January 10, 2021 /Baptism of Our Lord / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Genesis 1:-5 / 2nd Reading Acts 19:1-7 / Gospel Mark 1:4-11
Let There Be Light
Beliefs have consequences. Beliefs are not just slogans or words written in a creed. Firmly held beliefs motivate persons to make bold decisions and take strong actions.
The confident faith of the first disciples moved them to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus – despite fierce resistance and persecution.
Belief in freedom and democracy caused American patriots to declare, fight for, and achieve independence from the British government.
Belief in equality and civil rights motivated Dr. Martin Luther King and many others to withstand abuse and injustice in order to bring about equal justice under the law.
Beliefs become springs of action. However, firmly believing something does not necessarily make it true. On Wednesday, a large contingent of persons who believe in a vast conspiracy that somehow stole the recent election from Donald Trump, were motivated to invade our nation’s capitol building in an attempt to prevent the final certification of the election of Joe Biden. Deeply held convictions led to violent and unlawful behavior.
Beliefs have real consequences – for good and for ill. You may feel that the belief in a vast conspiracy to steal an election is valid. I believe this belief is sadly and tragically mistaken. In my mind, this misguided conviction has done real harm to our democracy. What is quite apparent, however, is that belief is a powerful motivator – whether it is based on truth or not.
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As Christians we affirm a number of significant and consequential beliefs. Today I say to you that if we take these beliefs to heart – when we live with the courage of our faith convictions – our lives are shaped in profound and lasting ways. Furthermore, our beliefs as Christians should be our primary motivation – transcending political, cultural and personal beliefs. We believe and trust in the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in the testimony of the holy scriptures. Our beliefs necessarily have direct consequences in how we think and how we conduct our lives. I invite you to consider with me two fundamental beliefs that are illuminated by today’s appointed readings from scripture.
A. Our First Reading calls to mind our belief that God is the loving Creator of all that is. Out of a formless void, God brought everything that is into being. We believe that this world and we ourselves are not here by accident, but on purpose: the result of God’s good and loving intention. What difference does this make? It means that this world and our lives are a gift from God – and that our lives have meaning and purpose. It means that you and I are not really owners of anything – because as the psalm says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
Instead we are stewards and managers – faithful caretakers of what God gives. It means that all people are equal in God’s eyes – as our Declaration of Independence affirms: “all men are created equal.” Therefore, all divisions, discrimination and prejudice are contrary to God’s will. There can be no human hierarchy, because all are of infinite value to the Creator.
In consequence of what we believe, deep gratitude and abiding humility are appropriate and necessary. None of us is self-made – all are created in the image of God. All are called to care for God’s creation, and everyone in it.
B. The gospel story of the baptism of Jesus reminds us that we, too, are claimed as children of God through Holy Baptism. What a blessing to know and believe this! The Prayer of the Day we prayed two weeks ago on the Sunday after Christmas draws a link between our belief in God as our Creator and Jesus as our Savior:
“Almighty God, you wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of Jesus Christ, who came to share our humanity.”
Our formation in the image of God has been tarnished and diminished by our sinfulness – yet our dignity has been restored by the grace of God in Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed our destiny. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we are redeemed as daughters and sons of God – God is pleased to call us his own.
St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Friends, you and I are “in Christ” through the grace of our adoption in Holy Baptism: Liberated from guilt and sin by the promise of forgiveness; freed from fear and death by the promise of eternal life; blessed with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.
God the Creator has wrought a new creation in each of us. The God who said, “Let there be light” calls us to be light in this troubled world. Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
This is the verse that is read as the baptismal candle is lighted and presented. This is our shared calling. The light of God’s love and grace shines on us in Jesus Christ. Whatever our status in life, whatever our career might be, our life purpose is to keep finding ways to let this light shine through us to bless the world. You know very well how this is done: through generous works of love and mercy; by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God; by sharing the good news, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and needy, welcoming the stranger and the refugee. Those actions are the direct consequences of what we truly believe.
I have been pondering some words from St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians – words which speak to our responsibility at this critical time in our history:
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
In these past months we have all been tossed about and thrown off balance by cascading events. Make no mistake: there are those who intend to mislead, distract and deceive us. We must not be deluded by lies and false conspiracies. Instead, listen to what St. Paul encourages us to do:
“Speaking the truth in love we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
These challenging times call for mature Christians, confident believers who have the courage of their convictions. Yes, we are children of God – children who need to grow up into Christ.
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God’s first word at creation was : “Let there be light.” “And there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Today, God is still saying, “Let there be light.” Let the light of Christ shine in this darkened and troubled world – the light of love, of truth, of justice, of hope.
May this gracious light shine brightly in our lives and the lives of all those whom God claims as his daughters and sons.
Brothers and sisters, YOU are the light of the world. If not you, then who?
I say to you, “Let there be light!”