“May we always speak the truth with love.”

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 23, 2022

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania (in English)

and at

La Comunidad Latina/Hispana

at the

Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity (in Spanish)

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this

land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as

their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to

eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those

who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law

and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of

us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Are we teaching the truth in love by Acapella

Are we teaching the truth in love

Telling it like it is

Are we holding pure motives

Showing that we care

Are we teaching the truth

Are we teaching the truth

Are we teaching the truth

In… love

Jesus’ first sermon at the Synagogue in Nazareth Luke 4: 14-21

When I was a boy, there was an expression which I would hear family members say when they saw someone who was especially well-dressed, “He looks just like a Philadelphia Lawyer.” I cannot imagine that anyone would have ever seen an actual Philadelphia Lawyer, but clearly at some point, someone must have. That memory had been passed down in the family. This became especially interesting to me when I was a teenager and became interested in genealogy. It was at that point that I learned that several of the families from whom I am descended had deep roots in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As it happens, these families had lived in Philadelphia and in Berks and Bucks counties before the Revolutionary War. In the decades leading up to the war, these ancestors decided to pack up their belongings and head down the Valley of Virginia—and ultimately into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of these families, the Boone family, lived in a little place called Birdsboro, in Berks County. The Boone homestead is still there, and it is my hope to one day visit it, and to “return home” to the place where my ancestor Sarah Boone Wilcox (the sister of the better-known Daniel) lived. Before they left for North Carolina, the Boone family were members of the Society of Friends, better known as Quakers.

The Quakers were unique in their stance for equality and justice. And for that very reason they were often persecuted. Among other things, they pushed for equality for women, for humane treatment of Indigenous Peoples. And, they were early proponents of abolition. They also provided a fascinating model for the resolution of conflict—and this was both a useful tool inside their congregations and families—and for those outside as well. In short, they proposed a model to be used when speaking truth—and especially if the truth being presented would be difficult, or challenging to hear. It is essential to understand that the goal was not necessarily to change someone’s mind or opinion, but rather to be a person of integrity and honesty. It is like planting a seed. Once the seed is planted, the planter is no longer responsible for what happens. At that point, the farmer—and God take charge. Here is the Quaker model.

  1. Sit together in silence
  2. Identify with the other person
  3. Wait for the moving/inspiration of the Spirit
  4. Speak the truth in love

Perhaps the greatest danger which Christianity has faced, has been the problem which the Southern Baptists in the Blue Ridge Mountains used to call the “me and my sweet Jesus” syndrome. This distortion reduces everything to my desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It means that I am not responsible for anyone else—or anything else. All that matters is that I love Jesus—and that Jesus loves me.

The Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that there is not one essential relationship—but three. There is the relationship between God and me, there is the relationship which I have with others, and which we have as a community, and finally, there is my relationship/our relationship with creation. Sin and evil have the power to damage all three of these relationships. So, when looking for healing, forgiveness, restoration, and justice—all three relationships must be considered. All three of these essential relationships play a constitutive role in creating Beloved Community.

The past years have taught us an important lesson. Beloved Community will only be possible if we proclaim the truth in love. The danger, of course, is that our proclamation, if not done in the right way—and in the right spirit—will not be heard or received in a way to matter. If we come across as judgmental, self-righteous, or “holier than others,” we will viewed as “preaching at,” rather than “sharing in love.” What is required is humility! We need to hear truth as much as anyone else. We do not have a monopoly om truth. We must remember what it is like to be on the receiving end. What was it like for us when we were in ignorance? How was truth presented to us? Did we feel judged, condemned, and dismissed—or did we feel grateful that someone loved us and cared enough to take the risk of sharing the truth, as they understand it,  with us?

In his first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus took the risk of speaking truth. Spoiler Alert—as we will lean next week—his words were not well received. The truth which he spoke called for change, for conversion, and for growth. That was too much for people who just wanted to feel happy, and comfortable. It was too much for the “me and my sweet God” crowd.

Jesus made it clear that his role was to announce that God was doing something new, something different, something unexpected—and for those who were happy and comfortable with the status-quo, God was doing something dangerous, risky, and uncomfortable. In speaking of the Acceptable year, Jesus was proclaiming the fulfilment of that core value of Judaism, the Year of Jubilee.

Dr. Brant Petrie had this to say about the “Year of Acceptance,” the “Favorable Year of the Lord,” or the Year of Jubilee: “If you go back to the book of Leviticus 25, what God says there is, at the end of a seven times seven year cycle, so you have 49 years — like the Sabbath times the Sabbath — after 49 years, the 50th year will be a Jubilee year. It’s going to be a Jubilee year because in that year all debts are forgiven, all slaves are set free, and any land that has been appropriated, that used to belong to a family, but they lost it through debt, will be returned to the original owners.

Now, just imagine if you lived in a Jubilee year and all your student debt, or all your house debt, or all your car debt, or all your credit card debt, whatever debt that you might have that’s weighing over your head, imagine if it was all gone, just like that in the Jubilee year.

Now that would be an acceptable year, right? It would be a year of joy, a year of deliverance, and so what Jesus is saying here is that, or what Isaiah is saying, is that when the Messiah comes, his coming is somehow going to be coordinated with, conjoined with, a great Jubilee year. A great year of release, when all debts will be forgiven, and people will be set free from bondage, which, if you’ve been in debt, you’ll know, it is bondage. It is a burden, and to be freed from it is a source of great joy.”

Notice here that Jesus does not begin by saying anything about spirituality or religious practice, as we are more accustomed to thinking about it. Before he says anything about prayer, or fasting, or almsgiving, or even about living a holy life, he begins by talking about the context which is necessary for all of those things. He begins by talking about God’s vision for justice, equality, freedom, and inclusion!

This past Monday, in honor of the life and ministry of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, our Diocesan Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee celebrated Noon Prayer via Facebook. The reflection was offered by Bishop Kevin. He took this opportunity to speak to us from his heart, to speak the truth as he understands it in love. Bishop Kevin addressed the issues which challenge us as a community—and which call us to work to answer God’ call to enter into the Year of Jubilee—to more fully become Beloved Community.

Here are some of the words which Bishop Kevin shared with us about his hopes for communities which find ourselves divided and in conflict.

“How does one, like me, speak to this moment?

Our own Soul-work is needed. For white Allies – allies who have power and authority – we must go deeper, bolder. On this day, I dare say:

One can’t be an ally if they parse the lies that led to an insurrection – Or worse, speak boldly in outrage at first and then walk ‘it back for self-interest’s sake.

One can’t be an ally and talk about a stolen election, or condone the actions of our former president.

One can’t be an ally and talk about critical race theory and pretend that you know what Dr. King would say about it.

One can’t be an ally and deny a history of white supremacy, focusing instead on the fragility of white children.

One can’t be an ally and enact voting rights laws directed at people of color… or redistricting efforts that favor one over another…

One can’t be an ally and not be outraged at the killing of black youth in 1958 and in 2022. To be an ally demands a deeper acknowledgement of our own reality, our own context, our own white privilege, and a commitment to listen and learn.

Just this day – we might need to Hush our voice.

What I am learning is that Building the Beloved Community is bold and unceasing work.

  • It is about creating a place where love wins out
  • where all are equal.
  • A place where all voices are valued, embraced and all have the opportunity to lead.
  •  Where all feel beloved.
  • It is what I dream for in the churches of the Diocese of Bethlehem.

We must continue the deep and personal soul-work of educating ourselves and listening and learning about the plight of those like Martin Luther King. Our sibling’s hero, who must become our own as well. Let us seek to become Racial Justice Allies.”

There is a fascinating quote from Dr. King which I recently discovered: “We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.”

The Prophet Isaiah challenges us, Our Lord Jesus Christ challenges us, Dr. Martin Luther King challenges us, and today, Bishop Kevin challenges us to speak, and to hear, the truth in love. Rather than reacting in fear, may we rejoice at the good news that God’s promise of Jubilee has been announced to us. “This is the Year of Favor” which is being fulfilled in our hearing today.

To view the video of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.

To read the full text of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.

Jesus is our Hope

A Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

January 9, 2022

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

Jordan by Emmy Lou Harris

Oh, come in as you tread life’s journey

Take Jesus as your daily guide

Though you may feel pure and safely

Without him walking by your side

But when you come to make the crossing

At the endin’ of your pilgim’s way

If you ever will meet our Saviour

You’ll surely meet him on that day

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters

Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar

You’d better take Jesus with you, He’s a true companion

For I’m sure without him that you never will make it o’er

It was a bitterly cold Winter evening in January of 1971 at Beech Mountain Missionary Baptist Church in the Dark Ridge when three Southern Baptist Congregations: Beech Mountain, Fall Creek, and Whaley, gathered to observe the Ordinance of Baptism and through this Service to welcome the handful of new believers into membership in the Church. It was a very rare thing for these churches to do something like this together. However, as the result of a series of Revivals after the harvest, there had been a number of persons who had been saved. Since Beech Mountain was the only church which had an inside Baptistry, it was the logical choice for the Service.

Even though there was an indoor Baptistry (with an incredibly beautiful mural of the River Jordan—painted by Deacon Truman Church), the water for the pool came from a stream not far from the church. It was NOT heated, although the church was. As a result the water was VERY cold. It was so cold, in fact, that when the preacher entered the water (wearing wading boots like mountain fishermen often did when they went into the cold mountain streams) there was a thin layer of ice on top of the water. Those who were to be baptized, and who were watching from the room just off the side heard the ice crack as the preacher walked down the steps into the water!

Before each person was Baptized, the choir sang a verse of “Shall We Gather at the River,” and then the baptizand walked down the steps, into the water, and out to where the preacher was standing. At the front of the Baptistry there was a glass window some four feet tall (rising from the metal tank) which allowed those in the church to witness what was taking place).

I was eight years old, and was one of the neophytes that evening. I think that I was tall enough to have at least my shoulders and head above the water. But, this was a mysterious and somewhat frightening thing. I had seen other Baptisms of course, even some at the “Baptismal Hole” in Beech Creek, flowing down towards Watauga River. But those services happened during the day—and in far warmer weather.

The preacher said a prayer, and then when everyone shouted “Amen,” he raised his left hand and said something like, “Brother Mickey (that was my childhood name) upon your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord we baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” He then placed a clean white handkerchief over my nose and mouth with his right hand, and immersed me in those cold Baptismal waters. Even though I was already cold, being thrust below the surface of those cold waters was literally shocking, I nervously struggled, for a moment, to breathe. When the preacher lifted me up, out of the water, I will never forget that first deep breath which I took! Later, in looking back on it, that language which Saint Paul used to speak of burial with Christ in Baptism and rising with him to newness of life made perfect sense to me!

Then, I went into the men’s Sunday School Room and put on the dry dress clothes which Momma had prepared for me in advance and then went back into the church. When all the Baptisms were completed, the Preacher invited the joined congregations to come and to welcome us with the right hand of full membership. Of course, I was related to almost everyone there. So, there were lots of hugs and tears as well as handshakes.

Those of us whom come from a catholic Traditon have a somewhat different understanding of, and a different experience of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. For us, Baptism initiates the Christian life. In it we, who were previously, “strangers and aliens,” are adopted through Baptism, washed from anything which could ever separate us from God, and are claimed as Christ’s own forever. The old language spoke of an indelible mark which no power could ever erase. We were changed. We were reborn. We were welcomed into the household and the family of God.

Through the Blessed Holy Waters of the new creation, we were given a share in the three-fold ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet, and king–and do remember we just celebrated the symbols of that three-fold ministry in the gifts of the magi on the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord: gold (a gift for kings), incense (a gift for priests), and myrrh (a gift for the bodies of the prophets who, more often than not, were martyred).

And thus, we began the Spiritual Life. Now since most of us were babes or children, our parents and godparents made promises and commitments on our behalf. We belong to a tradition which regularly chooses to renew, reaffirm, and recommit to our Baptismal promises. And, so children in The Episcopal Church grow up thinking that this is not just a onetime experience which happened to us in the distant past. We will never be re-baptized, there is no need for that. But, in order to live out our Baptismal promises, we need to turn from sin and embrace the good news every day. And it is with that in mind that we publicly acknowledge our failing to do so almost every time we gather as a community. Several times a year, though, and most often today, we collectively renew our Baptism through the profession of our faith and through our re-commitment to the Baptismal Covenant.

It seems incredible to me that these five questions which we hear, and to which we respond, capture the heart—the essence of what Baptism means to us—both individually, and as people who aspire to become “Beloved Community.”

Celebrant   Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Although Baptism is the beginning of our journey with God, it is not the totality of that journey. God offers us further grace and power through the other Sacraments of Initiation: Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. In times of physical and spiritual illness we are offered anointing and absolution. And to enable those called to Holy Marriage and to the ordained ministry and service to the People of God,  there are Sacramental graces as well.

Our Church made the decision that, because Baptism is an entrance into Community, we ought to routinely and normally celebrate it on a Sunday Eucharist. And so the notion of “private Baptism,” really does not make sense—unless there is some unusual reason which would necessitate such a rare occurrence.

As I have grown older, I have become much more aware of the need for faith in Christ to be a source of light, of leaven, and of salt. There seems to be so much darkness in our world, and such a need for the light of Christ. In my own case, this has caused me to return to certain prayers and devotions which I knew in my younger years. Some of these I later tossed to the side as being “old fashioned,” or “too conservative.” For me, though, and I speak here only of my own life of prayer, they have become a source of hope, encouragement, and of invitation. In reflecting on the reality of Baptism, I am reminded of a prayer from the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy which speaks of the water and blood which flowed from the pierced side of Our Lord on the Cross.

“You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

I began these words today with the music of Emmy Lou Harris. As we approach the cold waters of the Jordan in our own time of uncertainty, fear, and darkness, may we choose to trust in our Good Shepherd to lead us safely to our destination.

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar We’d better take Jesus with us, He’s a true companion For I’m sure without him that we will never will make it o’er.