Marked as Christ’s Own
Homily delivered the First Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany 1B RCL)
The Rev. Fr. Tony Hutchinson, SCP, Ph.D. 10 January 2021 10:00 a.m.
Live-Streamed Ante-Communion with Renewal of Baptismal Vows Parish Church of Trinity, Ashland (Oregon) Readings:
God, take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Amen.
We have had a scary week, one full of fear and hope, disappointment and thanksgiving. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has preached on where we go from here in the wake of the deadly insurrection and attack on the Capitol this week. I have posted it on our parish Facebook Page just next to this live stream and invite everyone to listen to his wise and prophetic words.
Today is Baptism of Christ Sunday. Just after the homily, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. In this, we reaffirm our commitments made in baptism. As we do so, God is also renewing his commitments in our baptism. Remember the loving and affirming words of blessing said as the newly baptized are anointed with oil: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP 308).
Today’s Psalm expresses God’s love in the face of scary waters:
“Yahweh’s voice sounds over the waters, The God of glory thunders; Yahweh is greater than roaring waters… Yahweh’s voice is powerful, Yahweh’s voice is exquisite… Yahweh will strengthen his people, Yahweh will give them the blessing of peace.” (Psalm 29:3-4, 11)
This linkage of scary roaring waters with God’s love and protection is implicit in our baptismal theology. In order to have new life, we must, in a sense die. Paul said it this way: “Therefore we are buried with [Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Those waters are scary, and we risk being drowned in them! But coming through them, like Moses and the Israelites and the Red Sea, brings us to joy and peace. The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 845-62) says, “The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.”
The story of Jesus being baptized by John clearly embarrassed early Christians, who balked at the image of our Lord being under the tutelage of someone else and at the idea that he somehow needed the “baptism of repentance” offered by John. Christ had no sin, but in baptism he definitely made a change in directions, had a change of heart. He immediately goes out into the wilderness and then starts his ministry, never to return to things as they were before.
And that is what we are called to, though our change of heart often will entail turning from specific misdoings and ways of expressing brokenness. It is why we are baptized as the way entering into Christ’s life, of becoming part of his body and regular guests at his table. And since the fear of the raging waters can come back at times, and we can relapse into old ways, it is why we occasionally renew our baptismal covenant.
We live in a scary world, one in which it is easy to lose hope and our bearings, to want to stoop to the low depths we ascribe to those who oppose us. Dying to our old selves, coming through the raging waters, brings us to God’s promise of love, support, and peace.
There is a line in the Psalms we recited during the week as part of Morning Prayer: I have had enough of the contempt of the insolent rich. Contempt is at the heart of the wickedness we saw this week, and we all are guilty of it in some degree. Making our opponent subhuman, always ascribing to them the worst of motives, thinking they are mere labels and not our fellow human beings, children of one father—this is contempt. I heard one rioter on camera say, “the politicians here are scum. They deserve all that going to come to them.” I have heard others say that all Republicans are fascists, worthy of the punishment for sedition, regardless of their involvement and intentions in all this. Contempt all around. And contempt is a sin. We need to repent. The alternative to abandoning contempt and embracing community, as Presiding Bishop Michael says, is chaos.
Note in the baptism story when Jesus shows his solidarity with us in this concrete act of dying to his old way of life, God reveals himself. The dove of peace, the Holy Spirit descends. The voice of God, a voice of splendor and power louder than raging waters, says, “You are my child. I love you. You make me happy.”
And so it is for us.
May we let God change out hearts, and turn our backs on contempt. May we hold each other accountable for our actions, but always do so in love. Let us let God work this mighty change of hearts in all of us, so that we all might hear the voice of God, be bathed in God’s light, and know that we are, and have always been, beloved.
In the Name of God, Amen.