Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sermon; 1 Epiphany; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This past Wednesday was the Feast of the Epiphany.  We had our annual Twelfth Night party Tuesday evening as we commemorated the arrival of the wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, with a potluck and gift exchange of our own.  The day of Epiphany is obviously the beginning of the season, but, practically speaking, today is the first day of the season for most people.  Other than today, the season can be considered part of Ordinary Time and offers a little green before the sparseness of Lent begins.

Today, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, is the traditional celebration/commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Traditional, of course, being interpreted as, “It's been this way ever since I can remember.”  Today is also one of four specified dates by the BCP as “especially appropriate” for baptisms or renewals.

As such, many parishes will either be baptizing people or, like us, renewing their baptismal vows today.  The four specified days of baptismal renewal are a big deal.  They are, to some extent, like a birthday or wedding anniversary – a remembrance of who we are and who we choose to be.  So it is good for us to restate the promises and vows we made as we stepped into this life of discipleship.  As a reminder, here are the questions we will answer in promising to be disciples:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These questions from pp. 293-294 of the BCP remind us of who we are and who we strive to be.  We are, by choice, disciples of Christ.  As disciples, we are to gather together to learn, eat, and pray.  As disciples, we struggle against evil and (hopefully) humbly and honestly repent, asking for forgiveness.  As disciples, we proclaim the Good News.  As disciples, we try to recognize Christ in all people, not just those who think and act like us.  And as disciples, we are to work for justice and peace because all people are children of God.

Doing all of that takes effort and commitment.  It takes effort and commitment to show up at church every Sunday.  It takes effort and commitment to avoid sin and repent, especially when it involves sins we particularly enjoy.  It takes effort and commitment to proclaim the Good News.  It takes effort and commitment to love our neighbors.  It takes effort and commitment to stand up and call out injustices.

Because all of this takes both effort and commitment, we might be tempted to procrastinate, putting off our efforts to commit to that covenant until later; because, after all, there is always tomorrow.  But we shouldn't procrastinate on living into the promises and vows we made.  I shouldn't put off until tomorrow the obligations of being a father today.  I shouldn't put off until tomorrow living faithfully today into the choice I made in being a husband.

What we are talking about in all of this is a beginning.  Epiphany, with the star and the wise men and the gifts they brought, was, in a sense, the beginning of making Christ known to all the world.  The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of the recognition of him as Son of God, as well as the beginning of his public ministry.  So while Advent may be the official start of the church year, today marks the beginning of its life.  We can also look to our own baptism as the beginning of our life in Christ.  As Christ went out from his baptism to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, we also can see our baptism as the starting point in proclaiming the nearness of God to others.  For most of us, that event happened a long time ago, and we might feel a bit inadequate as we reflect on how little proclaiming we've actually done.

But again, this is why these four appointed days of baptismal renewal are given to us: to remind us of what we signed up for, to remind us of our duty, and to remind us that it's never too late to begin.

As we participate in the renewal of vows today, remember that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.  Today may you remember that you have been bound to Christ in his service.  Today, with God's help, may you live into those promises and vows.

This is the Epiphany Season.  This is the season that begins with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles with the arrival of the Wise Men.  This is the season that specifically points to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, both cosmically and earthly.  This is the season that begins with the Baptism of Our Lord.  This is the season that begins with the renewal of our own baptismal vows.  This is the season of beginnings.

What are you waiting for?



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