritten message pinned to the jacket.

O’Toole recalled the note; it read: “It distresses us greatly, to return work which is not perfect.”

He laughed and added that this message could be his epitaph. What’s his point? O’Toole explained that when he leaves this mortal life, he wants to be distressed, worn-out, and with all its wrinkles. He wants to demonstrate that he has lived. It wasn’t a pure and “perfect” life; instead, it was a “life well lived!”

So many of us have New Year’s resolutions about diet, exercise, and an array of good intentions that might perfect us. And too often, there is little result.

But like O’Toole’s soiled jacket, we must be content, even happy with the gritty and overweight humanity that gives us a foretaste of a much deeper spiritual and long-lasting view of ourselves — with all our imperfections.

When we marvel at Jesus’s life above all, we see our human nature in a new light — a life worth living.

So much so that our values of compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude might provide greater solidarity and healing so needed these past few days — and help restore purpose to our lives and the lives of others. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution!

Jesus’s humanity remains a marvel. What about the wonders in our own lives? Is there a point when you hear a distinct echo, however faint, of God’s voice in you, saying: “You are my beloved daughter or son, I am well pleased with you!”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

George Washington’s Prayer for His Country

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have the United States in his holy protection, he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose of us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves to the Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which the characteristics of the Devine Author of our blessed Religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. Amen”

Prayer adapted from General Washington’s “Circular Letter to the States” which he wrote on June 8, 1783, as the commander in chief, at his headquarters in Newburgh, New York. This circular was directed to the governors and states of the new nation. His reference to them has been replaced by the words “the United States.” On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

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