Sunday, January 09, 2022

A Public Commitment to a Way of Life


 

                                        [Image by Daniel Nebreda Lucea]

 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

The account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer at the Jordan River is an essential aspect of the life of Jesus. It appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels and is indirectly referenced in John’s Gospel as well. Clearly, for the early Jesus movement which would produce the Gospels, this was a key event in understanding who Jesus was and what he was about.

Interestingly, there is no direct reference in the Gospels to Jesus having ever baptized anyone himself. He is seen sending out his disciples who will baptize others. But Jesus is not the one who baptizes in the Gospels, John is.

John’s symbolic act of baptism will strongly shape the early Jesus movement and in time it will come to be seen as one of two sacraments the later Christian tradition will be able to agree upon, eucharist being the other. Thus, it is important to try to get a clear picture of what is happening at the Jordan River with John and Jesus.

 

Baptism in the Gospels: Not About Original Sin

 

                        [Image: Michael Pacher, “The Devil presenting St Augustine (of Hippo) with the book of vices.” oil on wood (ca. 1435-1498)]

 As a preliminary matter, we need to establish what this is not about. Neither John nor Jesus would have understood this baptism as a remedy for original sin. While our first inclination would be to say, “Well, clearly, since Jesus never sinned,” that’s actually not the reason. Original sin is a theological construct of the later Christian movement that will not be fully formulated until Augustine of Hippo lays it out in his book The City of God in the early 5th CE. 

In all truthfulness, it has always been a problematic idea.

 


Bear in mind that Jesus and John are both Jews. Judaism has never understood its scriptures to refer to a doctrine of original sin. Neither Jesus nor John had ever heard this idea and would not have been inclined to believe it. That is not what they are doing at the Jordan River. But what they are doing is much, much more important.

 

Joining a Demanding Community

The first aspect of this story is recognizing that baptism is an initiatory rite. Jesus is becoming a part of John’s movement by this symbolic, public act. Like all such initiatory rites, it signals that Jesus has engaged John’s movement, found it to be compelling, and thus sought to publicly identify with it. Jesus is seeking to belong to John’s community and is making a public profession of that desire, just like we do today in our own sacrament of baptism. Becoming part of a faith community always requires public commitment.

 

It’s important to note that becoming a part of John’s community came with no small amount of expectations. In the verses which immediately precede today’s lesson in Luke, the crowds ask John how they should live now that they have been baptized. John is pretty clear: “Whoever has two shirts should share with someone who has none, whosever has food should do the same.” To the tax collectors he would respond, “Charge no more than the official rates.” And to the soldiers his response would be “No more shake downs. No more frame-ups, either. And be satisfied with your pay.” 

In short, to be a member of John’s community meant becoming conscious of the suffering in the world around you and your own role in causing and responding to that suffering. Most importantly, it meant living in a way that ran counter to the values of an exploitative culture driven by power and greed.

 

Washing Off the Grime and the Shame


That leads to the second aspect of the story. This ritual act is loaded with subtext just below the surface. Bathing was a patently Greco-Roman practice. The Romans engaged it as both an aesthetic consideration, a means of hygiene, as well as a communal focus. Roman baths were places of socializing, places where business deals were cut, places of relaxation and recreation, places where sexual encounters occurred. Indeed, it is the point where the Romans install baths around the Temple Mount that tensions would rise within Judaism that would ultimately prompt a rebellion resulting in the Romans’ destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

The location where these baptismal rites is occurring is also no accident. The Jordan River is highly symbolic as the site where the Hebrew people had entered into the Promised Land centuries before. To return to the Jordan and wash in its waters signaled a rededication to be the people of Israel under the kingship of YHWH, purified of the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire. Washing in the Jordan allowed the humiliation and shame imposed by these invaders and exacerbated by Judean governmental and religious officials who collaborated with them to be washed from the bodies of the baptized along with the ordinary grime of daily life. It was a direct symbolic refutation of the culture and thus the authority of the empire and its collaborators.


This public refutation, however symbolic, was hardly subtle. It was directly aimed at the empire. And it had hardly escaped the attention of the Romans. The Gospels tell us that John the Baptizer will be beheaded for condemning Herod, the king of Judea and Roman puppet, for marrying his brother’s wife. But John had been on Rome’s radar for a long time prior to this because he was the leader of a sect seen as seditious. John’s movement, much like the later Jesus movement, implicitly drew the legitimacy of the Roman Empire and Herod’s vassal state into question. For both John and Jesus, there was only one king in Judea, and it was not Caesar. Thus, much like Jesus, John’s fate was a foregone conclusion long before it finally arrived.

 

Beloved Child of G-d

The third aspect of the story is perhaps the most crucial. Luke’s version of the baptism narrative gives us no detail of the event itself, cutting straight to the chase. As Jesus stands on the shores of the Jordan, water dripping from his hair and beard, a voice from heaven will say, 

“You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

 


 It is important to note here that Jesus has always been the child of G-d as is every living being G-d has created. It is also important to note that G-d did not start loving Jesus only once he has been baptized. The baptism is simply the moment Jesus becomes conscious that he has always been beloved by G-d just like every other creature bearing the divine image.

That recognition will prove momentous for Jesus.  The synoptic Gospels all report that Jesus is so overwhelmed by this experience at the Jordan that he flees to the desert to be alone with this G-d who has proclaimed him as his beloved son. Jesus will spend the next 40 days figuring out who he is and what he is called to do. It is only then that he begins his public ministry.

It’s an interesting history. But what does that have to do with any of us?

A Baptismal Covenant That Is Countercultural


As Christians, we are inheritors of this Gospel moment.
 Baptism comes to us with all of its history and symbolic depth. For us, baptism is a public commitment to a faith community. It signals to the world that we belong to this particular way of following Jesus.

 


Like the baptism of Jesus into John’s sect of Judaism, our baptism calls us to embrace values that are deeply countercultural. The Gospel of Gordon Gecko proclaims that “Greed is good,” an understanding that sees other human beings as either a means or an obstacle to the amassing of material goods. Our baptismal covenant requires us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” 

The Gospel of the Culture Warrior warns us that those outside our tribe are enemies against whom violence can be committed with impunity. Our baptismal covenant requires us to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

 


Jesus knew at the moment of his baptism that he would need his heavenly father to guide and strengthen him in his ministry that lay ahead. That awareness would propel him into the desert for prayer and reflection. Jesus knew he could not live into his calling without the ongoing presence of G-d.

 


Our baptismal covenant evidences a similar recognition. We know that we cannot live into any of the promises we make each time we celebrate a baptism without the divine presence in our lives. To all the questions our covenant poses, we respond
, “I will with God’s help.” Both our openness to G_d’s guidance and our awareness of our need for G-d’s energizing presence in our lives is evidenced in that humble response.

  

What Do We See in the Mirror?

But here’s the most important part of this story. After his baptism, Jesus becomes aware of G-d’s loving embrace of him as G-d’s child. We, too, are children of G-d and have been since the moment of our creation. We, too, are beloved by the G-d who created us, complete with all of our faults and failures. None of that is in doubt. The only question is how we ultimately come to believe it.

 


So try this. Tonight, when you go into your bathroom to wash your face before bed, look straight ahead into the mirror. What are you looking at? Nothing less that one of the infinite images of the very G-d who created you. Now ask yourself – do I believe I am a beloved child of G-d? And if not, why not? What must I let go of to let G-d love me?

Jesus calls his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That begins with loving ourselves, just as we are, warts and all, just as G-d loves us. And that’s a critical beginning point for living into all of the callings we have agreed to at our baptisms. Like Jesus, we are called to live in a way that runs in the face of many of the values of our own culture. Like Jesus, that calling is laden with no small amount of challenge if not danger. And like Jesus we will need G-d’s guidance, courage and strength to live into the promises we make.

So let us pray:

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.      

Sermon offered Epiphany I, 2022 at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL

 


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Harry Scott Coverston 

 

  Orlando, Florida

 

frharry@cfl.rr.com

 

hcoverston.orlando@gmail.com

 

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

 

 © Harry Coverston, 2022

 

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Tuesday, January 04, 2022

New Year’s Day 2022: The Walk


Happy New Year! I hope this finds you happy, healthy and secure.

I have been writing these new year’s letters for 40 years now. They’ve come a long way from the cut and paste/xerox copy days. Thank goodness. Many of you know I rarely got those letters posted anywhere close to New Years. For all of the problems of online services, it makes it a lot easier to send these missives by email than snail mail.  

New Year’s Eve: Silly Boys, Anxious Animals, Old Farts

It is our custom to drive over to Cape Canaveral every New Years to walk down the beach and assess where our lives are to be found at the beginning of the newly arriving year. We waited until New Year’s Day this year to do our annual walk marking New Year’s Eve at home watching Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen being silly in Times Square. We were proud of ourselves as old farts who actually made it to midnight - a rare occasion these days.

 

Part of that decision making turned on our fur babies. New Year’s Eve, along with the days surrounding the Fourth of July, has become a challenge for those of us with animal companions. These holidays have largely become endurance tests in most neighborhoods with ongoing aerial assaults of fireworks that often last until well into the wee hours.

This year our household of nervous humans, dogs and cats finally got a reprieve New Year’s morning about 2:30 AM. Fortunately we were able to sleep in until 11 AM. It’s one of the joys of being retired.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of celebrations and have often operated out of the maxim that there is no excess like wretched excess. But I do think all of us could stand to engage in a lot more consideration in that celebration. Besides our anxious animal companions, there are a number of wounded warriors whose PTSD is activated by fireworks. Like the champagne we ingest on this holiday, incendiary celebration in moderation is both prudent and thoughtful.

A Beautiful Evening at the Coast

 


As it turns out, the wait for our walk on the beach was worth it. The beach was a bit crowded this New Year’s afternoon but with temperatures still in the upper 70s and a nice breeze blowing in off the Atlantic, it was a beautiful setting for our long walk down the beach and back.



The sky was a collection of pastels  -  golds, oranges, lavenders, grays, blues. Royal terns gathered along the sand to enjoy the evening breeze. In the distance, silhouettes of rockets bound for outer space could be seen just across the inlet and cruise ships departing the nearby port grew smaller and smaller as they plowed the waters bound for the Caribbean. Along the route, children constructed glorious sandcastles while fishermen tended to fishing poles periodically bent over with the weight of caught fish.




Here and there lone figures waded into water that is much warmer than normal for this time of year to stare out to the sea beyond. I get that. Deep calls out to deep.

 


2021: Joys and Heartache

It’s about a mile and three/quarters walk to the pier at Jetty Park from Cherie Down Park. On the way up the beach we each take turns reviewing the year that has just passed. On the walk back to the car we gaze into the mists of the year to come, laying out our concerns and our plans.


This past year was a tough one for both of us. Andy lost his Mother  on the week of her 94th birthday. Since then he has made a couple of trips to Augusta, GA to attend the funeral and to help his brother begin the processing of the family estate. That work will continue this year.

 


I have now lost three friends over the last year to the demon that is COVID. I admit to no small amount of anger at those who have prolonged this misery through irresponsible behaviors. Just before Christmas I attended the funeral of my friend, Vince Ignico, over in Inverness, who died after a long illness. And I lost two of my beloved cats, Frida, the little orange feral who came to me just before I retired from UCF, and Romero, my beautiful black boy who died without warning of a heart attack at a mere 8 years old. I miss them both. 

Sister Death has far too often been a constant companion this year

 

 


But this was also a year of happy events. My Brother and I were blessed with the opportunity to be the officiants at my Sister’s marriage. It occurred in a beautiful setting in the 133-year-old Flagler hotel which is now the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. Much of the extended family was able to attend and it was wonderful to see everyone. My Sister has married a wonderful man, Jim Hagens, and we are happy for them both.


 
My Brother and his wife, Ruthie Lamb, have moved from Winter Park to their spacious new lakeside home on the east side of Deltona. It is beautiful and we are happy for them. We have enjoyed several occasions to gather there including the Thanksgiving Day dinner pictured here. 

 




My niece, Grace, and nephew, Cary, are both doing well at UCF and my nephew, Scott, who last year became the third generation in our family to graduate from UF, is busy studying for the LSAT. I also became a grand uncle this year when Ellie arrived, the baby of my nephew Joe and niece Annie. 


The new addition to our household is a little golden girl, a kitten named Willow. We got her from an animal rescue service in the Gainesville area. She was feral when she arrived but has now become comfortable enough I can occasionally get her into my lap for petting. She is a little ball of fire on most days.  

 



Though my travel has been greatly curtailed of necessity over the past two years, I was able to travel to visit friends in Syracuse, NY during a lull in the waves of the pandemic. There is something truly amazing about the upstate New York region with its rich history of indigenous culture, its role in the Underground Railroad and women’s rights activism. I always enjoy my time with Bill and Fu. (RIP, Mr. Baiv)

 


I’ve also had occasions to visit friends in Bushnell and Inverness, my old stomping grounds, over the past year. One of those events was my 50th high school reunion which I attended briefly before becoming ill and having to leave early. 

I find myself busy with Zoom engagements which have allowed me to reconnect with old friends from my time as seminarian in California and my time as assistant chaplain at the Episcopal ministry at Florida State. Zoom is a mixed blessing on a good day, demanding much in terms of attentiveness and willingness to deal with technical glitches, but providing means of talking with people around the world.

A Place for Unorthodox Souls


I continue to enjoy my work at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church. I preach and celebrate at the main Sunday services once a month. The fourth Sunday of each month, I officiate the Taize service at the evening service. And every other month I am the officiant and celebrant for the Integrity eucharist. I am a regular attendee at Sacred Time, the contemplative prayer group, each Tuesday morning.

As apprehensive as I am about tribal thinking with its reluctance to see a bigger picture or engage the world outside its circled wagons, I realized at some point this year that everyone needs a tribe where they can belong. This parish is my tribe. It is a place that values the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that compose this unusual community. As a result, unorthodox souls like mine have a place to belong and to offer our talents. It has proven to be an ongoing growth experience for me to trust finally being accepted and allow myself to be loved. For all of that I am deeply grateful.

 


Franciscan Richard Rohr speaks to this kind of tribe in the prayer used for his Conspire gatherings in Albuquerque each year. In part the prayer reads

            If you are doubting, welcome.

            If you are healing, welcome.

            If you are angry at injustice, welcome.

            If you afraid, welcome.

            If you are joyful, welcome.

            If you are longing to belong, welcome.

            Our pathways converge and continue.

            each one of us a catalyst for loving action.

            We a community of saints.

            Conspire.

            Breathe with us.

 Indeed. 

2022: Construction, Apprehension, Introspection

The coming year will bring major changes to our lives. The deck in our back yard must be replaced. It will be a major undertaking not the least of which will be the moving of all the potted plants currently on the deck and those growing along its perimeter. The potting shed in the back corner of our lot has been without a roof for a year now. It also demands attention.

 


We also need to take care of our estate planning. All the visits from Sister Death this year have reminded us of how unpredictable the end of life can be. Better to have things nailed down, especially when you are a same sex married couple in a state and nation increasingly leaning toward a neofascism fueled by religious fundamentalism.

That last part constituted a major part of our discussions Saturday. I find myself increasingly concerned about the direction I see our state, country and world taking. One of the downsides of having done a lot of study of the Holocaust era in grad school is being able to see the parallels between the events that would ultimately produce fascist regimes across Europe and the events that we see around the world from India to Brazil to the Capitol of the United States. Being a man with a well-rounded education and a temperament (ENFP) which strongly focuses on the big picture over the immediate, I find myself worrying at times to the point of obsession over what I see occurring around me, powerless to impact.


I have become increasingly empathetic to the archetypal figure of Cassandra, the Trojan priestess to whom the god Apollo gave the power to see the future as a means of wooing her only to have her eventually spurn his affections. Unable to retract his original gift, he added to Cassandra’s ability to see the future the unwillingness of her listeners to take seriously Cassandra’s warnings. On occasion I think I understand on an existential basis what Cassandra experienced. Increasingly, as I allow my early morning struggles with demons of worst-case scenarios to inform my online postings, I sense that they are largely avoided or dismissed.

Even so, I have a foreboding about the coming election year which by all indications is going to be brutal. In a desperate race to the bottom, I sense the tenor of these zero-sum campaigns will be Machiavellian in nature - whatever it takes to win regardless of its ultimate costs to all the parties involved. But the larger picture I see emerging from the campaign to enact widespread voter suppression laws and the stacking of election commissions, courts and state and local governing bodies across the country all point toward an incipient failure of our democratic system and the potential rise of authoritarianism.

In all honesty, that terrifies me.

These are some of the demons who come to visit at 4 AM these days. Given these possibilities, I think the only way I am going to be able to make it through this coming turbulence is to simply back up a bit from public engagement.

 


Numerology says this is a seven personal year for me, a time for reflection, meditation, focusing on my own inner depths. Most of all it is a time for healing of wounds. Over the past few years, I have come to realize that I carry a lot of undealt with injury to my soul from my 68 years of this unorthodox life I have lived. In order to attend to that, I will need to turn my attention and energies inward, a move that is counterintuitive for this life-long extravert. That will mean less social media, which generates anxiety, and a more limited exposure to the news.

That’s probably good news for the ongoing projects I am working on. My seminar in which we have been reading Carl Jung’s Collected Works continues into midyear. It has been enormously insightful thus far. I am also intent on working on my book about my time in Inverness this year. The time has come to liberate that horde of demons and heal those wounds. Most of all, I look forward to spending time with all of my babies, starting with the beautiful soul that is my husband, Andy, and spending the time that restores my soul in my beloved Jungle.  

 


Prayers for Wisdom and Courage

Thirty one years ago this August, I was headed to seminary. Imogene, my little blue Mazda, was loaded to the ceiling with all my worldly goods for my trek across the country to my new home in Berkeley. I had no diocesan sponsorship for ordination and little idea of how I would pay for this next round of higher education I had engaged.  All I knew was that it was time for me to go. 

As I pulled out of my driveway at 307 South Hampton Avenue, a then popular song by Mister, Mister began to play on my radio:

“Kyrie, eleison, on the road that I must travel;

Kyrie, eleison, through the darkness of the night;

Kyrie, eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?

Kyrie, eleison, on a highway in the night…”


That was truly where I was in August of 1991. And those words once again speak to me as we begin this new year.


I pray for G_d’s presence in the days to come. As the prayer from hymn writer Harry Emerson Fosdick put it, “
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.” And as the hymn writer John Mason Neale prayerfully implored,

“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,

Who orderest all things mightily;

To us the path of knowledge show,

And teach us in her ways to go.”

May your 2022 be safe, happy and grounded in the knowledge that you are a very good creation of the Holy One, beloved as you are. Happy New Year.

 

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Harry Scott Coverston  

  Orlando, Florida

  frharry@cfl.rr.com

 hcoverston.orlando@gmail.com

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

 © Harry Coverston, 2022

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Commencing the Work of Christmas

[And the angels said] "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

Today is the day we celebrate the birth of a child who will change the world. The writer of Luke will express the special nature of this child in a colorful manner. Luke depicts him as having been born in a shelter for farm animals, his mother laying him in a rough manger, the feeding trough from which those animals were accustomed to eating. Like most hero sagas, it is a very humble beginning for this man who will eventually be seen as sitting at the very right hand of G-d.

 


But Luke is intent on conveying to his readers that from the beginning, this is no ordinary child. The skies above the farm shelter are lit up with angels proclaiming “Glory to God in heaven, and on Earth, peace among those whom he favors!" Some that G-d favors are In nearby fields where the angels visit shepherds watching their flocks. They are terrified at first but an angel tells them not to be afraid, that the savior for whom they have been waiting has finally been born. The angels direct them to the place where Jesus is lying. They will be the first to encounter this newborn child and when they leave these humble shepherds will be the first witnesses to the birth of a savior.

It’s a beautiful narrative. But it is important to note here that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a much longer story. And that story has major implications for each of us and the world in which we live.

 

Is the Christ Born in Me This Day?

Meister Eckhart was the Benedictine abbot of a monastery in Erfurt, Germany of the 13th CE.  Loved by mystics, Eckhart was insistent that faith must be more than a simple aspect of believing, it must flow into the world in the lives of believers. Eckhart was a prodigious author and in one of his most famous writings he asserted 

Here in time we celebrate the eternal birth that God the Father bore… in time, in human nature….We should ask ourselves: If [Jesus’ birth] doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all?

 

Brother David Vyhof of the Episcopal Society of St. John the Evangelist would restate Eckhart’s statement this way: “What good is it that Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago if he is not also born (this day) in me?”

That’s a rather daunting question. I find myself asking “Who am I to reveal the Christ? How could Christ be born in me? How could my life reveal the Christ child that we celebrate this day?” I would like to suggest to you this morning that our lectionary over the coming year will offer us a guidebook on how to do exactly that.

 

Guidance from Our Lectionary

 


This year in our lectionary, our Gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Luke. The First Sunday of Epiphany, Luke’s Gospel will recount its vision of Jesus’ baptism. At the end of the story, a voice from heaven will be heard to say, “You are my Son, my Beloved….” It is a beautiful story. But we are quick to say that’s true of Jesus but what does it have to do with me?

 


One of the things that has gotten lost over the two millennia of the Christian tradition with its focus on sin and salvation is the original blessing of Creation. According to the writers of Genesis, we are all children of G-d, born bearing the very image of the G-d who created us with the ability to grow ever more into the divine likeness. At the end of the Creation narrative, G-d deems the creation “very good.” Not perfect but very good. And beloved, just as it is.


On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we will hear the parable of the Prodigal Son. The message of that parable is that we are beloved by our Father in heaven even when we find it difficult to believe that, much less to love ourselves. If you are like me, you may struggle with the point Jesus is making here. But if we are to reveal the Christ in this very good but broken world, accepting ourselves as loveable, imperfect as we may be, is the first step toward loving our neighbors as ourselves, those neighbors with their own brokenness and imperfections. Accepting ourselves as beloved by the G-d who created us is the place that revealing the Christ in our lives must start.

 

Can we work on that this year?

 

On the Third Sunday of Epiphany, Luke will detail Jesus’ return to his home in the Galilee after his baptism. In the local synagogue he will read from a scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah:

 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 At the conclusion of that reading he will say to his listeners, whom Luke tells us all have their eyes fixed on Jesus, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

 


Following Jesus means becoming conscious of the many poor people who live among us in this affluent society, becoming aware of the thousands of people we lock up each day and the thousands more who are captives of addictive behaviors and mental illnesses. It means allowing our hearts to be broken by the suffering of those oppressed by the evils of racism, sexism and all the other ways we demean the humanity of others. And it means allowing our broken hearts to fashion the way we interact with others, the ways we spend our money, the ways we vote. All of these are ways in which Christ may be revealed in our lives.


Can we work on that this year?


On the Third Sunday in Lent, Luke will relate a parable about a fig tree. It’s owner, unhappy that it has not produced figs in three years, is ready to dig it up and cast it into the fire. But Jesus has the protagonist in the story respond with a plea for its life: “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”



The regularity with which Jesus references Nature in his teachings suggests a deep love for this very good Creation. But here he is observing that the good Creation requires care to be healthy and productive. Like the owner of the fig tree, we have far too often seen the Earth as an inexhaustible source of our consumerist demands upon it and the bottomless garbage pit for what we have used up and tossed away. Revealing Christ in our lives calls us to reconsider our patterns of consumption, to make environmental concerns a bottom line in our voting for policy makers who might yet salvage our damaged world from the increasingly serious threats of climate change.

 

Can we work on that this year?

 

The Work of Christmas Now Begins

 

How can our lives reveal the Christ who is born this day? Let us begin by working on accepting ourselves as beloved by G-d, loving ourselves with all our imperfections. Let us work on becoming conscious of those who suffer in our world and willing to act on that consciousness. And let us work on cherishing the Earth as G-d’s Creation and ordering our lives in a way that evidences its value. Those are all ways the Christ can be born in us this day and shine forth for the remainder of this year. And if we lose our way, our lectionary will provide weekly reminders for us

Howard Thurman was one of the leading religious thinkers of the 20th CE. A leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Thurman offers us this take on the work of Christmas and I close with it:

 

            When the song of the angels is stilled,

            when the star in the sky is gone,

            when the kings and princes are home,

            when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

            the work of Christmas begins:

            To find the lost,

            to heal the broken, to feed the hungry,   

            to release the prisoner,

            to rebuild the nations,

            to bring peace among people,

            to make music in the heart. 

May the Christ child be born in each of us this day, people of G-d. And may the work of Christmas now commence. Merry Christmas! 


[Sermon offered Christmas Day 2021, St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL] 

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Harry Scott Coverston  

  Orlando, Florida

  frharry@cfl.rr.com

 hcoverston.orlando@gmail.com

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

 © Harry Coverston, 2021

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