Humility. Accountability. Love
Humility. Accountability. Love.
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on January 10, 2021
Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in some sort of “precedented” times? I don’t think “precedented” is even a word. I ended up typing this sermon instead of hand-writing it and the spell-checker kept asking if I meant something else. But wouldn’t it feel better to not wake up each day and wonder what is going to happen next? I think in some ways, we have all reached a bit of numbness to whatever happens. Oh, sure, there are things that will outrage a segment of the population, events that will bring joy to one group and make another group aghast, but there’s so much happening so fast that it feels like we have been drinking from a firehose for, well, more than 10 months to be sure. I mean, back in the spring of last year, defence agencies from multiple nations confirmed video evidence of alien activity in our skies and most of humanity was like, “Ok. Cool.”
I think about all that we are living through as I pondered and reflected about what it must have been like when Jesus showed up to be Baptized by his cousin John. I’d say it’s pretty hard to wrap our head around what life was like during Jesus’ time on earth. His nation was occupied by a foreign army, had a puppet ruler, a different kind of economy, society, religious structure… all that. But what we do know, or can at least infer, is that Jesus disrupted the status quo to bring in those on the margins, the ones whom societal, economic, and religious structures pushed to the outside, the ones for whom all those structures saw as expendable or whom they could exploit to build up their own power base. But Jesus came and turned all of that over. The ripple effect of his life and work has lasted for nearly two thousand years, and we’ve certainly gotten it wrong on more than one occasion (including in all of our lifetimes). But we’ve gotten it right in a lot of places, too.
Ritual purification had been a part of Judaism for hundreds of years by the time John and Jesus came along. The act of having water poured over you or being fully immersed as a sign of being cleansed of sin was nothing really new. What made John’s work different was that he was calling people to change their whole lives and ways of living. There was a feeling that people were more than fine doing things that they knew were outside the expectations of their faith because they could simply “get washed up” and be seen as acceptable in the eyes of God, or at least in the eyes of the religious leadership. But John, and then Jesus, had a different idea. Repent. Turn. Change. Don’t do the same thing over and over and expect the same results.
John had his approach to this change.
Jesus had his approach.
John called the religious leaders of his time a brood of vipers.
Jesus touched the unclean.
John publicly called out Herod for his dirty ways.
Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
John called people fruitless trees who should be tossed in the fire.
Jesus went down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River to be baptized.
The season of Epiphany is about seeing, celebrating, and sharing all the ways we see Christ in the world. Most importantly, it’s about the unexpected ways we see Jesus being revealed to the world around us. In some ways, it is the pinnacle of Jesus’ identity as Immanuel, God with us. The Magi represent our understanding that Jesus is and was for all people, not just his own people. They were not of the same faith or ethnic lineage as Jesus, and yet they came to honor him, to bestow royal gifts, and as some legends tell us, be some of the first to tell of this one who was born king of the Jews.
Years later, Jesus would be called God’s son as he is coming up out of those dirty waters. Jesus’ Baptism is reported in all four Gospels, and all four tellings have a different angle. In Mark’s version, the one we hear today, tells us that as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read that as Jesus breathed his last, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:27-38). Neither moment should be mistaken for a gentle rip or a slight opening. It’s an incarnational moment where heaven and earth are brought in closer proximity than we saw Saturn and Jupiter a few weeks ago.
Jesus’ Baptism should serve as a reminder to us about how God chooses to be in the world, that God chose humility, accountability, and love. And if we are truly to be followers of Jesus, it is a reminder of how we should choose to be in the world, that we are to choose humility, accountability, and love. Can you imagine what this world would look like if we not only we all exhibited a little more humility, but also, we didn’t tolerate a lack of humility in others? And I don’t mean, not tooting your own horn or sharing an accomplishment. I mean listening to the experiences of others, especially those on the margins, the same ones Jesus brought in, the same people Jesus touched when no one else would. It means listening to understand, not to respond. It means reading Scripture through the lens of love to help us better know how to live this life God gave us. It means not tolerating or excusing those who intend or achieve harm, either through their words or actions.
If you know me at all then this next statement will not surprise you. Humility, accountability, and love were most definitely not on display on Wednesday by the mob who besieged the Capitol building. Despite some who carried so-called Christian flags and signs, there was nothing Christ-like about the evil behavior we saw unfolding, and there is nothing Christ-like about the plans and intentions we continue to learn about as more investigations happen. It showed the very worst of what America can be, and I’m heartbroken that Christian symbolism was in anyway associated with it.
Humility, accountability, and love are the core of what one might call Christian citizenship. It’s about standing up for what is right, advocating and working for justice, equality, systemic change, and the common good (not just what is good for a few). There is nothing about following Jesus, let alone anything else in life, that is a spectator sport. It requires our active engagement, a daily expression of our desire to be a part of this Jesus movement. Being a follower of Jesus, now more than ever, requires an intentional choice to embrace the loving, liberating, live-giving God, and all the ways God empowers us to be light of Christ in a world that so, so desperately needs it.
In a few minutes, we will renew our Baptismal Covenant. The words are in the bulletin that is available in the comments section of our YouTube feed and on our Website or if you have a Book of Common Prayer available, it’s on page 292. It is for us, as Epicopal followers of Jesus, the core statement of our beliefs and our faith in action.
There are five questions about how we live out our faith with God and among our neighbors. Questions about serving Christ by serving others. An invitation to live as though we might be the only example of Jesus someone might ever see. As we get to those questions about how we will live out that faith, I encourage you to pause and ponder before you say, “I will with God’s help,” to think about what that means for you, for those in your life, and what it might mean for the world.