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Sermon for January 10th, 2021

    Jan 10, 2021

    Passage: Mark 1:4-11

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Category: Epiphany


    Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany 
    The Baptism of Our Lord 
    January 10th, 2021
    St. Anne’s, Conway, SC (Online)

    So, here we are. And what a strange week last week was. One of the more disappointing things that happened last week was that the feast of the Epiphany got almost totally eclipsed by what took place in our nation’s capital. For those of you who might not know, the Feast of the Epiphany is one of the major celebrations of the church year, and it always falls on January 6th. It’s the day when the church celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; or, when people unfamiliar with the story of God’s people see for the first time that they, too, are a part of that story. It’s on the feast of the Epiphany that we hear about the wise men from the east coming to present their gifts to the newborn Jesus. And in spite of the fact that many of us may have overlooked the story of the wise men on Wednesday, there is a lesson from Epiphany that was worth hearing on Wednesday and is still worth hearing now.

    If you recall, the story of the wise men from the east goes like this: they see a star that signifies to them the birth of the king of the Jews. They travel westward and go to Jerusalem - to the seat of power - because that is where they presume the newborn child is. When King Herod gets wind of their visit, we are told that Herod is frightened, and he hatches a plot to find this newborn baby who is a threat to his rule. He asks the wise men to find the child so that he, too, can go and pay homage, but it’s a lie. He only wants to find the baby so that he can eliminate his competition. So the wise men go and they find the child. And they pay homage to the baby Jesus by bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And then, we are told, that the wise men, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another road.”

    They departed for their own country by another road. 

    In the story of Herod and the wise men, we hear the story of a ruler, desperate to cling to power, lying to others to ensure the continuance of his rule. Herod wants the wise men to play a part in what will ultimately be an act of violence - the slaughter of the innocents - an obscene spectacle of power raging against its own demise. And at first, it seems that the wise men fall for the lie and become unwitting agents in Herod’s scheme. 

    But, the story tells us, after they encounter the Christ child, they receive a revelation - a warning in a dream - and do not return to Herod. Instead, they depart for their own country by a different road. 

    In other words, once they see the truth, they refuse any longer to take part in Herod’s plans. Rather than hand over a victim to appease a despotic ruler, the wise men choose a different path. They turn away from Herod’s fear. They turn away from Herod’s desperate grasping for power. They turn away from Herod’s plans for violence and death. And they depart for their own country by a different road. 

    So you see: written in to the story of the Epiphany - the story of God making God’s purposes known in the wider world - is the message that when people are asked to follow the well-trodden path of lies and fear and violence that usually flow out from the powerful, they can choose a different path. We can leave behind the path of destruction and depart instead for our true home by following in the way that God would have us go. The way of peace.  

    Would that more had heard and understood this Epiphany message this past January 6th.

    But here we are today. January 10th. And today is a special day in its own right. It’s the day that the church celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan river.  And much like the feast of the Epiphany, today’s celebration carries a message that is as timely and as relevant as ever. Because what we are doing today is marking an event that was exceptionally …  mundane. I do not mean here that Jesus’ baptism was not significant. It was. But in terms of the actual event itself, I have to imagine that it was rather unimpressive. Just a man standing in a river, dunking or splashing water on people who come up to him. No fanfare. No colossal structures to indicate the importance of the place. Just water and the Holy Spirit. Which, when you think about it, is all you really need to start the church. Which, I guess, is why some folks think church is kind of boring. But that’s by design. We’ve seen the alternative. 

    Part of the weariness I imagine most of us still feel in the wake of Wednesday’s events comes from the trauma of having witnessed an extraordinary and perverted ritual. What I mean here is that what happened on Wednesday was a large group of people came together, identified their victim or victims, and proceeded to try to destroy that victim through an abandonment of any semblance of order.   All the hallmarks of ritual are there, with one exception. It wasn’t mundane. It wasn’t predictable. And that’s why it was exhausting. It would be like going to church only to have the hymns be car horns blaring with no discernible pattern, no readings from scripture, a sermon screamed at you in a foreign language, and instead of sacramental bread and wine, just super-heated steam shot in your eyes. You’d be utterly exhausted by the end. 

    That is why I hope that in the coming days and weeks, you take special care to remember that our Lord began his ministry by participating in a rather unimpressive ritual and that much of our own lives as Christians takes place within the context of the unremarkable. 

    As our Lord shows us, we grow as Christians not by participating in horrific spectacle but by the rather mundane and unimpressive act of regularly coming together with our community in a spirit of charity and forbearance. There’s nothing particularly striking about this - nor, really, should there be. Because good worship, and good community, provides space for you to experience God in the unremarkable, in the repetitive, in the simple. 

    Remember this in the coming weeks, and be particularly aware that for many, no such community exists. Pray for them. Exhort them - when you can - to find such community. And be mindful that your voice may be the only voice they are hearing which speaks to them of peace. 

    God save us. 




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