Sermon: The Baptism of Our Lord RCLC

Baptism of Christ by Pietro Perugino

Boudreaux wanted to go parachuting, so he signed up for a class.

During one of the first classes, the instructor tells them, “One thing you need to know, is that it’s important to start preparing for your landing at around 300 feet.”

Boudreaux asked, “How do you know when you’re at 300 feet?”

“A good question,” replied the instructor. “At 300 feet you can recognize the faces of people on the ground.”

Boudreaux thought about this for a while before asking, “What happens if I don’t recognize anyone?”

Facial recognition has been the dream of many technology companies and is now used by police departments to identify criminals and mobile phone companies to unlock phones. Needless to say, there are many benefits to being able to properly identify an individual via a computer, but there are also many opportunities to exploit the technology. Whether good or bad, the computers are getting better at it. As for people recognizing other people, we do fairly well. We will recognize a person’s face even if we can’t remember their name, so how is it the brain does this? For the answer, we have to go to the scientist and I found an article in the Smithsonian that helped.

Turns out, when we are remembering a person’s face, we are not remembering the entire face, but really only key points. The scientist who was interviewed said, “as far as your neurons [your brain] are concerned, a face is a sum of separate parts, as opposed to a single structure.” (Source)

This might very well explain why, when I have spoken to people who are wearing a mask for health reasons, I end up talking to complete strangers. Only seeing half their face does not allow my brain to properly analyze those key points. It has, however, made for some rather interesting conversations.

I got to thinking about this and thought, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if there was a key marker in our faces that would identify us as Christians.” That would make it easy for us to recognize one another so we would know when we are with the “right people”. For example, maybe when we are baptized there is some subtle change in our appearance, some marker that declares to everyone: Christian, but then my cynical mind kicked in and said, “Think of all the money you could make by coming up with a product that could hide that marker, so that when we felt like being ‘not so Christian’, we could cover it up.” And the only reason my cynical mind thought of that was because I would likely be the first one in line to buy it! As Hamlet says in the William Shakespeare play, “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” Still, there must be a way. How can we identify each other as Christian?

Jesus actually provides us an answer to this question: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 1:34-35) That sounds so simple, but we are all aware of how truly difficult it is, because love is far more than words.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” And that is just one aspect of what love is, because love also involves acceptance and sacrifice, giving and receiving, repenting and forgiving, and so much more. To be identified as a Christian is to love in such a way, which as we know, means to love as Jesus loved. It would be nice, if at our baptism, we were suddenly imbued with the capacity to love in such a way, but that is clearly not the case. However, at our baptism, we are given a road map. Would you take out your Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 292.

Please see below for The Renewal of Baptismal Vows.

You are all familiar with this. It is the Baptismal Covenant and most of you have renewed your vows in the past. And as this is the day we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, we are given yet another opportunity to renew them.

That first question (“Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”) is the equivalent of our more protestant friends asking us if we are “saved”. The next three questions concern what we believe and the combined answers make up one of the oldest confessions of the Christian faith: the Apostles’ Creed. There are 1,000s of pages written further explaining what it is we are saying in those few words, but these statements are truly sufficient. The road map on how we are to love as Jesus loved is provided in the next five questions. Like the Creed, each of these can be expanded on, but once we fully understand what it is we are saying, we learn that these questions are all inclusive of the Christian life: fellowship, Communion, worship, prayer, study, service, repentance, forgiveness, loving, justice… all are included here. Yet, we also know that it is not all about what we say. It is also about what we do, for as the Apostle James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17) We will be identified as Christians by our love, but that love must be accompanied by actions that reflect it.

In the renewal of our baptismal vows, we state in Who and what we believe, then we respond as to how we live and act as we are called. What does that look like? I’ll never be a Mother Teresa, but…

Shane Claiborne is an activist and author and had the opportunity to work alongside Mother Teresa. In his book, The Irresistible Revolution, he says that he is often asked what she was like. He writes, “Sometimes it’s like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery, like a beautiful, wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget – her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn’t going to ask, of course, ‘Hey Mother, what’s wrong with your feet?’ One day a sister said to us, ‘Have you noticed her feet’. We nodded, curious. She said, ‘Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet.’” Claiborne wrote, “Years of loving her neighbour as herself deformed her feet.”

We are not all being asked to wear shoes that deform our feet so that others may be more comfortable, but we are all being asked to love in such radical ways as to have the unmistakeable and identifiable mark of Jesus upon our lives. So I give you this to consider: when someone looks at you and your life, will they be able to identify you as a disciple of Jesus?

Let us pray: God, our Father, You redeemed us and made us Your children in Christ. Through Him You have saved us from death and given us Your Divine life of grace. By becoming more like Jesus on earth, may we come to share His glory in Heaven. Give us the peace of Your kingdom, which this world does not give. By Your loving care protect the good You have given each of us. Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love that we may serve You with a willing heart. Amen.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
I do.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

The Celebrant concludes the Renewal of Vows as follows

May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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