Preacher: The Reverend Dr. Cathy S. Gilliard
Second Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land.1
What does the baptized life look like, my friends? What does it call us to? How does it invite us to live faithfully as we are bound together with one another and other people?
Last week we experienced not only Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, but we were also invited to remember our own baptism and to be thankful. As fresh water was sprinkled onto our body, we were encouraged to hear again the voice of God calling each of us the Beloved son, daughter; child of God.
It’s an extreme notion isn’t it? To be loved and affirmed by God? To let that be the dominant voice in our mind, heart, and spirit as we make our journey on the earth – the voice that drowns out every other voice that tries to suggest otherwise.
We are called into fellowship and community with one another. As United Methodists, we believe in infant baptism. What we say during those sacred moments when parents bring their child up front – all dressed in white – is that before that little baby is able to formulate any words of their own; before he or she can perform any act of charity; or make any confession of faith, God says to him or her: “I love you. You are mine.” What we realize is that God is the Initiator. God comes towards us and welcomes us and it is not predicated on anything except our humanity.
Therefore, we live out that truth. We serve because we belong to the family of God. We speak and act as loved people; we love because God has first loved us. There is no such thing as a private baptism. In most incidences, the pastor will not perform a baptism in private – although to be honest I have done a few on rare occasions if the parents are moving away out of the country or the child is gravely ill or other extenuating circumstances; but very rarely. We are baptized into community. And we, the body, stand to our feet and commit ourselves to watching over and helping those parents raise their child by our own life and witness – as we remember what God has done and continues to do for us.
What makes up the beloved community of Park Avenue United Methodist Church, we might be asking ourselves. Is it people who sit in our pews only; people who sign their names and attend the new member class and make a pledge? Is it those who live within a 20 block radius or who can easily take the train, subway, or a cab across town to get here?
Does our beloved community only involve those who look like us, think like us, act like we do, believe what we believe?
No, my brother and sisters, our beloved community is all of that and more. It includes all of those children who come day after day to our school and the parents who entrust them to our care. It includes the youth that have spoken so wisely in our midst this morning; those 25-30 seniors who gather Wednesday afternoons rain or shine for an hour of exercise tailored to their needs and ability. Our beloved community includes all those people who cross the threshold of our doors seven days a week – whose faces most of us do not see and whose names we will never know and yet, they find their way her – to sit a spell; pray, be quiet, reflect.
It includes all who hunger and are thirsty; the poor, the homeless, those who live in the margins of life and society, those who have no one to speak for them.
We must ask ourselves what is our moral conscience calling us to these days? And how can we be intentional about it?
Our gospel lesson this morning calls us to bear witness to what we know about Jesus Christ. John says, “I myself did not know him [meaning Jesus] but what I do know I testify to. I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed. It is in the waters of baptism that we see who Jesus is and who we ourselves are.
I think these days we are called more than ever to bear witness to what we know to be true. What is our truth about decency and the common good? About our own journey and the journey of people who yearn for something beyond themselves?
Our children have refreshed in our hearing the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who called our nation to a greater sense of herself. One of the key aspects of King’s life and ministry was the emphasis on the Beloved Community in which “poverty, hunger and homelessness [would] not be tolerated…all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice would be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community international disputes would be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice would prevail.”2
King stressed the role of unconditional love and yearned for an integrated society that was more than about racial equality; it included all matters of life – not just some and not just for some. In his mind, such a community would be the ideal corporate expression of the Christian faith.
He dreamt of a beloved community; a new city and a new time – but not one distant in the after-while and by and by – but one that could be born among us in the here and now if we dared give it a chance. He dreamt of a time – when all of God’s children – men and women – blacks and whites – Jews and Gentiles – Catholics and Protestants – would be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
Can you imagine? A time in which we would be able to work together – to pray together – to struggle together – to go to jail together – to stand up for freedom together – knowing that one day — we would all be free, he said. Oh my goodness. What a dream!
That kind of actualization will require something of all of us – not just a few. And I think really, there is a necessity laid upon us the Church – and each of us individually – whether we live into it or not. There is a necessity laid on us who know. I feel it sometimes so strongly, don’t you? I feel in my bones; I just can’t get away from it. Perhaps it is because it is because I can still hear the ringing cries of my ancestor; those whose blood, sweat, and tears make my life possible. Perhaps it is because were it not for the grace of God, where would I be. Perhaps it is because the Spirit of God just keeps stirring at me; niggling me – just won’t leave me alone – and while I don’t always know the what of it or the how of it, I know that I share a responsibility to try to make this world a better place – and I just can’t be passive about it.
Is it not worth working toward healing love and peace; forgiveness and reconciliation? Is it not worth working toward understanding one another? Do we dare not spin out our days with courage and faith? Laying down our weapons, fears, and insecurities and picking up the mantle of truth, love, compassion for one another – just in case the dream might really be possible.
It is an extreme way – I know. Among other things, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extremist! And he called others to take it in.
“Was not Jesus an extremist for love, “ he said, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ. ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist – ‘Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. ..So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremist for the cause of justice?”3
Perhaps there is no finer hour than this – to be clear about where we stand on such things.
In the late 1800’s a man named Edgar Lee Masters wrote a poem called “George Gray”:
I have studied many times The marble which was chiseled for me-
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire-
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
Our lives are like a boat, my friends, with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. A life in which we are all too often afraid to live. Let it not be so…
Love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; sorrow knocked at my door; but I was afraid. Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances [I was too afraid to take the risks]. Yet, all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. And now I know that we must lift the sail and catch the winds of destiny, wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, but life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire. It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
 Lift Every Voice and Sing, United Methodist Hymnal pg. 519, WORDS: James Weldon Johnson, 1921