Sunday, January 13, 2013

1 Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2013

Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

+ This past week I received a get-well card in the mail. It came all the way from Orlando, Florida. Well, actually, it wasn’t really a get-well card. When I opened it, inside was pasted a very mean-spirited, angry bit of hate mail.

Yes, I said hate mail.

As I posted about this this last week on Facebook, I got lots of responses. One person was wondering why Mickey Mouse would have sent me hate mail. Sadly, it wasn’t Mickey who sent this. It was someone much more pathetic and scared, who had to hide behind anonymity rather than be brave enough to face up to their hatred and accusations.

The writer lashed out at me for essentially being a liberal priest who hangs out with “masculine” women and “effeminate, mean-spirited” men who are less masculine than the women. I’m not really certain who those people are in my life…

But worst of all, this person accused me of spouting 1960s “peace and love” platitudes. I think the thing that bothered me the most was that last part. I mean, really. Me, a hippie? Oh, Lord, help us! Yes, I love the early 1960s, but definitely not the latter part.

It was a strange moment, getting this hate mail. Obviously this person was trying to be personal, but they knew nothing about me personally. Well, at least out side of the fact that I was accused of being “neurotic and self-centered.” OK. This person might be right about that. Sorry.

But…I do have to admit. There’s almost something weirdly encouraging in receiving this note. I mean, here we are getting hate-mail from Orlando, Florida. Even people in the Orlando, Florida, know about this little, radical congregation in north Fargo, North Dakota. People are noticing us.

Sadly, it’s some unstable people who feel the need to lash out their vileness without being brave enough to stand behind what they say. The fearful and fear-filled people who are out there. Fearful and fear-filled over the radical love we practice here at St. Stephen’s.

Even there, in Orlando, they know we are place in which Christ’s radical love reigns. They know that St. Stephen’s and me, as your priest, unashamedly say, “Yes, we do practice love here. Yes, we do, without a single doubt or fear, say proudly that all people—gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, man or woman or child or whatever or whomever—is now only welcomed here, but is a part of who we are.”

This is what our ministry is. We, as followers of Jesus, put our money where our mouth is. We love. We love radically. We love all people coming through that door. And we love bravely. And we love unashamedly.

And yes, we even love that mean-spirited who went to all that work to put together a get-well card for your Father Jamie. Yes, we love that person as well. We love, because, following Jesus, we know he loved first. And if there would have been hate mail in his day, he certainly would’ve have received it. And many of the same accusations made in my little get-well card this past week, would no doubt have been lobbed right at him.

So, yes, dare I say, this hate mail is truly a badge of honor to some extent. What we are doing here is scaring some people who feel to need to try to scare in some way. It is threatening some people. And if we are doing that, then we are doing something right.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry of radical love. We find Jesus being baptized. He is setting the standard here. He is leading the way for us. At his baptism, his ministry truly began. And in our baptisms, our ministries also began.

At baptism, our following of Jesus began. The breakthrough has happened. From that point on, this is essentially what was spoken to each of us at our own baptisms:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And if that is the case, if each of us are God’s Beloved, as Jesus is God’s Beloved, then how can’t we, as followers of Jesus and believers in that same God, see all as Beloved as well?

When we were baptized, the ball began rolling. At our baptisms, we were baptized into this radical love. From that moment, whether we knew it or not, we were loved. And loved fully. And loved completely. And here we are, all these years after that momentous event, faced again with the fact that, yes, this is what it means to follow Jesus.

Yes, following Jesus means sometimes getting hate mail because we are doing the right thing. Following Jesus means that there will be people out there who will hate us for what we do and what we are. There will be people out there who will hate us because we love. And love too freely. And love too fully.

What Baptism shows us, more than anything else, is that we are loved by God as God’s Beloved. But it also shows us that that is not the end-all. Baptism shows us that we also must love as God loves us.

In this way, Baptism is truly the great equalizer. In those waters, we are all bathed—no matter who we are and what we are. We all emerge from those waters on the same ground—as equals. And, as equals, we are not expected to just sit around, hugging ourselves and basking in the glow of the confidence that we are God’s Beloved. As equals, made equal in the waters of baptism, we are then compelled to go out into the world and love each others as equals. We are called to go out into the world and make a difference in it.

Our baptism doesn’t set us apart as special people. It forces us out into the world to be a part of the world and, by doing so, to transform the world with love.

Oh no! It just hit me. You know, the writer of that hate mail might be right about one thing. It does kind of sound like 1960s peace and love, doesn’t it? Oh well. So be it.

Because, if we don’t love—and love fully and completely and radically—we are being hypocrites. We are being false. We are being untrue to our baptisms and our following of Jesus. If we do not love and love radically, we are the failures that mean-spirited person accused us of being.

But the fact is, we do love. We do accept all. We do see, in our service of others, that God has stamped each us as God’s Beloved.

So, let us continue to do what we have been doing. Bravely. Without blinking. Without wincing at the harsh words others make speak at us and about us.

Let us, with squared shoulders and set faces, shoulder the crosses we have been given at our baptisms. And let us set our eyes on the One we are following. And as we go forward, in love, our faces still wet with the waters of new life, let us listen to those words that are echoing in our ears:

“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Leah said...

I remember the first Sunday I came to St. Stephen's you preached about love, and how a parishioner at another congregation where you served complained that you always preach about love. That was one of the main reasons I came back. I thought, This is a congregation that gets it. If following Christ doesn't engender a greater capacity to love others, what's the point?

Clark said...

thank you for the wise and beautiful words, jamie. as always, you are right on spot. if we have not love.... on another note - i have family in bismarck and fargo. i'd love to take you to lunch, next time i'm in town.