9 January 2022
Epiphany IC’22: Baptism of Our Lord
Luke 3.15-17, 21-22
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection and look for him to come again in glory; who lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.   – a Collect from a service of Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer, p.306

January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany when the Church celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. This year it was also the date we lost a truly great human being, American, and Oscar-winning actor – Sidney Poitier. Poitier was the first African-American male to receive an Oscar for his role in the 1963 film, “Lilies of the Field” where he played the part of a former GI who helped nuns to build a chapel. This role began a pattern that would become a hallmark of his career which was to play non stereotypical roles for African Americans. He went on to become a producer in his own right, and led the way for other aspiring actors to follow in his footsteps.

In his Oscar-winning year of 1963 Poitier lived the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King immortalized in his “I have a Dream” speech of the same year, where he said that he “longed for a day when men would be judged not by the color of their skin but of the content of their character.” Poitier, in his own words once said, “I truly, truly try to be better tomorrow than I was today. And I mean better, as simply a better human being, not a better actor, or a better anything, but just a better human being. And, when I die, I will not be afraid of having lived.” His goal and his principles would be tested many times throughout the years and he had to keep coming back to his core identity as a human being.

When it comes to Christians there is one identity that we must keep coming back to, to claim and reclaim above all others, and it is this – that we are God’s Beloved Daughters, and God’s Beloved Sons. We will be tempted throughout our lives to base our truest identity on something other than this, to buy into the things that divide us rather than unite us.

The wonderful news is that when we have been at our worst the God who knows us best loves us most. Think with me for a moment about the day and hour when you did the worst thing you can ever remember doing – now, thank God, that in that moment the Holy God of all creation looked at us and said “this is my Beloved – in whom I am well pleased.” This is the truth that we aren’t powerful enough to change. There is no behavior on our part that can ever change God’s mind about what God thinks of us. Because of the sending of God’s Son in human flesh – Emmanuel –   and the plan of salvation for the whole world God’s mind can never be changed about us. I love something that Julie, our office manager says when things get frustrating: “Well, I don’t think this will change God’s plan of salvation!” Thanks for that reminder Julie!

Thankfully, our True identity is not assured by any decision we make or good behavior we manage to perform – the welfare of our eternal soul is based solely on the Gift of God not anything we could ever do or not do.

Recently I decided to try this out for myself. I did something I shouldn’t have done and felt badly for it. (No, I’ll never tell what the wrong thing was! Everyone will just have to keep guessing.) At this point, rather than taking the quick path to the psychological woodshed for a mental lashing, I did something different. I found a comfortable chair, sat down, and started to breath deeply, trusting that God was right there in the room with me, and that I was totally forgiven, and loved by God in that moment as much as I had ever been loved by God on my best day, after my best performance. My pulse began to slow down, my body grew stiller and my insides started to calm down. In a matter of minutes, I was in a peaceful state trusting that what God thought about me was the truest truth – I was not my actions I was God’s beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. Ironically, as I sat there, I felt a calm peace, and I actually felt closer to God than I did while on my best behavior.

As we walk the earth, we have plenty of people, places, and experiences that can tell us just the opposite about ourselves. The dark and seductive voices, want to judge and condemn us and make us to feel that not only are we aren’t God’s beloved child we aren’t even God’s wicked stepchild. We need frequent reminders of our true identity.

That’s one of reason that the first piece of furniture we encounter upon entering a church is the baptismal font. For it is through our baptism that we become conscious members of the family of God. When we aren’t in a pandemic, we keep holy water in the font so that we can place holy water on our foreheads in order to remember our baptisms.

Another way we remember is about four or five times a year on major feasts of the Church Year we recite the baptismal creed and covenant together. We remember that no matter what shape the nation or world is in – we can claim our relationship to God as God’s beloved daughters and sons, and can decide all over again to live our lives from a place of absolute forgiveness and unconditional love.The baptismal covenant provides us with some benchmarks and guidance about what living our lives from this identity looks like on the ground. Because we have been forgiven our sins, we are reminded that we must forgive others their sins against us. We must love our enemies, not curse and try to destroy them. When we encounter people who are different than ourselves, we don’t have to belittle them, judge them, or try to tear them down, we can instead respect their inherent dignity as a human being, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Yes, we will fail at this way of living, but the more we receive God’s love for ourselves the more love we will have to give others, the more grace we are able to receive the more we will be able to extend to others. The more we see Christ in our own hearts the more we will see Christ in the hearts of others.

Our True identities aren’t based on our ethnicity, our culture, or nationality, or our socio-economic category, or any political party, it’s based on our relationship with a loving God who is desperately trying to show us there is no “us or them” only a “we” – for we are all God’s beloved daughters, and God’s belove Sons. My brothers and sisters may we be a people who remember and uphold this truth to the world – it really is all about Love! Amen!