First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 10, 2021
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The summer after my junior year of high school, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed suddenly in a car accident in Paris at the age of 36. I didn’t know much about the British Royal Family, but was fascinated that the death of a former princess affected so many around the world with such profound, public grief. I was so fascinated that I decided to wake up to watch her funeral at 3:00 a.m, and what I saw in terms of pageantry and ritual marked the beginning of a love affair with the British Royal Family, both in terms of church and state.
One of the first things I came across in my many hours of reading on the subject was the fact that members of the Royal Family are baptized not with tap water, but with water from the Jordan River, the same river in which our Lord was baptized. This river is about 150 miles long, and forms the western border of modern-day Jordan, and the eastern border of parts of Israel, and of the Palestinian West Bank. It was a dirty river back then, as it is today, filled with mud and sediment. All those who came to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan knew just how special this place was: it was here that their ancestors entered into the Promised Land when its waters were miraculously parted by God. After their time as slaves in Egypt, they had spent 40 years roaming about the wilderness, the very same wilderness not far from the Jordan River in which John the Baptist appeared before Jesus’s baptism.
The wilderness was a place of awful hardship for the Hebrews. Food and water were scarce. They got so hungry, in fact, that they longed to be slaves again in Egypt, for at least there they’d be fed. This is also the same wilderness where Jesus was thrown by the spirit to be tempted by the Devil for forty days before the beginning of his public ministry. In the three temptations of Christ, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Satan seeks to dissuade Jesus from being a Messiah of self-sacrifice, but to be to a Messiah of power. He says, "in this period of "wilderness"… Jesus is exposed to danger and is assaulted by the temptation and seduction of the Evil One, who proposes a different messianic path to him, far from God's plan because it passes through power, success and domination rather than the total gift of himself on the Cross. This is the alternative: a messianism of power, of success, or a messianism of love, of the gift of self.”
I’m not sure about you, but I feel like I’m living in the wilderness right now. I’m hungry, not for food and water, but for sharing a long meal with all those I miss and can’t spend time with because of the pandemic. I honestly feel like I’m being tempted much more than usual. The promise of power, success, and domination seems much more tantalizing than giving myself wholly and entirely as Jesus did on the cross. The persistent, systemic racism in our country is really getting me down. Seeing a Confederate flag in the Capitol building, after the initial shock and fury, made me literally cry out loud, “How long, O Lord?”
In the midst of their horrible, seemingly never-ending journey in the wilderness, God provided the Hebrews manna in the desert for food. So too God provides for our needs in this wilderness. But more importantly, Jesus’s baptism reminds us that the wilderness doesn’t last forever. When he comes up out of the water, God opens up the heavens and reveals to all that Jesus is his Son. God anoints Jesus with the Spirit, recalling to mind God’s anointing of the Hebrew prophets of old. The Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Just as God delivered the Hebrews from their misery in the wilderness by a miraculous crossing of the River Jordan, so too He will deliver us from sin and death in the new exodus of salvation in Jesus Christ. Today, the Church remembers with joy the transformation of our Lord in the dirty water of an old river. We remember that day when God chose to publicly identify with sinful human beings like you and me. We remember that day when all of John the Baptist’s proclaiming of the coming of the kingdom came to fruition when the Spirit of God descended from heaven like a dove upon the One who was so long expected.
In the Baptism of our Lord, just as the Hebrews experienced their freedom at the end of their long journey from slavery, so too do we see the beginning of the freedom from sin and death and suffering promised to us. Let us this day reaffirm our deep and abiding hope that God will bring us safely out of this valley of tears to a land flowing with milk and honey, where racism and the coronavirus are no more, and where, with all the saints, we may enter into the everlasting heritage of his sons and daughters. Amen.
 “General Audience". Vatican. February 2, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
Second Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 3, 2020
In today’s epistle lesson, we hear the beginning of the letter St. Paul wrote from prison to the church at Ephesus. This lesson is packed full of praise and hope using language one commentator described as “the excess of the language of worship.” The reading we heard in English included multiple sentences ending with periods, but the first twelve verses of the original Greek consist of one long sentence of praise.
The first few verses are all about blessing and grace. It opens, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” And we hear that Christ has lavished on us the riches of his grace. According to our Catechism, “grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” Grace is unearned and undeserved.
One of the foundational spiritual problems in the Christian life is the lack of fortitude needed to believe that God actually loves you as much as the he says he does. This results in being unable to receive God’s unearned and undeserved grace. The truth of the matter is that God loves you. God loves you. He loves you with all of your warts and blemishes, with all of your insecurities and tendencies to sin. He loves…you.
Paul offers us today a counter to the world’s understanding of “worth.” Christian self-worth doesn’t come from within, nor is it affected by your behavior, nor is it related to whatever sins you are prone to do over and over again throughout your life. Christian self-worth is found in believing that you are unconditionally loved by God. In other words, in baptism, our old self dies, and the new self is an entirely new identity: the newly baptized person is God’s beloved.
Paul then moves from a focus on us to a focus on the world. He says that Jesus Christ is God’s “plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God didn’t send Jesus at Christmas to reconcile humanity alone to himself, he sent Jesus to reconcile all of creation to himself. Furthermore, he didn’t send Jesus to save our merely our souls, he sent Jesus to save all of us – body, soul, and spirit. When we were baptized, we agreed to join with God in reconciling the whole world to God through Christ. God doesn’t need us, he’s reconciling the world to himself with or without us. We made the choice to join him in this work at our baptism – but we sometimes forget our baptismal promises. We sometimes pay too much attention to what that dead, old carcass – our old self – has to say from the grave – that we are not worthy of God’s love, that we are tarnished or stained because of our past, that we are better off living for ourselves than for others.
Friends, God loves you just as you are. And he’s ready to give you the grace you need to do this redemptive work in the world that God has called you to do.
In the last section of this passage, we see a glimpse at what life looks like for those who know and believe they’re loved and blessed. These people have received an inheritance so that they might live for the praise of his glory. For Paul, the “glory of God” is “the weight and gravitas of the presence of God. Those who embrace the fact they’re beloved of God recognize God’s presence within and around them. It’s as if they exist partially in this world with all its pain and suffering and misguided values of power and wealth, and partially in that other world where kindness, mercy, and blessing, and grace are in abundance – a world where “there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all [the] saints.” Not only can they operate in both worlds, they do everything they can to make this world like the other world. Those who believe they are loved by God put others before themselves, work to make right those things that are wrong, and to share God’s love and mercy with those around them.
Friends, God loves you. God loves you just as you are. Your worth isn’t found in what you do, it’s found in who you are. No matter what lies the Devil may say about you – no matter what lies you are tempted to believe about yourself – you are God’s beloved.
In a moment, we will all put on our baptismal identity once again by acknowledging before God and this community that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We will confess our sins and receive God’s unfailing and unconditional forgiveness in the absolution. And then, we move to that time in the service where we will experience what our burial liturgy calls a foretaste of God’s heavenly banquet – The Holy Communion. In the consecrated bread and the wine, God offers us the most tangible glimpse of the other world that we have. When we approach the Sacrament firm in our belief that God loves us for who we are, we are open and receptive to receive the riches of his grace. This food for the journey will then give us the strength and courage we need to recognize God’s presence around us, and then to join with God in expanding his kingdom here on earth, one day at a time. Amen.
 Throughout history, the assumed author was Saint Paul himself, but most scholars today, for various reasons, believe that Ephesians was written by a Jewish-Christian admirer of Paul who sought to apply Paul’s thought to the situation of the church of his own day. See Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Phebe Perkins, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 2010, 2052.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 3 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 230.
 The three-fold outline comes from Bartlett 230-235.
 Verse 3.
 BCP 858.
 Bartlett 234.
 Verses 9-10.
 Bartlett 235.
 BCP 483.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!