Delivered at Resurrection Circuit Online Service, First UMC Clairton, Pine Run UMC, & Glassport UMC. Just a reminder, this is pretty much a transcript of the sermon, so it's written as I spoke it, not how it would be written it for publication.
Scripture: Luke 3:1-22
I was not surprised when Rev. Airgood asked me to offer this message before we filmed the online service on Thursday. I had felt a something before I left to come help around the church that he wanted me to preach and thought about what I would say to the church in this time. Truthfully, I am still at a crossroads between being at a loss for words and having far too many words to fill my mouth.
I have learned in seminary thus far that in times of national contention and tragedy it may be appropriate to offer words of comfort to a congregation, but in my discernment, it would be unwise to be anything but uncomfortable with and aware the situation continuing to develop around us. We should have to think about what has occurred. We should have to consider how the church chooses to respond. We should be considering how we will move forward.
Our nation witnessed a terrible act of evil - insurrectionists successfully breaching into the capitol, injuring those that stood in the way of their coup, and leading to the deaths of half a dozen people. This is an act that cannot be undone. An act that, for more days than most, illustrates the problems that exist within our American society - where the heresies of Christian nationalism, white supremacy, and utter selfishness showed themselves for all to see.
Through this, the fact remains that we are Christians, and this is the church - and we cannot be anything but hopeful in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the world to come.
Church, today I will not be preaching a message of comfort, but I will be preaching a message of hope.
(Let us pray)
United Methodist believe that there are two sacraments – Holy Communion and Baptism. We believe that they are means of grace. These are gifts that God gives us to participate in the wonderful transformation that God is doing here. This is why we baptize infants, because we believe that this gift is not something that any Pastor, Priest, or church can give, but is instead a gift only from God as a sign of God’s unfailing love for us. It is the initiation into the whole body of Christ, it serves as a symbol for entering the Kingdom of God – where we reject the evils of sin and begin our journey with Christ in the church.
For today, I wish to talk about something else that baptism is for us. Baptism is not only a symbol of our new lives but an actual spiritual rebirth. When one is baptized, we believe that we are active participants in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In times such as these we must examine how our faith calls us to act. It will be the reaction of many to the obvious discomfort of what has happened to run away from the injustices present. We want to be comfortable, and it will frankly be easier for us to ignore it and attempt move on, thinking that this will somehow get better with us not doing anything about it. It will be the reactions of some to deny that the events on Wednesday even took place. This event simply does not fit into the ideological boxes some have formed for themselves, and it will be easier for some to accept conspiracy theories than to address the facts head on.
These approaches, however, abdicate our responsibility to address the forces of evil in the world – they abdicate our responsibility to preach resurrection. We know that Jesus did not condone evil. He used his words and actions to address them. In this scripture, we see the day that Jesus went to be baptized, John the Baptist had harsh words for his flock.
“you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He offered an alternative: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
John was telling his flock to put aside their privilege as people of God to do the work as people of God. Likewise, our call remains the same. Because of this rebirth we are called to a higher standard. Alongside our rejections of evil and wickedness we also vow to, “resist injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We vow to fight for a better world together. When we do this, we are vowing to preach resurrection in our communities, free the captive and the oppressed, and show the world a better way.
I am asking you church: can we today love our neighbors more deeply?
Can we seek to understand them more sincerely?
Can we strive to seek justice in our communities in ways that we have never before?
Because this is not the end game, this is the beginning. This is the very heart and soul of the Gospel; this is the essence of our Baptism.
When Jesus announced his ministry, he did not say that he came to make the rich richer.
He did not say he came to give comfort to the oppressors.
He did not say that he came to give power to those privileged to live in comfort.
He quoted his mission, “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” And the people were angry at him.
Church if we are doing anything else but pursuing the mission of Christ, right now we are wrong. This is not a partisan argument. These are the words of our King.
People of God, we must believe in the power of the resurrection so deeply and sincerely that we transform the world. We must live in a way that we constantly remember our baptisms and strive to bring resurrection to the world. Jesus is the hope of the world and if we are not showing that, we will continue to put our hope in the hands of political leaders, celebrities, and demagogues.
I say again: Jesus is the hope of the world. If we are not showing that to the world, we will continue to put our hope in the hands of political leaders, celebrities, and demagogues.
The last time I preached here I preached a Christmas message, where I stated,
“For us to truly grow as a body and reach people with the gospel, we must reclaim our message. We must not hide behind the tinsel or holly, the tradition, or carols. We must be loud in our message on what Christmas is about. The Christmas spirit will be present when the holy spirit is present.”
As we remember our baptisms today and celebrate in the wonderful gift that God has given us, we must show the world what our baptisms mean – a transformation and rebirth for ourselves and the world and a proclamation of resurrection to the world.
As we go through our lives this week and in the coming days, I invite you to remember your baptism and the vows that we took with them frequently. I invite you to bring the power of the death and resurrection into your lives and place your hope in Christ as we witness the evils around us.
You can watch the full online version of the service here: