January 10th: The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Valerie Kelley is an educator and the senior warden at St. Hilda St. Patrick. The text for her sermon was Mark 1.4-11 and was based on the below manuscript.

It’s been a long week. It’s been a long year. I’m angry, fed up, and distracted right now. I don’t know how to go forward or what God is calling me to do. I hear our Presiding Bishop, Bishop Curry, invite us all into the love of the Jesus Movement. “Love conquers all,” he reminds us. In the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect titled, “In times of Conflict”, reads, “O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to work together with mutual forbearance and respect.”

But after this difficult week, after a difficult year, I can’t help being skeptical about all this love and togetherness talk. We had a mob attack at our nation’s capitol this week. We are in a pandemic. There is a homelessness crisis. An economic crisis. A “My way or the highway” crisis. Extremism. White Supremacy. Intentional meanness. What am I supposed to do when groups of people define justice and truth so differently? Some people seem committed to hatred and bitterness. What about people who don’t have good intentions to work together with mutual forbearance and respect? Sometimes I’m just not sure what my faith is telling me to do.

It is in this state of mind that I was encountering our Gospel for today. The baptism of Jesus. Just like the world right now, baptism has always been a little mystifying to me. As a child and a young Episcopalian, it came off a bit as just an initiation into some kind of special club. Some in, some out.

Baptism of redemption? What exactly did that mean? Baptism with the Holy Spirit was always a little easier to grasp, and I liked the image of the dove. As a younger adult, growing my own faith and baptizing my children, I grappled with the Baptismal Covenant from the Book of Common Prayer.

  • Do I believe in God the Father? That was always a bit of a problem for me – what about God the Mother?
  • Do I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Most of the time.
  • The Holy Spirit – absolutely. For me, that’s the easiest.
  • I have always been on board with continuing in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.
  • Will I persevere in resisting evil?- I really hope I do. I’m still trying to figure out what “resisting” means when it comes to evil.
  • The hardest part of the Covenant for me is: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I’m Episcopalian! Example, fine. Word – much, much harder.
  • Will I seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself? – Most of the time? I’m struggling with this one – especially when my neighbors are people who wish me or other people ill.
  • Will I strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Again, I try. But, I wish I was better.

Still, the many years of praying, listening, and discerning have helped me to live more fully into the mystery of baptism. As I’ve felt the hands of the Holy Spirit on me, I’ve felt that my baptismal covenant with God has embraced and grounded me. Even in the midst of chaos, God is walking with me; and loving me; helping me to do the same.

The Most Reverend Frank Griswold, then Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote in 2004: quote “…looking again at Jesus’ baptism: we can see that as he emerges from the waters of the Jordan, Jesus experiences a deep and all-embracing oneness with God, and an overwhelming sense of being the beloved. The love which passes between Jesus and the Father in the Holy Spirit becomes the animating force of his life, and expresses itself in a self-giving ministry of reconciliation. This baptismal awareness is expressed with passionate urgency in his (Jesus’) words and actions.”

Later, Griswold continues,

“And what have our baptisms done to us? Through baptism we are bound together with others and declared limbs – body parts – of the risen Lord who lives his life of reconciling love in and through us. God’s love becomes embodied in us. Baptism, therefore, is God’s act before it is our own. God draws us to himself and takes us out of our presumed separateness into a new web of relationship that unites us with others beyond personal affinity. Questions of whether we like someone or not, whether we agree or not, are no longer relevant.” unquote

This is challenging to hear, especially right now. Love. Peace. Togetherness. Forgiveness. Kumbaya. Are we just kidding ourselves? What about the evil? In our baptismal service, we are called to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.

But then I come back again to the gift of baptism. And I remember that Jesus knows how hard it all is. As Fr. Joseph reminded me this week, baptism is God’s grace – active to us. Active to us. Every day. Grace is not a goal – it’s happening now. God’s grace is for the journey. I don’t have to figure it all out by myself.

I’m confused, angry, and distracted right now, and worried about the future. The future of our community, our country, and the world. But the risen Lord is here, among us. All we can do is walk together into the mystery and the turmoil. I will, with God’s help.

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