1 Epiphany Year C The Feast of the Baptism of Christ 1-13-13
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 43:1-7; Ps. 29; Acts. 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Your voice, O LORD, splits the flames of fire; your voice, O LORD, shakes the wilderness; you shake the wilderness of Kadesh. Your voice, O LORD, makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare. And in the temple of the LORD all are crying, "Glory!" You shall give strength to your people; you shall give us the blessing of peace. AMEN.
The season of Epiphany – epiphan’eia, “appearing;” manifestation – is the season of revelation: the revelation of Jesus’ divine identity, made known among us in human form in the Incarnation, and also the revelation of the nature of his salvation.
Oh gosh, there: I’ve said it: in the season of the Epiphany, we SEE our SALVATION revealed in the human person of Jesus Christ. SALVATION is a big word, and it’s a fraught word. Sometimes it is used as a separating and even almost as a punishing word, to slice through people and place them either on or against God’s side. Either you are SAVED or you are NOT. (Implication, either you are EVIL or you are not!) And WE KNOW which side you likely are on!
The salvation of God in Jesus Christ is not manifested to me in this way. Not at all. For one thing, Scripture assures me over and over that neither I nor any other human being is in a position to judge anyone’s salvation, my own or anyone else’s. ONLY GOD KNOWS THAT! My sight and yours are too partial, too limited to be able to judge.
For another thing, salvation is not some linear scale along which we register either high or low, in or out, saved or not. It’s not some earned reward in the future, either. Salvation, as it is revealed to me in Scripture and particularly in the Gospels – the Good News about Jesus, especially in Luke – is more like an all-encompassing, ever-present centripetal FORCE that PULLS US TOWARD GOD, and CENTERS US IN the GODNESS INHERENT IN OUR OWN HUMANITY, brothers and sisters of Christ that we are. When we are baptized, we step into that force field of salvation, never to be lost from it, always to be pulled and pulled toward the godly center even when we – as we often do – pull hard against it. And weaker though it may be in the hinterlands outside of baptism, that attractive force of God is out there, too, ‘way beyond the boundaries of baptism! It is pulling people toward God who have no idea of its power, and are not ready yet to see it or to claim it. And even we who are within the sphere of baptism’s force field are still all over the lot, sometimes nearer and sometimes farther away from God at the center, sometimes (even unconsciously) participating in salvation, sometimes working against it. We have that mighty and appalling freedom, to work WITH or to work AGAINST salvation, in varying degrees, all the time. And we ALWAYS have the pull of God’s grace drawing us into FULL PARTICIPATION IN SALVATION, FULL PARTICIPATION IN LOVE.
That’s why I have come to love John the Baptist’s imagery for this in today’s Gospel of Luke passage, as frightening as it seemed the first time I read it. "I baptize you with water;” cries John the Baptist at the Jordan River, “but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
The first time I read that, coming to Scripture anew as an adult without any church background whatsoever, I heard all that dire imagery about fire and winnowing and burning, and I thought John the Baptist was siding with all those who claim they know who’s saved and who isn’t. And I was instantly and mightily convinced that I was the chaff, and headed straight for the unquenchable fire.
The longer I live and practice my faith, though, and read Scripture and pray and worship God, and partake of the Body & Blood of Christ, and practice thanksgiving even when my spirit is unwilling to be thankful about anything at all, and mercy when I feel merciless, and the longer I also practice the presence of God when I swim and when I cook and eat with friends and clamber around mountains and along beaches and the longer I hang out wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, trying as best I can – and FAILING, A LOT! – to see the world through God’s eyes, and trying as best I can – and FAILING, A LOT! – to love what I see, and to act in love toward all I see, the more I begin to understand that John the Baptist isn’t judging me or anyone else. He’s describing the PROCESS I’M IN, THE PROCESS we’re ALL IN, in the POWER OF BAPTISM: the winnowing process, the shaking out of our valuable grain for use, and the burning away of our most unhelpful chaff.
The closer I get to the center of God’s centripetal force field of grace and love – and I oscillate, boy do I oscillate – further… and nearer… and further… and nearer again… in and out of that unquenchable chaff-burning fire that never fails to hurt but that always offers the chance to sort out some more of the good grain, the grain of compassion and reconciliation, the closer I pull back to the necessary grace of God at the center, the more I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit active in my life. And the more I feel that Spirit in both the fire and ecstasy of LOVE and in the sometimes excruciating fire that burns my chaff away, sometimes at precisely the same moment.
Because amid all this winnowing and burning, we DO find ourselves, sometimes shockingly unexpectedly, and sometimes only after longing and longing and hoping and searching and willing it, right AT that center, CENTERED IN GOD. When we DO find ourselves at the very center; when we discover ourselves to be IN GOD, then indeed we are filled with the Holy Spirit and fire. Then we are, as Psalm 29 says, “In the temple of the Lord… crying, ‘Glory!’” Then we find we can consecrate ourselves to actions we might never have imagined possible before that moment of glory.
Now the Hebrew word for “glory” conveys not just a sense of overwhelming brilliance, but also of weightiness, of heaviness. [Joni S. Sancken, New Proclamation Year C 2013] To be a witness to God’s glory is not to side-step the somber realities of evil and suffering. It is to be aware of God’s power in the MIDST of those seemingly contradictory realities, and to know – actively to CLAIM – God’s love and beauty, God’s goodness in the midst of those terrible realities. To be a witness to God’s glory is to maintain the sense of eschatological hope despite all that tempts one to despair, and to remain open to the possibility of action – even as small an action as to say, “Thank you!” or “I love you!” if that is all you have the energy and the capacity to do – to remain open to the possibility of action when all action seems impossible.
And here comes the paradox of God’s salvation: it is not just an EXTERNAL reality. To be a witness to God’s glory, to find oneself in the force field of salvation, is to become aware that not just the beauty of the world, but the very kernel – the GRAIN – of one’s own SELF, the irreducible minimum of one’s own SELF, is Beloved of God, tenderly conceived and brought into being by God, and that all of one’s actions that contribute to the good in the world flow from that seminal reality.
That awareness is what struck Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, when he came up out of the waters of the Jordan, praying, and found the heavens opened and a dove descending upon him and the voice of God calling him The Beloved, pleasing to God. That is the awareness that lies at the center of the force field of baptism. And it is from that center – that GOD CENTER IN EACH ONE OF US – that salvation flows.
The significance of this is immense. First, it means that each of us is contributing to the world simply by being. So in the times when simple “being” is all we have – at the beginning of life; at the end of life; when we are laid low by illness, or mental prostration, or addiction, or any of the malign forces that reduce us, whether poverty or unemployment or oppressive prejudice and exclusion or you name it – we still have, glowing at our very core, the glory of God and the salvation of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.
Second, it means that just as Jesus is SAVED into ACTION, into MINISTRY, by his baptism, we are SAVED INTO MINISTRY by ours. Contrary to many popular opinions, we are not saved OUT of the world. We, like Jesus, IN JESUS, are saved INTO the world, into the confusing complexity of the world, in love for that world in all its complexity. And if we plunk the missing verses of Luke’s Gospel back into the middle of today’s passage where they belong – did you happen to notice that verses 18-20 were missing?!? – they tell us more about what KIND of action that might be, and what it might REAP in our lives. Here are the missing lines: “So, with many other exhortations, [John the Baptist] proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.”
UH-OH! In Jesus, we are not only saved INTO the world, we are likely saved INTO SACRIFICE. We are saved INTO confrontation with the evil and suffering in the world, even PROVOKING it. We are saved INTO loving and caring even when to do so puts us at risk. We are saved INTO SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE in situations where no one may be able to hear it, where it may even call down fire upon us. We know this, we who read Scripture, because we know that Herod’s reaction to John is only a foreshadowing of the reaction to Jesus that lies ahead, in his passion and crucifixion. Even harder, we’re SAVED INTO FORGIVENESS – forgiveness of ourselves when we oscillate away from the center of God’s grace and do things destructive to ourselves or others, and forgiveness of the others who, like Herod, are themselves oscillating away from the center of God’s love and may consequently suffer a bad, even a dangerous, reaction to our truth.
So this Epiphany, we see in Jesus the Human One our own belovedness that lies at the core of our being, consecrated in our baptisms. We see active in Jesus the force field of love that pulls our own beloved selves in toward the center of grace where they can be filled with the Holy Spirit and with fire, set free to act lovingly in the world. And we begin to glimpse in Jesus the fact that our salvation, always at work in us as we practice seeing it and claiming it, is calling us INTO THE WORLD, to ACT IN LOVE, even to ACT SACRIFICIALLY if need be. And we do this without fear, because God is with us, Emmanuel: that, too, we see in Jesus.
As Isaiah promises, “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
And as the Psalm promises, “The LORD shall give strength to his people; the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.” AMEN.
Sunday December 30, 2012 – St James’s Church - The Rev Judy Gay
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
The last time I preached at St James was November 11, just after John and I had come back from China. Maybe some of you remember. Flying back from China we arrived in California on October 29, the very same day that Hurricane Sandy was battering New York and New Jersey. All flights from California to the east coast were cancelled, so we had to stay in California a few extra days until we could fly safely home to Boston. By the time we got home it was again calm and beautiful autumn weather here in New England, and by the time I preached at St James I almost forgotten about Hurricane Sandy.
But all that time, for nearly two weeks, some of the disabled and elderly people who lived in four tall apartment buildings in Far Rockaway in Queens, were still living in darkness, with no electricity, no lights, no heat, no water, no way to charge their cell-phones, no elevators. Some very sick people had been evacuated to nursing homes, and a few volunteers with flashlights or headlamps to light their way began to bring hot food and water up the many flights of stairs for the people trapped for days in the darkness in their apartments from sundown to sunrise.
On November 7 a woman named Kate Balandina who worked with the few volunteers walked up the pitch dark staircases of those high rise buildings and by the light of a flashlight beam, began taking videos of the people she met behind the doors of those cold, dark apartments. The YouTube video that she made and posted soon went viral and many other compassionate people began to come to the rescue of those disabled people living high up there in the darkness.
Finally, on November 9, city officials with National Guard help and medical teams began a door-to-door check on everyone living there and found 60-80 people who needed to be taken to hospitals and shelters. And shortly after the power came back, on November 12, they found one man lying dead in his 13th floor apartment, next to a pile of Christmas cards and a handwritten list of names and addresses of his children, grandchildren and great grand-children as well as FexEx notices of delivery attempts for gifts he had evidently planned to give to people he loved.
One of the neighbors said “Maybe it’s a wake up call for everyone.” (NY Times, 11/19/ 2012)
Sometimes, we too are living in darkness, not aware of the suffering and the need in the darkness around us. We too need a wake up call and a light to find our way to those in need. And especially this Christmas season when we are full of the joy of angels and the beauty of Christmas candles and lights in the darkness of December, we too need a wake up call from God who came into the world as Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.
So our Gospel for today, this first Sunday after Christmas, is not Luke’s story of the birth of baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem and the angels and shepherds who celebrated with Mary and Joseph. It is not Matthew’s story of the wise men who came to worship, and the angel who warned the holy family to flee to safety in Egypt in order to escape from jealous King Herod. Those familiar Christmas stories were beautifully acted out by the children on Christmas Eve, and pictured in the stained glass windows over the door to your right.
Our Gospel reading for today is from John, whose familiar words speak of the deep meaning of this incarnation, this birth of Jesus the Word of God who came into the world at Christmas. Powerful meaning is woven, like musical themes, into the familiar words which John used here, and throughout his gospel, to speak of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, the Word of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
So for these 12 days of Christmas, in these longest, darkest days of the year, as we enjoy the lights of Christmas, we give thanks for the Light of Christ who has come into our lives. And we give thanks that the light of Christ enables each one of us to light our own lights and take them out to help others living in the darkness of sin, sickness, heartache, loneliness, or crises like Hurricane Sandy.
The Gospel of John goes on to talk about John the Baptist, who was sent by God to testify to the light of Christ so that all people might believe through Jesus, the true Light of the World. After the 12 days of Christmas comes the season of Epiphany, the four or five weeks after Christmas. Epiphany, which means manifestation, or showing forth, reminds us of how the star of Bethlehem showed the way for the three Wise Men or 3 Kings to come and worship the new-born king Jesus, and of how the light of Christ’s Good News spread out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
When John begins his gospel by saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he is telling us that the Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the Son of God who became flesh and lived among us in order to make God known to all the world.
John, who was writing in the Greek language, used the Greek word “Logos” to mean the wisdom or truth of God. “Logos” was used by ancient philosophers and religious thinkers in many ways, but especially to speak of the Divine Wisdom of God or “Sophia”. Many of the Jewish books written in the centuries just before the birth of Christ are called Wisdom Literature and speak of God’s wisdom at work in the world. So it is no wonder that when John began to write his story of the life of Jesus Christ in Greek, he began by saying Jesus himself was that Word, that Logos, that Wisdom who became flesh and lived among us to make God known.
And so when Chinese Christians looked for a Chinese word to express the idea of Word or Logos, they used the word “DAO” (or Tao). Thus the Chinese Bible translations of the beginning of John’s gospel say that; “In the beginning was the dao and the dao was with God, and the dao was God.”
At first I puzzled over this, because I identified the term “dao” with Daoism, an ancient Chinese philosophical and religious tradition which began in the 3rd or 4th century before Christ. Daoism, first popularized in Laozi’s book, the Dao de Ching, emphasized living in harmony with the Dao or inner “principle” of things. The more I read about Daoism and the Chinese word “dao”, the more meaning I found in this Chinese translation as a way of explaining how Jesus makes God known to us. Here are two of the many ways this Chinese term points to Christ, the Word of God.
First, the word “dao” has the meaning of THE TRUTH, the INNER MEANING or PRINCIPLE or HEART of a thing. So when John wanted to say that Jesus revealed the inner meaning, the heart, the truth of God he used the Greek word LOGOS, and when Chinese Christians wanted to say the same thing they used the Chinese word DAO. Jesus Christ shows us the inner “Dao” of God.
Maybe you remember a popular American book published in 1975 about the inner meaning of modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism was called The Tao of Physics. Or you may know The Tao of Pooh, explaining the inner meaning, the truth, the heart of the Winnie the Pooh stories.
Near the end of today’s gospel John says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth”, and a bit later he says that although “the law indeed was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God’s only Son, who is close to the father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:14 and 17).
3. THE WAY
Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, indeed shows us the TRUTH of the WAY of God.
Jesus did this throughout his life, by the WAY he lived, the WAY he called and taught his followers to live, and the WAY we are still trying to live as Christians as the year 2013 approaches. Indeed, the most common meaning of the Chinese word “DAO” is “the Way” or the path, or the road.
If we look at the Way Jesus lived, we see by his example that he lived a simple life of love and healing and helping as he traveled among the ordinary men and women and children of Galilee. He didn’t seek to join the wealthy or the successful or famous religious and political leaders of his times. Rather he brought good news to the poor, healed the sick and the blind, talked with the Samaritan woman, and ate with tax collectors and prostitutes whom he met on the WAY. And he was willing to stand up for the poor and oppressed people against those in power, even if it meant taking the ROAD to Jerusalem and eventually the WAY of the cross to suffering and death.
Again and again Jesus called people to come follow him, follow him on the WAY of love and service to others. And in his teachings like the Sermon on the Mount and like all the parables and sayings which his followers heard and memorized and passed on to the gospel writers, Jesus was always teaching them how to follow God’s WAY, the way of life that he called “The Kingdom of God.”
Indeed, for about 15 years after the resurrection of Jesus, the first followers of Jesus were actually called “the people of the Way.” (Acts 9:2) Only later did they become known at Christians, (Acts 11:26) because they were following the Way of Christ.
So we today are still being called to follow The Way of Jesus which we can call the Way or the Word or the “Dao” of God. Of course we must figure out what that Way looks like in our culture and in our modern times. But it is the example and teachings and spirit of Jesus, the Word made flesh, that guides us.
These 12 days of Christmas celebration includes New Years Day which is coming up on Tuesday. For many people New Years is a time for new beginnings, a time to make resolutions about the Way we will live our lives.
- Maybe last year you were not ready to follow the Way of Jesus;
- or maybe you tried and messed up and failed;
- or maybe did your best but want to do even better at following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Now is the time for us all to start again, to welcome the New Year by committing our selves to understand the TRUTH OF JESUS’ teaching more clearly and to walk in the WAY OF JESUS more nearly, day by day in the year ahead.
Christmas Eve Year B 12-24-12
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20; Ps. 96
Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples. For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised! AMEN.
Every year, we gather on this night to hear the beloved Christmas story, with its tiny Holy Family, with Mary heavily pregnant, journeying laboriously under imperial edict to be registered so they could be taxed by the Romans. Every year, we hear how they arrive in their town of origin to find no room in which to lodge, and are forced to settle instead in a manger next to the animals. There, they are delivered of their son, whom they tenderly wrap in swaddling clothes and ingeniously lay in the manger for a cradle.
And every year, we hear the angels, the messengers of God, throng the sky over the shepherds who tend the townspeople’s flocks in the fields below in the cold and wind. The angels, shining with God’s glory like a thousand Northern Lights, announce to these humble workers that the Emperor Augustus may think he knows what’s good for him, forcing huge masses of people into motion so that he can compound their meager wherewithal to support his military adventures, but ACTUALLY the good news of great joy for all people, the angels proclaim, is that it is not Augustus, but rather it is the Almighty GOD who is in charge of all the earth, and that in the midst of and indeed FURTHERED by all Augustus’ machinations and hubris, GOD is, in this tiny, vulnerable, unassuming, disenfranchised baby, raising up for us a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
We keep coming back to hear this tale again even when we suspect that Luke made much of it up and dressed it in the particulars of the best historical fiction. We come back to hear it again because whether or not it is exactly factual, it names something so crucial for us, so necessary to life, that we crave to hear it told over and over and over. We crave to be reminded that the huge forces – economic, social, political, military, religious – that seem gripped destructively over all of us in ways we cannot envision ameliorating – the vise grip of global warming; the vise grip of extreme fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Christian or Hindu or what have you; the vise grip of poverty and the drug trade and gang warfare; the vise grip of our guns, sought as liberators but actually imprisoners of all of us in random violence fueled by social ills and mental ones; the vise grip of our own greed, that prioritizes our mall trips over funding that will provide jobs and mental health treatment and housing to those endemically closed out of such essentials of human dignity – we crave to be reminded that all these gripping powers will not claim the victory in the end. We crave to know that, like that small, soon-to-be-exiled infant in a manger, our tiny candles of light, our tiny prayers for peace, our tiny efforts to provide healing and opportunity, DO have power, have ULTIMATE DIVINE POWER, and WILL, ultimately, bring the wondrous world we live in to the fruition of all its potential for beauty and goodness.
And because we live in a world created in God’s immense creative love, a world that is itself a sacrament of God’s love – an outward and visible manifestation of that inward and spiritual grace, and because we ourselves are made in God’s image, we find pledges of that wondrous divine power making its inexorable way up out of powerless obscurity into creative flourishing, despite all odds, if we will only look, and look with the eyes of God’s loving sense of hopeful possibility where only a despairing impossibility and defeat seemed to reign supreme. As the old familiar story says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” Let us do likewise… let us look for the manger, and the Christ Child, attesting to God’s vulnerable yet indomitable love in the world.
In the community of Cateura, Paraguay, for example, a slum has grown up on a landfill. There, as in so many places in the developing world where all our refuse eddies to a stop in huge, geological formations of garbage, people make their living recycling components of trash thrown out by the more affluent. They are struggling for subsistence at the very bottom of the economic ladder. And it has made them – literally -- RESOURCEful. One day, the shell of a violin turned up in the landfill, and the scavengers rescued it. Supplemented by bits and pieces plucked from the heaps of detritus, it was fashioned into a usable violin for 13-year-old Ada Maribel Rios Bordados. In the same way, an old oil can, seen with the eyes of possibility, became a cello for 19-year-old Juan Manuel Chavez, known as Bebi. Its pegs are made of an old tool used to tenderize beef and another for the fashioning of gnocchi.
Next thing you know, the young people of Cateura are forged into a chamber orchestra, with all their instruments fashioned from trash. Their founder and director, Favio Chavez, says, “A community like Cateura is not a place to have a violin. In fact, a violin is worth more than a house here.” One of the fashioners of instruments says, “The families here recycle trash and sell it. I never imagined myself building an instrument like this and I feel very happy when I see a kid playing a recycled violin.” It’s hard for us even to imagine life in Cateura, where some “…2500 families who live there survive by separating garbage for recycling. A 2010 UNICEF report about this slum notes that more than 1500 tons of solid waste arrives each day. Illiteracy is rampant there, and Cateura's youngest inhabitants are often the ones responsible for collecting and reselling the garbage. The water supply is very dangerously polluted; on rainy days, the town floods with contaminated water. "A violin is worth more than a house here," says Favio Chavez…” [http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/19/167539764/the-landfill-harmonic-an-orchestra-built-from-trash]
Ada says, “When I hear the sound of a violin, I feel butterflies in my stomach. It’s a feeling I don’t know how to explain.” “My life,” says another young stringplayer, “would be worthless without music.” Says Director Chavez, “People realize that we shouldn’t throw away our trash carelessly… Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either.” In Cateura, people are transforming trash into music. Sounds like a manger for the Christ Child, to me.[Paraguayan Landfillharmonic http://vimeo.com/52711779]
Closer to home, we have also been reminded not to throw away people like trash in a wonderful series of articles in the Boston Globe, the “68 Blocks” project. The last in the series, on the front page of the Globe last Thursday, introduced us to another small but powerful candle of light: the light of the community garden on Coleman St., in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Dorchester. There, Jhana Senxian – forgive my pronunciation: I’m guessing about it! – has been working to redeem garden patches from weeds and her neighbors from a climate of violence and gang warfare by the simple expedient of planting, tending and serving vegetables at block parties. The story in the Globe gives us a full appreciation of a whole season of Jhana’s effort, from the summer “first-fruits” party to the late-fall “turning-in” party with hot cider and music and the obtaining of a grant for next year’s gardening season. It also names many others at work, lovingly tending and growing new life in this community – Floyd, Jhana’s publicity man, passing out flyers and talking up the events; 10-year-old Kaori, indefatigable garden worker; Rolanda, chef of the fried green tomatoes for the rained-out summer party; Evangeline, “Van,” city inspector with a gift for relating to resistant residents of apartments where violence has taken root; Susan Young, patient and passionate neighborhood worker at the Bowdoin St. Health Center; Father Richard “Doc” Conway, continuing a lifelong vocation to make peace at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Bowdoin St.; teenage Jalanae and her mother Theresa, working hard to see Jalanae out of the cycle of unemployment and violence Jalanae’s older siblings have already gotten stuck in; and not least, the Globe reporters themselves, Meghan Irons and Akilah Johnson, who spent the summer living in and getting to know their neighbors in the Bowdoin/Geneva section of Dorchester so they could tell the nuanced and moving stories of these brave and visionary “little people,” a manger for the Christ Child. [“68 Blocks,” Boston Globe, December 20th, 2012]
In our darkest moment this Advent, as we grieved the deaths of the Newtown first-graders and their teachers and sought desperately for an adequate response, we turned for wisdom to the source where we’ve so often found it in the past, to the great creator of children’s television programming, Mr. Rogers. From the pages of Facebook, his comforting voice reminded us, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’” Mr. Rogers says, “I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.”
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the wonders of his heaven.” So wrote the Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, in the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868, only four years after the planting of the congregation of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Porter Square, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, 1864. Tonight, this shining Christmas Eve, 148 years later, as we sing the familiar carols and listen to the familiar words of the Christmas story, we are heartened again to look for those helpers Mr. Rogers bids us be on the watch for in times of crisis, quietly and persistently sifting trash for the making of instruments and planting black-eyed susans and tomatoes in the deserts of the inner city, over and over, coming back to try again even when it rains on the block party and even when the black-eyed susans die, putting up with the discouraging words and the incredulity of others without letting it deter them, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things in their determination to bring love to the world, to realize God’s dream of love for ALL the world, leaving no one out of the blessing. And listening to this old story, we realize anew that WE, TOO, are called to be the helpers that others look to, to see the possibilities, to persist when all seems impossible, to act in the dedicated hope that our small commitment is allied to God’s great commitment to bring peace on earth, at last. AMEN.
2 Advent Year C 12-9-12
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Phil. 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
May your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. AMEN. [Phil. 1:9-11]
Every year, we 21st century North Americans struggle to wedge open a little space for Advent amidst all the Christmas preparations and festivities. My beautiful Christmas tree – sold, delivered and bound onto my car, let me point out, by two GIRL Scout Troop & Crew 56 members, Zoe McNerney and Alix Flores! – sits in my house in its original simplicity right up to Christmas Eve before anyone puts a single ornament on it, its plain greenery a reminder to keep things simple through the four weeks of Advent in hopes that, instead of being blinded by the seasonal glitter, I can start to discern the true contours of my moral landscape. The Advent invitation is to look to the far horizon; to think not for today, not even for tomorrow, but for eternity; to grasp the BIG picture instead of the immediate advantage (or the immediate anxiety). But Advent is also the time to see our hand in front of our face, to see our neighbor’s face. Advent (not the alcohol-saturated New Year’s Eve) is the time for stock-taking.
Cries the Advent voice of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” For what are we straightening the paths and preparing the way? Not so that God – Immanuel, God with us – can get here. God’s quite capable of doing that on God’s own. No, John the Baptist is calling us to prepare the way so that WE can SEE God where God is incarnated! So that WE can PARTICIPATE in what GOD is UP TO. John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We prepare the way by TURNING AWAY from our self-centered alienation and TOWARD each other, and RECEIVING that ever-proffered forgiveness that connects us to others, and thereby being energized to be a part of GOD’S SAVING WORK. Advent is a time to recognize how crooked and rough our ways are, to perceive the mountains and hills and valleys that impede our progress into the Promised Land of God’s realm, to SEE STRAIGHT, and consequently to CHOOSE STRAIGHT.
And please take note, the Evangelist Luke whose Gospel we are now reading in the new liturgical year is at pains to locate John the Baptist in a very, very specific time and place, under a very particular political and military and religious regime. He pinpoints the exact moment in history at which John is preaching in the wilderness around the Jordan River, and he spells out every layer of authority over the people to whom John is preaching: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of [Roman] Emperor Tiberius, when [the Roman prefect] Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod [Antipas] was [the puppet] ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip [puppet] ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the [Jewish] high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas [in the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem].” Luke doesn’t want you thinking that John the Baptist is some kind of abstract archetype to be admired in some abstract spiritual dimension. John is a very particular person dealing with a very particular political and social reality filled with very particular people, just as we are dealing with our own very particular political and social reality. The “way” John was preparing was very concrete and embodied and got him in very particular trouble, too. And so is our “way to prepare,” this Advent, in the year Barack Obama is President, John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren our Senators, Thomas Menino our Mayor, and the Rt. Revs. Thomas Shaw and Gayle Harris our Bishops in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 2012. God isn’t interested in our abstract spiritual ideas. God has work for us to do in the real world we inhabit, up against the real blindness we suffer, within ourselves and around ourselves. Advent is not a time to step OUT of the world, but a time to peel off our blinders – our assumptions, our obsessions, our self-protective anxieties, our subterfuges and avoidances – and step INTO the world and SEE what that Godly work is, in the real relationship, in the real world.
As I was preparing this sermon, I stumbled across a note I’d jotted in my little daybook calendar at some point. (Yup: I still keep a paper calendar in my purse, in which I write my engagements in pen – a little traditionalist quirk of mine!). It said, “Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.” I couldn’t remember what that meant but I liked the resonance of “politics for ordinary radicals,” because it sounded strongly reminiscent of John the Baptist. So I did what I often do when I can’t read my own notes, I consulted Amazon.com. Up popped a lanky, bearded, long-haired young man, author, founder (my further researches revealed) of a small community of young adults, “new monastics” as they call themselves, who for the past 10 years have lived together in an intentional Christian community they named The Simple Way, holding everything in common, in a battered and deserted row house they commandeered in the ruins of Kensington in North Philadelphia, as violent and poverty-stricken a community as you will find in North America.
Hmmmm, I thought, and googled The Simple Way, to find their website. There, it said “The Simple Way is a web of subversive friends conspiring to spread the vision of ‘Loving God, Loving People, and Following Jesus’ in our neighborhoods and in our world.” Then it issued the following invitation: “Join us in plotting goodness!” I was hooked. I spent the next two Advent hours poking around the Simple Way website, uncovering wonders. For example, there’s a map flagging little Christian communities aspiring to the same kind of direct living of the Gospel all across the country, and each flag you click brings up details about that community. And a link to “An Economy of Enough,” where you can click on Christian Healthcare Ministries: “Imagine a group of folks committing to pool their money together every month in order to cover each other's medical needs? Sounds pretty sweet eh? Well, it's happening,” it says. 20,000 members have generated over $400 million to cover medical bills. Turns out the ministry got started because a little girl named “She-she” in The Simple Way’s Kensington neighborhood died of asthma because her family couldn’t afford care.
Then there’s the vimeo of the Timoteo Flag Football League in North Philly, with 40 adults and about 200 young men ages 13 to 18 playing football, worshipping, doing local service projects, kids who would otherwise be lured into gangs and trouble. In the vimeo they are dancing and rapping about being part of Timoteo, a compelling vision of a straight and level and lively and loving path to “goodness.”
And speaking of making your way straight: how about the 12 Marks of New Monasticism? Here are some of the Rules of Life for members of The Simple Way: “Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us. Hospitality to the stranger: no locked doors. My dinner is your dinner. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew Chapter 18. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.
Their newsletter has morphed into a magazine called “Consp!re” and the latest issue’s theme is “Power.” On the website, it says,
“Power lives in us and around us. It is present in every human interaction. It is beautiful, it is contentious. The more comfortable we are in the dominant system we are [in], the less cognizant we are of its power. To understand power, you need to be powerless. To think of this [issue of the magazine] as an issue on power is a misnomer. It is actually an issue on empowerment, and how we welcome one another into our fullest power. Underlying every article is our hope for a shared power that builds on our different strengths and gifts.” [From “Consp!re” Magazine, on The Simple Way website, http://thesimpleway.org, along with all the other quotes above]
Shane Claiborne was interviewed by Krista Tippett in 2007 on her public radio program, “Speaking of Faith.” He describes himself as a recovering Evangelical, and when Tippett asks him if he thought of himself as being part of revolution, he hesitates and laughs, and then says, “I’m careful because I don’t ever want to fall in love with a movement or a revolution. I think that Jesus’ life shows me that revolution is not a big thing but a very small thing; we’ve got to live it in small ways in small communities… Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Lutheran theologian who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp – has been a good teacher for us on community and one of things he says is, ‘The person who’s in love their vision of community will destroy community but the person who loves the people in their community will create community everywhere they go.’ I think that that’s something that has held us together [at The Simple Way], is not just to fall in love with a movement or a revolution but to try to live in radical ways, in simple ways.”
“We try to find the Calcutta around us ‘cause Mother Teresa says, ‘Calcuttas are everywhere’… We started looking around and we found an old folks’ home out in [rural] Western PA and we went out there with a bunch of teenage girls – you know, preppy cheerleader types – and asked for all the women living there who have no visitors or family. And we visited with them and painted their fingernails and their toenails and we listened to their stories.”
The heart of life in The Simple Way community and the fulcrum of all these and many more ministries with which they are linked is their intimate relationships with those in their much-beset community, their close companionship with neighbors who live with simple straight-up violence and the violence of poverty every day, the people we who do not live there tend to forget as we go about our lives in more affluent settings from day to day. In his conversation with Krista Tippett, Shane tells the story of walking with a young middle-schooler in his neighborhood and they got jumped by a bunch of teenagers. He and the boy decided to introduce themselves to the teens. But the teens were still ready to fight, and finally one of them hit the middle-school child on the head with a club. “Something got into me,” Shane says, and he turned and said to the teens, “’You guys are created in the image of God and you’re meant for something better than this!’ They had no idea what to do with that, and they just disintegrated in every different direction.’ Later, he says he carries two symbols with him, and you hear him pull them from his pocket. One is the shell from a bullet that killed a young man on a corner of his neighborhood. The other is the shell of a bomb from Baghdad, where he had traveled during the war in Iraq. He says, “I experienced firsthand the violence of our neighborhoods and I was a victim of an attack and I had a broken jaw and I couldn’t talk for a month. And that was right coming back from witnessing some of the worst violence of my life in Baghdad [Iraq].” And then he quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, “These are extreme times. And the question is not “Whether or not we will be extremists?” but “What kind of extremists will we be? Will we be extremists for love or for hate?”
Shane Claiborne and the other members of his community are extremists for love. They are “radical,” meaning the root of that word, which is radix, “Driving to the core,” driving to the core of Jesus’ compassion. He quotes Martin Luther King again, saying he and his community bear “a scandalous love for even the people inflicting violence on us… You can burn down our houses and we will still love you…We will wear you down by our love!” He recalls from his Bible Belt childhood being told “You’re the “spittin’ image” of your grandfather,” and he points out that that means, “You’re the Spirit and Image of something.” Well, says Shane, “We’re called to be the ‘spittin’ image’ of Christ.” [All the quotes are from Krista Tippett’s interview at the On Being website, www.onbeing.org/program/monastic-revolution/53]
This Advent, carve out a space in the avalanche of Christmas preparations. Take stock. Even as you let uncomfortable things about your life seep into your spirit, let the conviction grow in you that you ALREADY HAVE the “Spittin’ Image” of Christ within you. You don’t need to launch a revolution. You just need to look around you and love and care about the overlooked person next to you so much that you can’t go on living as you have, as if that person and their particular predicament didn’t matter. Each of us does that – just that – and the next thing you know, the revolution will have launched itself. And pretty soon, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God!” AMEN.
Feast of Christ the King Year B 11-25-12
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Ps. 132:1-13; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Christ who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [Revelation 1:4b-5]
This is the Last Sunday of Pentecost. We have wended our way to the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, we’ll begin a new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent. I know our national Thanksgiving holiday was dictated by harvest-tide and not by the cycle of the church year, but it has always seemed highly appropriate that we end our liturgical year right at the time when we gather as a nation for a feast of thankfulness. You might even say that the Spirit is more in charge of the secular as well as the sacred than we knew! Or maybe, the Spirit doesn’t especially care about that distinction between sacred and secular, anyway! Maybe to the Spirit, ALL is sacred! Maybe the Spirit partakes more of the rolling, eternal, all-encompassing Oneness of Mary Oliver’s River Clarion than it does a dualistic slicing-and-dicing of “right” and “wrong,” “spirit” and “flesh,” “heaven” and “earth.” Maybe the Feast of Thanksgiving – turkey-and-pie-and-dish-washing as well as our morning Eucharist – IS ALL a sacred holiday after all, ALL of it – even the family arguments and the football game – FULL of Spirit if you look for it!
Alongside Thanksgiving, we’re also celebrating the “Feast of Christ the King,” designated for the last Sunday of Pentecost by an edict of Pope Pius XI in 1925 on the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea (which, in AD 325, was the first Ecumenical Council, the one which gave us the Nicene Creed), and then moving into Episcopal tradition with the Second Vatican Council in 1969. Odd indeed that we should have embraced this tradition just as kings in general are going out of favor. Some of the last of them – the King of Jordan, the King of Thailand – seem to be under assault by the democratic forces of Twitter and Facebook even as we speak! The word “king” not only implies male leadership, with military, political and economic hegemony over a particular geography; it also implies absolute leadership, immutably unchanging in perpetuity. In our rapidly shifting postmodern global scene, that kind of royal hegemony seems a fragile and evanescent thing at best, and anachronistically dominant and oppressive at worst.
Yet I opened my sermon this morning with the blessing prayer that opens the Book of Revelation, full of the language we have tended to associate with all these hegemonic values: to Christ the ruler of the kings of the earth, Christ who freed us from our sins by his blood, Christ who made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever! What do I mean to communicate by highlighting that aggrandizing, triumphal imagery?
What do I mean ESPECIALLY given the deliciously, BLESSEDLY ironic fact that today at St. James’s, we are celebrating this Feast of Christ the King by baptizing John David Edwin Singer-Torres, who is the adopted son of two mothers, one of whom, Emily Singer, a college counselor, is culturally Jewish and the other of whom, the Rev. Michele Torres, is an Episcopal chaplain and priest. Of Johnny’s birth parents, I know nothing other than that he is blessed to be Latino in origin. Moreover, two of Johnny’s godmothers are also married to each other, one of whom, the Rev. Miriam Gelfer, who just offered our Living Epistle, is an Episcopal priest and Dean of Student Life in our local Episcopal seminary, and the other, Lisa Garcia, is our diocesan Treasurer. He has two more precious godparents, Maritza Hermosa and Javier Ambrosio, who have been loving and devoted participants in Johnny’s life and that of his big brother Mateo ever since Mateo developed his seizure disorder as a newborn. Johnny is truly a postmodern baby, a boy growing up surrounded by the loving kindness of people who inherently break the old model of divine authority, which divided Jews from Christians, and mandated models of marriage confined to a man and a woman and tended to sort society into limiting socio-economic strata, to accommodate slavery and subjugation, and to prioritize salvation from so-called sexual sins as if that were God’s primary work in the crucified Christ.
Into what, then, are we baptizing Johnny, on this Feast of Christ the King, if we are not baptizing him into that model of “dominion” that held so firmly for much of two thousand years of Christian history, a model that we might appear to have blessed anew less than half a century ago in denominating the Last Sunday of Pentecost a kingly feast? If we are baptizing Johnny into “Christ the King,” are we not blessing him to partake of this old idea of royalty?
To answer, let’s begin by looking more closely at the passage from Revelation. The first thing to notice is the all-encompassing nature of God, “who was and is and is to come,” as John repeats at the end of our Revelation passage for today, in a voice that I always hear as booming across the entire landscape like a great roll of thunder, “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Under such a hegemony, all the “kings of the earth” – not to mention emperors and dictators – are puling little misguided wannabes, always contingent and always uncertain of their power. All the constant shifting and changing and evolving of our earthly experience – our MULTI-GALACTIC experience! – is encompassed and held within the mysterium tremendum of God’s loving and creative force-field, past, present & future. Of this enormity of loving creativity, says Revelation, Christ is the witness, and Christ expresses this witness not by controlling us but by loving us and freeing us from all the compulsions that divide us and set us over against each other. Christ knits us into a “kingdom of priests,” every one of us a priest, every one of us having a certain custody of “the holy,” stewards of the divine love, the divine creativity, every one of us BELONGING TO EACH OTHER in our shared priesthood. HOW did Christ set us free of these divisive compulsions so we could be priests? By choosing to DIE rather than assert his power OVER others. By a love that is SACRIFICIAL rather than DOMINANT, that GIVES UP POWER TO OTHERS rather than ASSERTING POWER OVER OTHERS.
If we need any confirmation of this reading of John’s Revelation, let’s look to John’s Gospel for today, to the extraordinary conversation between Jesus, a political prisoner on trial for treason in a tiny “failed state” on the edge of the almighty Roman Empire, facing the strong likelihood of crucifixion, and Pontius Pilate, the powerful governor and military representative of that Empire. Pilate spends the whole conversation trying to pin the term “king” on Jesus, and Jesus spends the whole conversation trying to invert that term to mean something utterly different from what Pilate means. “My kingdom is not from this world; if my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the local authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus points out. Stuck on his own point of view, Pilate responds, “So you ARE a king?” To which Jesus responds, (my interpretation): “’king’ is your word; for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” This elusive exegesis of “kingship” only succeeds in bewildering and frustrating the potentate to the point that, at the conversation’s end, in a line our lectionary mysteriously drops from our reading, Pilate bursts out, “WHAT IS TRUTH?”
What is truth, indeed? What is the truth into which we are inducting Johnny today? To what do we want him, in baptism, to BELONG? What is this CHRIST into which we will DROWN Johnny’s “old life?” What is the “otherworldly” landscape in which Johnny will live, that “kingdom” to which Jesus alludes? What will his “new life in Christ” be like? To what voice do we hope he will, throughout his life, LISTEN? Could it be like the voice of Mary Oliver’s River Clarion in the poem Emily read, speaking of connection, speaking of holiness, speaking of the eternal BELONGING of all things to each other? Could Jesus’ “other world,” the world of his kingdom, in fact be THIS WORLD minus the alienation, the antagonism, the one-ups-person-ship, the rivalry, the struggle for domination? Could Christ’s kingdom, Christ’s TRUTH into which we are reborn in baptism, to which we belong with all that we are and all that we have, be more about HOW WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD?
Let me share with you a story about baptismal living, KINGDOM living: the story of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the line of duty on 9/11 of this year in the rebel capital of Libya, Benghazi. I have no idea what Chris’ faith commitments were, if any. Didn’t I say the Spirit doesn’t care particularly about the line between “sacred” and “secular?” What I do know is this: like so many stories of baptismal living, of BELONGING TO THE TRUTH, this one happens to end in death, but in Christ, death is not an end but only the beginning of new life.
Here’s what Robert F. Worth wrote about Chris, in an article stressing the importance for an ambassador to be in open, flexible, accessible relationship with the people amongst whom s/he works: “Stevens was not naïve. He had three decades of experience in the Middle East and knew Libya as well as any American. He spoke the Libyan dialect of Arabic fluently. He did not relish danger for its own sake. But in some ways, he really was sailing back to an earlier era, when American diplomats were less tied down. In Benghazi, Stevens and his team became de facto participants in a revolution. They moved into the Tibesti Hotel, a 15-story tower overlooking a fetid lagoon, where the lobby was a constant, promiscuous churn of rumors and frenzied meetings among gunmen, journalists and spies. Unlike all his previous posts, there was no embassy to enclose him. His room then was a dilapidated sixth-floor suite full of gaudy gilded furniture and a four-poster bed… Stevens reveled in his freedom. He met people in their homes, ate with them on the floor, Arab-style; cell phone photos were taken and quickly shot around the Internet. He went running every morning and often stopped to chat with people on the street, to the dismay of the security officer who ran alongside him. In August, after a top rebel commander was killed by Islamists, Stevens drove out to eastern Libya’s tribal heartland and spent hours sitting on the beach with five elders of the Harabi tribe. The men ate grilled lamb and talked in Arabic, sipping tea. Stevens did not push them for answers. He was building connections that would pay off someday. ‘Chris said Benghazi was his favorite posting ever,’ said his friend Jennifer Larson…’He was very, very happy.’ In the rush to assign blame after Steven’s death, it was largely overlooked that Stevens, as top-ranking diplomat in Libya by that point, was the one responsible for making final decision about what kind of security was appropriate there, how to use it and what qualified as safe and unsafe. He decided to make the fateful trip from the embassy in Tripoli back to Benghazi in September. That does not mean he was reckless. He knew the situation there far better than any of the people who have commented on it since his death. He knew that Libya’s government was both weak and politically sensitive; he had to weigh his own safety against the risk of looking like an occupier… On the morning after Steven’s death, Anne [Stevens, Chris’ younger sister] was the first family member Hillary Clinton was able to reach by phone. [Anne] listened as Clinton explained what had happened, and waited until there was silence on the other end of the line. ‘Don’t let this stop the work he was doing,’ his sister said.” [The New York Times Magazine, 11-18-12]
Chris Stevens BELONGED to the people of Libya, he BELONGED to his task of sharing their lives, their struggles, their dilemma, their pride, their strength. It made him vulnerable to the destructive “powers of this world,” to be sure. But it also made him POWERFUL in the terms of Jesus’ kingdom, POWERFUL IN CREATING NEW LIFE. Chris was a “priest serving God,” living in Christ’s kingdom. As we baptize John David Edwin Singer-Torres today, we entrust him in the same way to BELONG TO THE TRUTH, the truth that we ALL BELONG TO EACH OTHER, NEED EACH OTHER, NEED TO LEAN IN TO LISTEN TO EACH OTHER as Chris Stevens leaned in to listen to the elders of the Harabi tribe on the beach in eastern Libya, as Mary Oliver leaned in to listen to the river. In baptizing Johnny, we are SANCTIFYING HIM IN THIS TRUTH, the truth that Christ’s kingdom is all about love, about commitment to each other’s flourishing, which is the TRUTH OF CHRIST that gives LIFE IN PLACE OF DEATH. As Anne Stevens said, Don’t let mere death stop the work Christ is doing. In baptism, we die INTO LIFE, INTO BELONGING, and THAT is what we hope for, pray for, BELIEVE IN, for Johnny, for Chris Stevens, and for us all, today and always, in the love of God who was and is and is to come, the Almighty. AMEN.