January 14, 2024
We assemble this morning as a faithful community, not merely as individuals, but as a collective body, a tapestry or quilt, bound, and connected to follow the way of Jesus.
We gather this day to remember the baptism of Jesus, and more significantly for those that have been baptized to remember our own baptism.
We listened to the story of the three dream calls to Samuel, and the impact on his life.
3:11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.
3:19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
3:20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
Remember the times in your life where the HS has spoken to you.. What were the circumstances: A dream, vision quest, in deep prayer, listening to music, being intentionally present with creation, a moment of deep crisis or pain, responding with anguish after watching or reading about the horrific news of the world or civil unrest in this country.
Ask yourself, in what ways am I a trustworthy prophet? How do I articulate prophesy repairing the breach in our broken world?
In the Gospel we heard the story of Jesus coming to John the Baptist who had come from the wilderness, to be baptized in the Jordan River. Jesus fully participated in this radical revolutionary act. We are reminded that Jesus humbled himself, setting for us a clear specific path to follow; The heavens opened, affirming him as the beloved Son of God and is immediately sent into the wilderness. Imagine for a moment that the wilderness is a homeless encampment in our beloved city, or the thousands gathered at our border escaping from a dark fear that we cannot comprehend.
I ask that we take a moment, close your eyes, and remember or imagine your own baptism. Visualize the community of family and friends that surrounded you, feel the warm sacred waters poured over you, perhaps the priestly blessing with oil, the commitments made personally or on your behalf, the family and community covenants to follow the way of love manifested by Jesus. When we remember our baptism, we are reminded that we do not travel alone on this journey. The Creator, family, and our community accompany us, guiding our steps and empowering us for the mission that lies ahead.
Baptism is not a mere customary; it is a sacred ceremony, a covenant—a response to the insistent call of the Holy Spirit. It signifies our willing entry into the community of faith, a blessed family that transcends boundaries, ethnicities, and social divisions.
Bishop Steve Charleston: John the Baptist stands out in the crowd. He is memorable by both his costume and his behavior. He stays in the mind of all who see him. His presence breaks the normal pattern. His unsettling actions toward the religious hierarchy are shocking. John, as a sacred prophetic clown, introduces an element of chaos into order.
John invites us to participate in a solemn ceremony, baptism, intended to bring us life. John also reminds us of the wilderness in our lives our imminent death and destruction. The ambivalence, the tension makes us want to shudder in fear and sigh in relief.
Charleston, Steven. The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (pp. 98-99). Church Publishing Incorporated. Kindle Edition.
How might your baptism, your unique call, create within your heart the hunger to embrace discipleship, opening your heart and mind to the transformative blessing of the way of Jesus. To be clear, we understand a disciple as a learner and follower of a teacher’s teachings. In our context, it refers to those who follow and emulate Jesus way of love, striving to live by his teachings and examples.
At Pentecost we celebrate receiving the Holy Spirit. The Spirit surrounds us as a rushing wind and tongues of fire, filling us with boldness and enabling us to speak in different languages.
The Holy Spirit is sending us to love, reconcile, and advocate for justice. As we heard in Acts: the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. We are called to actively resist the forces of injustice and discrimination, transcend borders, and challenge the powers that seek to divide and oppress, fully trusting that the Spirit equips us for this transformative work.
Discipleship is not passive; it is an intentional commitment to follow the Way of Love that Jesus exemplified. The Way of Love, in the Episcopal Church, urges us to turn toward Jesus, learn from his teachings, pray, worship, bless others, go into the world, and find rest in God’s grace. This holistic approach to discipleship aligns with the call of the Holy Spirit to engage actively in the world, seeking justice, compassion, and inclusivity.
Our baptism is the inauguration into a life of discipleship. It is a commitment to embody the teachings of Jesus in our everyday lives. Discipleship challenges us to confront the powers of darkness and oppression with the transformative power of love. It calls us to be living examples of the Gospel, rejecting the narratives of hatred and supremacy that attempt to corrode the fabric of our society.
To be sure, we confess that baptism and discipleship has been used historically as a weapon to separate us from one another, and to eradicate cultural identity.
Consider the painting “The Baptism of Pocahontas” by John Chapman that hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington. It was Commissioned in 1837 by the United States government. You see her dressed in white, kneeling before the baptismal font in the church at Jamestown, Virginia, the earliest permanent English colony, April 5 1614. She is surrounded by members of her own family, by white colonists, with her future husband, John Rolfe. An Anglican priest, Alexander Whiteaker, is looking up to heaven with his hand raised in benediction. One of her Native relatives leans forward while others look away.
I asked my good friend and mentor Howie Anderson of his understanding regarding baptism and indigenous people. Was it a weapon, or were there transformational commitments? He shared that both were true. He related a story regarding white buffalo calf woman, Pte-San Win-Yan and her prophetic vision that the people could eat of her flesh, tatanka, that there would be one coming to the people that would invite them to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. He added that with the arrival of Whipple and others the commitment to Christianity spread like a prairie fire.
What is so striking about this painting is not only its imagery of a docile Native being “saved,” nor its location in the very center of white American power, but its timing. It was commissioned at the height of the removal of Native nations from the United States on the Trail of Tears. It was painted and hung while thousands of Native Americans were being marched either to their deaths or to exile.
Charleston, Steven. The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (pp. 174-175). Church Publishing Incorporated. Kindle Edition.
Last week Rena, Emilia Allen and I met with Bishop Loya to discuss the mission we are organizing that supports immigrants in our community; it was an excellent conversation and we have his unqualified support.
He shared with us his concern for the darkness and dark times ahead in our country and throughout the world. The rise of white nationalism and supremacy, and what appears to be a civil war in process, his fear for our democracy and for the church. He shared his personal commitment that the only way forward was to continue the small missional work that we do to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, dismantle systems of injustice, protect creation in all forms. To be sure, we were all ‘astonished’ by his honest raw confession and commitment.
In Isaiah (Isaiah 58:12, NRSV), we encounter the prophetic mandate to “repair the breach” and “restore the streets to live in” This is not a suggestion; it is a gospel imperative. It calls us to actively participate in the redemption and healing of our fractured world. The call to repair the breach in our broken world is fundamental to discipleship.
The breach is evident in the systems that perpetuate inequality, discrimination, and injustice. White supremacy, in its various manifestations, is a stark horrific example of this breach. As followers of Jesus, we are not called to idly sit or stand by. We are empowered by The Holy Spirit to be agents of change, actively working to dismantle structures that perpetuate division and to build bridges of reconciliation.
In repairing the breach, we commit to engage in the difficult but necessary conversations that challenge the systems and ideologies that perpetuate hatred, fear, and division. We commit to advocating for policies that promote equality and justice. We commit to educating ourselves about the root causes of white supremacy and actively dismantling the structures that uphold it.
Repairing the breach commits us to stand in solidarity with the marginalized, the immigrant, creation itself, advocating for justice, and fostering communities of love, support, and engagement. It requires prophetic truth-telling, acknowledging the historical and present injustices associated with white supremacy. We engage ourselves in the work of repentance, recognizing our collective responsibility to address the sins of the past and present.
Our response to the brokenness of our world is grounded in the transformative power of love, as we in community act to overcome hatred with compassion, darkness with light, and division with unity.
Let us together as the body of Christ embrace the transformative journey of discipleship. let us remember our baptism, respond to the call of the Holy Spirit, and actively engage in repairing the breach in our broken world.
May the Trinitarian love of Jesus guide us, the Holy Spirit engage and empower us, and the grace of The Creator sustain us as we travel this sacred path.