Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
10 Jan. 2016, Epiphany 1,The Baptism of Our Lord, Year C:
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
How many of you use a navigation system when you travel?
How many intentionally search for a hassle to make your life tedious?
We humans tend to dislike hassles in travel & the rest of life. Hassles waste our energy. Hassles steal the precious gift of time that God gives us in limited quantity on this side of life.
To combat hassles, we strive to be sure, to avoid tedium that adds to our stress. We want things right. No hassles. Hassles are part of life. For example, some navigation devices have sent folk to a different house when coming to see us. The travelers called us for more exact directions. My own navigation app sends me to the wrong house when I put in our address!
How different would the story of the Wise Men be if they had had cell phones with a navigation app? [We know they used their own “OnStar” system & had to ask Herod to help pinpoint their destination.]
On this first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Wise Men may help us find our way through our scriptures today.
You recall Epiphany is the showing forth of God's far-reaching Love beyond the limits of God's chosen people. God loves all in the human family. God loves you. No exceptions. Epiphany, the wise men, show us: All are welcome into the embrace of God's far-reaching Love. Jesus is the way to navigate through life, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Like the Wise Men, we see God's Love revealed in Jesus. Like the Wise Men seeking something special, in our Gospel today we see the crowds coming to John seeking something special. John does something special & baptizes all, including Jesus, who has no sin to be washed away. Jesus is baptized to show us how to draw closer to God's Love, to have a new start, to wash away the old & welcome the new way of life – the way of Love.
We hear God's Love in the voice when God's Beloved Son dies for us on the cross & says: “Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.” God's Love draws us & reaches out to draw all people into God's loving embrace.
We hear how God's loving embrace grows in our lesson from Acts. God's Love active among the apostles sends Peter & John to minister to new Christians in Samaria, to guide them like the star guided the Wise Men. When Peter & John arrive at their destination, like the Wise Men sharing their gifts, they share in prayer & the laying on of hands so that the people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fullness of God's Love flows more fully in the lives in that Body of Christ in Samaria.
We hear echoes of God's Love flowing through the centuries when we hear the long-ago promise God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in our lesson today: “Do not fear. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” God says, “You are mine”.
God says, “Do not fear.” With this great Love, this gift, this great assurance, what can hold you back? God gives you – God gives us – Love & Grace to handle life's hassles, to handle real problems – including the fearful headline news we hear.
The fear that captures our headlines relies on the threat of scarcity to retain its power. You & I know that Jesus shows us how to live freed from “Scare City”, [as we discussed last week]. Jesus shows us how to see & reflect what is Holy in God's world, the wholeness we receive in Baptism, the holiness of God that we reflect because the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell in us – in you.
God gives us the abundant gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us as we navigate through life. Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through another human, like in our lesson from Acts. Sometimes the Holy Spirit guides us by silent clarity. Sometimes God uses a special word that pops into a conversation.
Again this year you have the opportunity to select a Star Word, that special word God speaks to you. Perhaps the Star Word is how God works like a coach to help us train & develop our spiritual muscles.
It is vital to our individual health &, as we see in our lesson from Acts, vital to the health of the Body of Christ to exercise our spiritual muscles. As we practice our spiritual disciplines this year & grow in grace & sometimes “get it right”, we may hear God, like a proud coach, say: “Good job”.
We know it may be just a moment after our “good job” that we blow it & have to confess to our “Coach”:
“I have blown it.
I went against the regulations, broke training &
let down the team.”
When this happens [when, not if] we turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance, for grace, for forgiveness, for more training.
Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
“New Beginnings”. http://www.sermons4kids.com/new-beginnings.html Accessed: 4 Jan. 2016.
Warren, The Rev. Deacon Timothy G. “Manifesting God’s Love, Epiphany 1(C) – 2016” http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/ Accessed: 5 Jan. 2016.