My Sisters and Brothers,
We have reached the midpoint of the Epiphany season. The Gospel passages we have heard thus far this season have focused on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They have included the moment of his baptism, the calling of the first disciples, and a record of his first teaching in what we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, there is a progression here, a progression we must “inwardly digest” if we are to take our faith seriously, for it is God’s desire that it will be the progression of our lives as well.
First, baptism is the moment of initiation. It is not a family tradition to be honored for the sake of our grandparents. It is not spiritual life insurance just in case all this talk about God happens to be true. It is instead the beginning of a whole new way of life, just as it was for Jesus. In baptism, we are set free from sin and death for a real purpose: to live as God calls us to live.
Secondly, from the very beginning, Christianity is a faith built upon community. Before all the doctrine and dogma and theological debate, there was and is relationship. Read the Gospels. The first thing Jesus does is call those earliest disciples. Were they perfect? No. Are we perfect? No. Has the Church ever been perfect? No. But to take our faith seriously is to realize, accept, and believe that, for better or for worse, in good times and in difficult times, we are all in this together. When Jesus summarized the Law, he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment”. He then added, “And the second is like unto it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’” Community and faith go hand in hand. Indeed, if I understand Jesus correctly, there cannot truly be one without the other.
Finally, there is the ethical, moral, and spiritual teaching of Jesus as represented in his sermon on that mountainside. When we hear these words, we’re not supposed to think to ourselves, “Well, that was lovely”, and then set them aside. Jesus means what he says. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Again, these are not pious sentiments. Nor are they goals that we struggle to achieve. When we make our faith in Christ the foundation of our lives, the beatitudes become our very way of being. They come to us naturally.
I close with an invitation to you in this Epiphany season to ponder anew the meaning of God’s mercy. As you are well aware, there is a lively debate going on, both within the Church and in the world, about what mercy is and to whom it is that we are to show mercy, or in other words, who are our neighbors. I think Matthew 25:31-46 is a particularly important passage at this point in time. If you would like to discuss, please let me know.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse