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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


Honoring Boldness, Courage, and Open Brave Action

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord

Honoring Boldness, Courage, and Open Brave Action

 

By The Rev. Mary Goshert

 

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord

7 January 2007, Cycle C  Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 8: 14 – 17 Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

 

From the Collect of the Day: . . .Grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior. . .

 

Bold --  that’s not a word we hear often these days, and most especially we don’t much hear about boldness and boldly confessing Jesus Christ. So let’s look back just a bit in our world’s history to times when boldness, courage, open brave action no matter what the cost were honored words and honored action.

 

It was Christmas Day in 1939, just three months after Britain and France had been forced into declaring war against Germany. King George VI broadcast the annual Christmas message to the citizens of the British Empire, and at the outset of that speech, he said, “The festival which we know as Christmas is above all the festival of peace . . . Among all free peoples the love of peace is profound. . . But true peace is in the hearts of men, and it is the tragedy of this time that there are powerful countries whose whole direction and policy are based on aggression and the suppression of all that we hold dear for mankind. It is this that has stirred our peoples and given them a unity unknown in any previous war. We feel in our hearts that we are fighting against wickedness, and this conviction will give us strength from day to day to persevere until victory is assured.” King George gave special messages to British civilians, to those in various branches of military service, and voiced particular care for those in the service of the King but far-flung across the Empire.

 

He then spoke these eloquent words: I believe from my heart that the cause which binds together my peoples and our gallant and faithful Allies is the cause of Christian civilization. On no other basis can a true civilization be built. Let us remember this through the dark times ahead of us and when we are making the peace for which all men pray. A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall be undaunted. In the meantime I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines, which in my closing words I would like to say to you: ‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year/Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown./And he replied ’Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’ May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

 

Just six years before that Christmas Day address from the King, Franklin Roosevelt took office as the President of the United States in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression. In defiance of the despondent and hopeless mood looming over America, he rolled out these sonorous words: First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless; unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. He was essentially saying that if we cannot shake our pessimistic economic outlook, it will be tough to turn things around.

 

Two primary heroes of the century just ended were responding to anxious and desperate times that brought fear, even panic, to most people: and their response to that desperation encouraged a renewal of courage and hope right in the face of seeming insurmountable difficulty. And the people of that time followed the boldness, the courage, the inspiration of these leaders and were themselves en-couraged to heroic action.

 

 The times were just as desperate when John the Baptizer came to the River Jordan preaching repentance, a turnaround from past behavior and action, offering baptism as a sign of God’s action both to initiate the desire for repentance and to strengthen the renewal of each individual baptized by the work of the divine Holy Spirit. And John pointed toward the One coming who was the incarnate Sign of God with Us. When Jesus insisted to John that he be baptized, Jesus was making a permanent and public identification of himself with all those in the crowd that day. Jesus said, in effect, “I’m one with you: see how I am flesh and blood and spirit  – just like you.” What’s more, Jesus by his baptism drew everyone there into the truth that they could come to be like him in relationship with the Almighty God, citizens in his new Kingdom. And though John gave those folks who came to listen to him specific instructions for living more ethically, and demonstrated an amazing personal courage, it was Jesus alone who  revealed a better, free-er and bolder way to live in that new Kingdom.

 

As each one of us is baptized, Jesus identifies with us, too. We are made one with him. Jesus identifies with us, and shows us how we by his grace will become like him. Then Jesus frees us to be bold into our living like him. He releases us to move and act in life because what we do in and for his sake really matters. The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are bold for the sake of the Gospel, who understand that the Lord has called us in righteousness; taken us by the hand, and given us as. . . a light to the nations. . .[ the intent and pattern of this paragraph’s wording is borrowed from a sermon by the Rev. Ken Kesselus]

 

This truth is important for us Christians, us Anglican Christians to hear in our particular time. For though we live in an age of security never before known to humankind (tap water is safe to drink; food is fresh, clean and regulated for quality; police [for the most part] do not have to be feared; epidemics of smallpox, polio and measles have all but disappeared; crime rates have fallen; employment is up…by every human measure, we have it made!) Yet we are seduced into living in fear, as though we needed to fear for our very lives, for our communities and nation. There is no King George urging all people to act in Christian boldness. There is no President Roosevelt calling all citizens to be fearless. Both Roosevelt and George the Sixth drew on their baptized beliefs and their Anglican community values as they boldly proclaimed for courage undaunted by danger. We need to shake that pessimistic outlook and repent; turn again to our trust in the Lord Christ. Today, I call on us to learn to counter the false advertising and phony appeals toward fear, toward panic: fear of the known and fear of the strange, fear creating divisiveness and alienation one from another in this our society and world. I challenge us to be part of the Christian and Anglican community that refuses to be suckered by those who proclaim that the sky is falling, that the Church will die, that just around every corner is another monster to fear, that the only actions possible are violence, retaliation or weak resignation to inequality and injustice so as not to upset others. Such fear, divisiveness, alienation is heretical. It is against the teachings of the Church; it is against every model of every saint ever honored in the Church; it is against the will of our Savior Jesus the Christ. Jesus calls us forth, loves us into brave action by our faith, boldness in our love for others, stalwart standing against the evils of injustice; steadfastly true in including in and accepting those most different from ourselves. Jesus calls us toward values significant enough to bet our lives and souls on; calls on us to accept the truth that only in following him courageously can we truly find ourselves. We pledge through our Baptismal Covenant to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by word AND example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves…with God’s help. Let us listen in full to the words that inspired King George, and take them with us as talisman and token of the courage Jesus commands us, his baptized people, to use:

 

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year/'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' /And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God/
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!/'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God/ Trod gladly into the night/
He led me towards the hills/ And the breaking of day in the lone east.

[by Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957]

 

 


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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