"GOING PUBLIC" - GENESIS 1:1-5 AND MARK 1:4-11 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
~Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay, Rector, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2021
Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11
Well, the politics races of 2020-21 are finally done and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Right?
But, you have to admire those people who offer themselves for public service. Their private lives are scrutinized and analyzed. I’m thinking particularly of the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta the church of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, along with Jon Ossoff won the two Senate seats that were up for grabs in Georgia. His theological stances and prophetic role as pastor and preacher in the African-American Church was dissected and put under a microscope. Every word of his sermons where he dared to speak truth to power and to raise up the needs of those downtrodden were parsed and examined.
Perhaps we all have a private side and a public side. It raises the question, “Do you feel that your faith is too personal to discuss?” Are you unsure how others would react? Or is it something you have a hard time putting into words?
We normally think that of Jesus beginning his public ministry at about age thirty. Knowing that one’s life span was much shorter then, and that couples married very young, you wonder what Jesus was up to from his mid-teens to age thirty.
And then he goes public. He approaches John to be baptized, then there’s one of those defining, life-changing moments. The heavens are torn open. The Spirit of God descends like a dove. And God’s voice thunders forth: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
It’s an awesome moment. Was it public?
Did everyone hear it?
Or was it only for Jesus?
Was it a personal spiritual experience or a public manifestation, an epiphany?
Baptism isn’t just a family affair and a rite of passage. It is being incorporated into a new family of faith, the body of Christ.
It is going public.
The Rev. Dr. James Wallis is a well-known, progressive evangelical. Some of you recognize his book: God’s Politics” Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” He talks about struggling as a teen-ager with his experience of Christianity as a very personal faith in Jesus and getting saved for heaven. He left the church for a while before he returned to a Christianity based in the Sermon on the Mount and a radical Jesus who inspired early Christians with a message of change that affected everything: personal, spiritual, political, economic.
Now the point Wallis makes is this: God is personal, but never private.
Baptism is only the beginning. It is for life. Its power shapes all our decisions and the way we look at the world. No wonder we return to our baptism throughout our lives.
That’s why during this Epiphanytide we will re-affirm our baptismal covenant. We commit ourselves to live among God’s faithful people.
We are meant to be together. To encourage and support one another in our life of faith. To challenge one another and to learn from one another.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? his last book before his assignation in 1968. He isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future.
MLK, lifted up, as he did so many times before the Beloved Community of God. A community that Jesus spoke of. The community Jesus taught us to pray, and to work, and to labor for; that Beloved Community, that reign of God's love in our time and in our world.
A community devoid of chaos?
Last Wednesday, we watched the insurrection in this nation. The chaos of people, enraged by a web of lies they live in as if it were reality, attacking the Capitol, trying to overturn an election. For some, it was hard to believe. These were the things, some smugly thought, that happen in other places. Not here.
Maybe you, like me, despair at the chaos and hatred and violence spreading across our nation, trampling the vulnerable, and wonder where God’s Spirit is now?
Then I recall the words that were read earlier from the Hebrew Scriptures. How in the beginning God breathed over chaos and darkness and brought light and order into being. God created “Community from Chaos.” Worlds, stars, beings of all kinds were breathed into life by God. And that creation, filled with the very Breath of the eternal God, embodied God’s being.
When the Holy Spirit, the breath of the Triune God, breathes into this world, beauty and justice and hope and love and life happen.
Just because you don’t see the Spirit all the time doesn’t mean God isn’t breathing into our world today. God breathes over chaos and a beautiful creation is born. God breathes into Jesus and a mission to heal and save the world is begun.
That is our task. That is why God saves us. So that we might praise God and tell others about what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ.
To put it simply to live in the very same love we have experienced in Christ.
To seek the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are in prison, welcome the stranger and the outcast, heal the sick, and bear witness to the one who loves us.
It is to work for justice- God’s justice- in the world.
It is to look for every possible opportunity to act with compassion, kindness, mercy and forgiveness in the course of our lives.
If we, as the baptized, as the church, as the body of Christ, truly live up to this calling- we will not only change the world, but people will take note of what we are doing!
~ Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church