A sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany in January 2021, days after insurrectionists briefly ousted the US Congress from its chambers
On the Feast of the Epiphany, the day on which we celebrate God’s revelation of the Incarnation of Christ to the nations of the world, images from our nation’s capital were cast about the globe of insurrectionists wrapped in flags, some with the name of the president and symbols of civil war, and some which bore with them the holy name of Jesus.
On the day of the Epiphany, when God’s love shone out from the cradle of the Christ-child, born to be one with us, to seek and to serve us in mercy, in humility, and in the miracle of forgiveness, we mourned the deliberate divisiveness that fuels violence among us, the lies that lead to conspiracy against the truth, the violation of our democratic ideals, the ironic vainglory of some who hold themselves to be supreme while wrapping themselves in the name of Jesus. We mourn the several deaths that resulted directly from the rhetoric and actions of that day.
Those flags that bore the name of Jesus might have been the robes of Herod, who pretended to the Magi that he wished also to worship the Son of the almighty God, when in fact he worshipped no one but himself. Erecting a gallows while wrapped in the name of the one who hung from a tree for us and for our salvation is perhaps the deepest and most devastating irony.
Jesus, meanwhile, was in the manger: God incarnate, born into the humblest body to show us the way of God’s love. Love is creative, not destructive.
The Greek disciples whom Paul found at Ephesus had never heard of the Holy Spirit. They had not been raised on the same Jewish scriptures as Jesus and Paul, full of the prophetic voice of God. They didn’t know any better. We do not have their excuse. We have seen the revelation of God in Christ spread about the world. We have known the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We know that the counterpart of our baptism of repentance is the provocation of the Holy Spirit to follow in the footsteps of that Jesus: to do justice as he did, love mercy as he loved, resist evil, as he resisted, walk humbly as he walked with God. We have made our covenant in baptism, to renounce evil, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in word and in deed, to uphold the dignity of those made in the image of God.
Where does that leave us after Wednesday’s deep indignities?
We cannot claim ignorance, and we dare not pretend that this, resisting this violence against the body of our nation and the name of our Lord, the one for whom we call ourselves Christians, is not our business, nor that repentance is not required of all of us.
We cannot make an idol of our political institutions, recognizing that no political system can be said truly to represent the reign of God. Still, democracy coexists so kindly with Christianity because at its best, which, like the kingdom of God, we have not yet fully realized, it promotes the submission of selfish and power-greedy, divisive and unequal ideologies to the cooperation of the body, and sacrifice for the sake of the dignity and welfare of the whole community.
Neither can we allow ourselves to adopt the same tactics of vainglory, or vengeance, or violence of spirit. Jealousy, anger, factions, quarrels, and dissensions are directly opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-21), according to the same Paul who baptized the disciples at Ephesus.
The Holy Spirit, who brooded over the waters at the beginning of creation, the dark face of God, which fell upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism, is the same Spirit that we received at our baptism. And the fruits of the Spirit, Paul teaches us, are love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is, he says, no law against such things. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Consider what we saw invading the seat of our government on Wednesday, and whether the flag of Jesus was used to promote peace or to signal jealousy; to cover the image of God with glory or to defile it with White supremacy; whether the name of Jesus was used to spread love or to shout anger; whether it was displayed with self-control, or with wild dissension.
Consider how we signal our own discipleship, and how we wear the name of Jesus.
Consider our side of the covenant, made at baptism, to repent of the evil that invades us, to resist all evil that tempts us, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, serving the way, the truth, and the life; the life of God shining throughout creation.
Consider God’s part in our covenant, made at the beginnings of creation: God’s promise to make all things well, to be steadfast in mercy and forbearance, to bring all peoples, languages, and nations to know the love that God has for the world, and the justice of God’s kingdom.
Love is creative, not destructive.
Consider how we, brooding with the Holy Spirit, the dark face of God, over the troubled waters of our baptism, might create healing, promote peace, reflect Christ’s humility and love.
But first we must repent, and turn away, turn aside from evil.
On this day, on which we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, if we were together, we would rehearse our own baptismal covenant. We always begin it with the reaffirmation of our renunciation of wickedness and sin, and our affirmed commitment to follow Jesus.
Trusting in our God, who always keeps God’s covenant of faithfulness, let us do just that today:
Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God? Answer I renounce them.
Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Answer I do.
Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Answer I do.
Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? Answer I do.
Do you believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?Book of Common Prayer, Holy Baptism
Our service continued, answering with The Apostles’ Creed