Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 9, 2011. First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

Isaiah 42:1-9

In proclaiming the messiah, Isaiah has God to say:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights

and later:

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

There’s an old Jewish joke which says, “Every Jewish mother thinks her child the chosen one of God.”

That was no joke for my Southern Baptist parents. One of my earliest memories as a child is their telling me again and again, “You are God’s child and our child only on loan.” They said that not as they would tell me about Santa Claus, but as they would tell someone about a momentous event. They took it as a matter of fact with serious consequences for themselves and for me.

My parents had no illusions of a miraculous birth; as my parents, they were well aware of the physical terms of my arrival. They already had a messiah, and they did not expect me to be one. Yet as Christians, they were well convinced that all life comes as God’s precious gift. They took seriously God’s trust in them.

My parents did not try to raise me to be divine, and they certainly did not impart to me any delusions of grandeur. Instead, they lived with great expectations, and more important, they prompted my own great expectations.

I am much blessed, and wish such blessings for all others as the universal entitlement made possible by the love of God.

Psalm 29

Ascribe means “to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author.” The psalm is saying, ‘Credit Yaweh, all you other gods.’

But who are these ‘other gods’?

Scripture itself shows traces of polytheism in many places such as this one. When it does, it always gives top billing to Yaweh, but this reference explicitly holds out that there are other gods to be addressed.

Acts 10:34-43

Maybe this first Sunday after Epiphany should be called “Unorthodox Sunday.” The psalmist accepts as a given that there are many gods, not just one; furthermore, the psalmist describes god in terms very like those used by pantheists:

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; *
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; *
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

Add to those strains on narrow ‘orthodoxy,’ Peter espouses universalism, considered by some to be heresy:

God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Even Buddhists who fear God and do what is right? Even those in the Nation of Islam who fear God and do what is right? Even lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered who fear God and do what is right?

Yes. God shows no partiality. Full stop.

The Israelites long held that God is partial to them, but God no longer gives them first place.

Matthew 3:13-17

Why did Jesus need John’s baptism? John baptized those who repented. John’s baptism was a picture of death to sin, burial, and resurrection to new life.

But Jesus had nothing for which to repent.

John himself first objected when Jesus came to him for baptism:

"I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" [Italics mine—Quean Lutibelle]

But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."

How does Jesus’ baptism “fulfull all righteousness”?

When Jesus says, “Let it be so now,” is Jesus saying his baptism is an important statement for right now but not for all time? Is he being baptized not to repent, but to connect himself publicly with his cousin, John the Baptizer?

John was far better known than Jesus at this early part of Jesus’ ministry. John, far more than Jesus, directly challenged the political and ecclesiastical authorities. In fact, that is why Herod had John beheaded.

By having John baptize him, Jesus received John’s imprimatur, as it were.

Yet according to Matthew’s account, at his baptism Jesus received an imprimatur far more dramatic than John’s reputation could provide:

This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

--beyond which there can be no better letter of reference.

I founded Integrity, the ministry of lgbt Episcopalians in October 1974, and in the lead up to General Convention 1976, some of us in Integrity met with Commission on Human Affairs, then chaired by Rt. Rev. George Murray, Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast.

We asked the Commission to propose the first resolution of the Episcopal Church to offer hope to LGBT people. The resolution was very short, and they used the precise wording which we suggested:

The 65th General Convention recognizes that homosexual persons are children of God who have an equal claim upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care of the Church” (A069 – 1976).

I mistakenly thought that ended the matter. It seemed to me that the resolution said all that the Episcopal Church would ever need to say about lgbt people. I rejoiced, but was disillusioned when most of the barriers to lgbt persons remained in place.

My close friend The Rev. Carlisle Ramcharan counseled me: “Louie, when the Indian government told us that we could no longer refer to the ‘untouchables,’ do you know what we then began to call them?”

“No,” I responded.

“Children of God,” Father Ramcharan said, “as in, ‘God love them; we don’t have to.’”

From 2000-2008 my friend The Rev. Prince Singh was rector of St. Alban’s in Oakland, NJ. He is a leader in Dalit movement worldwide, calling for justice for India’s Dalits, the “untouchables.” In May of 2004, the Singhs invited me to their home for a reception for Rt. Rev Rev. V Devasahayam, the Bishop of Madras. Refreshments followed the bishop’s formal presentation, and Father Singh introduced me to Bishop Devasahayam. With eyes twinkling Father Singh asked him, “Bishop, what is your position on gay people in the church?”

Not missing a beat, Bishop Devasahayam replied, “Those who don’t want gay people in the church should not baptize them. Full stop. End of discussion.”

With a great smile the Bishop Devasahayam offered me a delicious spicy pastry.

In 2008 Prince Singh became The Bishop of Rochester in the Episcopal Church. I was honored to be one of his presenters. I was especially grateful for the host of Dalits present at that holy occasion.

When Martin Luther became depressed, he found that he could endure the depression by repeating again and again: “I have been baptized!”

I too have been buoyed through many a dark night saying again and again, “I have been baptized!”

See also

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