The Rev. Robert P. Travis-1st Sunday of Epiphany Sermon – 8:00 and 10:00am online (due to Pandemic) for Morning Prayer atChurch of the Ascension, Wakefield RI and Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI, RCL Epiphany 1 Year B 1/10/2021
Scripture Text: Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-22
Sermon Three (preached)
I had a different sermon prepared for this Sunday.
This is my third sermon, because I struggled to speak with you faithfully about what happened on Wednesday. One of the parishioners I was talking to on Friday, said it felt like the world was changed from Tuesday to then, because of what happened. But really the world hasn’t changed, just our perception of it.
Many people in other countries have experienced this kind of seditious uprising. We just thought perhaps that we are exceptional or somehow immune from this. This kind of thing happens over there, but not here. And now we have woken up to reality. For some of us who believed a series of lies, the consequences of those lies have been brought to light. And for some of us who were aware of the lies, but were hoping the consequences could be avoided, were disappointed that they what we feared came to pass. It’s time for us as a nation to be humble and learn from those other countries, how they overcame such mob violence.
Interestingly what I want to say connects with the hymn that we just sang (or, that we will sing before the Gospel at 10am it’s hymn 104 in the Hymnal), which I had chosen because the hymn shows the connection between Christmas and Easter, and Epiphany leads us from Christmas to Lent and Easter.
Just so you understand, what is being said in the hymn, when we repeatedly sing “and every stone shall cry,” that comes from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the gospel of Luke. When the Pharisees, that is those who were in power, told Jesus to ask his disciples, and all his followers to stop when they were crying out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and strewing palm branches in front of him, and Jesus said to those in power “I tell you if these were to be silent, the very stones would cry out.” It shows us that Jesus was aware that he held a very different kind of power.
This week we were all shocked to see an actual violent insurrection take place in the heart of our democracy, at the Capitol Hill of our country. What was very disturbing to people of faith, was that some of the people in that seditious mob, were carrying crosses and wearing the name of Jesus on their shirts and on flags, while participating in something that was completely opposed to who Jesus was and is. Their actions, and what they stand for is antithetical to what Jesus stands for. And sadly, the people who don’t believe in Jesus, saw those images, and may believe that real Christians support this kind of behavior. We have to do something about that.
The reason those people were at the Capitol, was because they believed in the lies that Trump has told them at the end of the election, and of course the many lies that he has told for these past four years. They believe those lies so thoroughly that they were willing to rise up in violence, in an attempt to overthrow what they falsely believed was an illegitimate government, though the election was fair and an overwhelming majority of Americans voted against their candidate. They believed the lies told them by the president so thoroughly that they were deluded into believing the great lie, one of the greatest lies that has been part of human history since well before Jesus first walked the earth, that is the lie that true power is taken and maintained through violence and physical might. The lie that when we are disappointed by something that has happened, violence is an acceptable way to get what we want.
That is the same lie that Jesus went to the cross to strip of its deceptive power. Because those Pharisees and the Roman authorities who were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion were afraid of him, because of the clear threat that he posed to their power. That wasn’t the first time that Jesus faced death for the threat that he posed to a leader’s power. In fact, that same fear of losing power, was what led King Herod to kill the innocent children in Bethlehem, in an attempt to snuff out what he perceived as a usurper to his power when Jesus was just a baby. At that time God had intervened in advance and showed that he would not be defeated by such a wanton show of violence when he warned Joseph in a dream to escape with Mary to Egypt. At the end of Jesus’ life Jesus himself showed that he would not be defeated even by a state-sanctioned act of violence, but that he would defeat death itself by rising again and make it possible for us to see that violent power no longer holds authority in this world.
So when John the Baptist stood on the shore of the Jordan River and said “one who is more powerful than I is coming,” he was referring to that new kind of power, to a power that is based in love, to a power that is not willing to take up violence, but rests in the almighty power of the God who created the universe.
The stones are crying out, all creation is crying out for us to finally learn this message.
I believe if we listen closely we could hear even the dressed stones crying out, the stones of which the buildings are made, in which our government resides, the stones on which blood was spilled on Wednesday, the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, were crying out “this is not what Jesus stands for!” The Word made flesh, which came into the world, the same Word which created all of us in the beginning, does not stand for this kind of violence, or give in to lies.
What gospel would the stones proclaim to us? If every stone will cry, what would they say to us about this different kind of power.
The stones would remind us, as we started today
when we heard about the very beginning,
God creating the heavens and earth,
where all three persons of the Trinity were involved,
The Father creating,
the Son being Word of God bringing things into being,
and the Spirit sweeping over all of it in blessing like wind.
God creates the great dichotomy of light and dark,
of day and night.
God’s nature is a paradox, unable to be fully grasped.
God is total unity,
but grounded in opposites like day and night.
The stones would speak to us of that paradox,
In the psalm we read.
The psalm expresses a great paradox of God’s nature.
God is glory and strength.
His voice is powerful and of splendor.
These images are mighty and terrible,
and they are images from God’s creation,
which show how even the mightiest parts of our planet,
even the stones,
tremble at the voice of the Lord.
So where does that place us?
We feel meek and vulnerable,
and so we are.
If He can make an earthquake, and a tornado,
and make mighty oaks writhe with mere speech,
who are we to stand before Him?
But the paradox shows up at the end of the psalm,
this same “Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.”
The same one who is terrifying in might,
brings us the blessing of peace.
And the final paradox about God, the stones would proclaim to us today, was shown in Jesus’ baptism.
So many of us think that we are pleasing to God,
Only if we accomplish something for God.
Many think that God is like some powerful political leader, a Lord who only is pleased with those who do things for him, and punishes those to do not do what he wants.
But Jesus’ baptism showed us a different kind of Lord.
What happened at Jesus baptism showed God’s love
Does not rest on what we can do for God,
but more about what God does in us.
Jesus comes to be baptized by John,
But also receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Here again we witness a paradox in Jesus’ experience,
the heavens are torn apart with great force,
yet the Spirit descends ever so gently on him,
like a dove.
And again the contrast goes from God the mighty,
being preached in the wilderness,
to the gentleness of a dove,
and a blessing from a loving Father.
This same voice which creates the world,
and rocks its foundations,
speaks ever so gently,
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
Here’s the crux of the paradox,
Jesus’ baptism preceded his earthly ministry.
He hadn’t done anything yet as a human being.
But the blessing he receives from his father,
acknowledges that God the father is
already pleased with him.
Anyone whose father says to them,
“son, I’m proud of you,”
“daughter, I’m pleased with what you’ve done,”
would feel a sense of peace.
But how often do we get those atta boy, or atta girl
Praises before we’ve even done anything?
Here we were believing that we had to do something great, or at least do nothing wrong,
to be pleasing to God, but at his baptism God’s own Son showed us that the pleasure of God comes before we’ve even begun what we’re called to do.
So rather than do something big to earn God’s pleasure,
Jesus goes into his ministry, propelled by God’s pleasure.
Following his baptism,
Jesus embarks on the mission of his life,
which leads to the greatest accomplishment
of his defeating the corrupt powers of this world, by accepting death on our behalf,
and destroying death with life-giving power.
And there he began something
which continues to this day,
that we all have the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit,
to know that God is well pleased with us,
just as we are, and through that knowledge of God’s pleasure, we are strengthened for the purposes for which
each of us were created.
We don’t need some megalomaniacal president,
Telling us he loves us after we’ve done something despicable in his name.
We know God loves us before we have begun,
And so we’re empowered to do loving things
in God’s name.
We need that knowledge of God’s love to live more and more fully into who we are created to be.
Yet some of us remain timid about living into
Who we are.
Listen to this from Marsha Sinetar,
“To find in ourselves
what makes life worth living is risky business,
for it means that once we know, we must seek it.
It also means that without it, life will be valueless.
More than just a few find their most valued selves
despite the risk,
although the majority seem to be . . . people
who don’t wish to make any trouble – not even the kind that’s expected.
The majority shrewdly stay dull to what in them is life and has meaning.
A few brave souls, however,
do look within and are so moved by what they find
that they sacrifice,
from then on,
whatever is necessary to bring that self into being.”
Everyone who has been opened their lives to be
filled with the Holy Spirit,
motivated to act in God’s name, in the name of love,
will testify that it was worth it,
that life with that meaning is indescribably
better than life hiding from it.
And for all who look within,
our God is always Immanuel,
God is always with us, every step of the way,
through guidance along the way,
through the blessing of the Holy Spirit,
empowering us to become who we were meant to be.
Today the Holy Spirit invites you,
to let him in, to look within and see
that God is well pleased with you as well.
And in God’s pleasure,
God is calling each of you to be something more
Than perhaps you thought you could be.
Our churches need you to be that something more.
In our communities there are people,
many of whom don’t even know that God loves them,
who follow lies because they seek the deceptive power
the world falsely promises.
They desperately need you to be more
than you thought you could be.
In the coming weeks we will be offering a time led by Nance Arnold on Saturday mornings to reflect on the gifts we have been given, and how we might use those gifts to be who we are called to be in the community around us.
I invite each of you to join us in that reflection.
The events of this week lay a stark contrast before us about who we can choose to be as followers of Jesus.
There is a power based in violence,
And a greater power based in love.
If we don’t proclaim God’s love for everyone.
Every stone will cry.
From Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar. Found in A Guide to Prayer for all who Seek God, Upper Room Books, Nashville TN, 2006, p.71.