5th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

May our loving, liberating, lifegiving God

Give us ears to hear

His message today. Amen.

…………………

The God of the Old Testament

Is a liberating God.

The whole project that God is embarked upon

Throughout the entire First Testament

Of the Bible

Is one of liberation.

The authors return to this theme

Over and over,

In particular the story of Exodus,

The story of how God freed God’s people

And led them through the Red Sea

To the Promised Land.

If you’ve never heard the story,

It goes like this:

The Israelites had become enslaved in Egypt.

They had journeyed down there

To escape a famine in their own land.

And when they became numerous,

When they had so many children

That the inhabitants of Egypt began to fear they would take over

Those Israelites found themselves enslaved.

Sentenced to hard labour

Their children tossed into the river Nile.

But God heard their cries.

God sent Moses

To tell ol’ Pharoah

To let my people go.

There were some plagues in there,

But the result was, finally,

That Pharoah did let God’s people go.

Until he didn’t.

And pursued them

To the shores of the Red Sea.

The Israelites needed a miracle.

So God gave them one.

God parted the waters of the Red Sea

And led the Israelites through on dry ground

Before sending the waves crashing down

On the Egyptians behind.

If you read the Old Testament,

You’ll see that this story

Is referred to again and again.

The Psalmist, in particular,

References it constantly.

To remind the Israelites

That their God is about liberation.

Now, I know that’s not something many Christians are used to hearing.

I often hear from folks that they don’t like the God they encounter

In the pages of the Old Testament.

He’s angry,

They say.

He’s mean.

I want to worship the God of the New Testament.

That God’s about love

And kindness

And mercy.

But here’s the thing:

They are the same God.

Because God,

The same God who’s about love

And kindness

And mercy

Is the God who is also about the project

Of liberation.

And while that is good news

For the Israelites who walk through the Red Sea

On dry ground

It might sound kinda angry and mean

To Pharoah.

…………………..

In our Psalm today,

We hear a story about a tyrant.

The Psalmist addresses the tyrant directly,

Asking why he boasts of wickedness

And plots ruin.

He accuses this tyrant of loving evil more than good

And lying more than speaking the truth.

And then he prays this angry, shocking prayer:

“Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,

Topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling

And root you out of the land of the living.”

Yikes.

I hope that nobody who says they’re praying for me

Is praying that prayer.

But I accept it’s a possibility.

It’s a tough thing

To do the examination of conscience we need to do

To consider the fact that we might

Actually

Be Pharoah to somebody.

We all want to be Moses.

But what if we’re Pharoah?

The Israelites thought that they couldn’t possibly act like Pharoah.

They were the good guys, right?

But then the prophet Amos comes along

And tells of God’s judgment.

Just like the tyrant,

They practice deceit with false balances.

They oppress the poor,

Buying and selling them

For hideously low prices,

Exploiting their hunger and poverty

To enrich themselves.

God sees this behaviour and judges it.

Not because God is mean.

Because God is about liberation.

What does this prophecy sound like

To the poor and needy who are being sold?

Pretty good news,

I would think!

To hear that while human beings may assault and oppress you,

That human beings may harm you

May insult your dignity

May smother your smudges

Forbid your pipes,

Stop your drums,

Hide your masks,

Destroy your totem poles,

Silence your songs,

Still your dances

And ban your potlaches

But God

God hears your cries.

God sees your pain.

God judges the people

Who are hurting you.

Because it is not loving

To allow God’s beloved

To become enslaved.

It is not kind

To ignore the cries

Of those who are being sold for a pair sandals.

It is not merciful

To pretend that pain and anguish

Are somehow okay with God almighty.

And so what are we

Who are Christians,

Who worship the God of the whole Bible

The Old Testament and the New Testament

The God who is about liberation

And love

And kindness

And mercy

To do with these passages?

With these pronouncements of judgment

That anyone –

Even those whom God previously liberated

From their own oppressors –

Can become a tyrant?

Even those who had once fled Pharoah

Can become

Pharoah.

We who follow after the way of Jesus

Are no more exempt than anyone else

From God’s judgment

Upon our tyrannical impulses,

And we would do well

To see and tremble

Lest we be toppled

And rooted out of the land of the living.

Because there is more than one way to demolish a tyrant.

There’s the obvious way, right?

The way we’re all thinking of.

Where God strikes down the one

Who trusted in great wealth

And relied upon wickedness

With a lightning bolt,

Fire from heaven.

But there’s another way.

What if the tyrants

Toppled themselves?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t had a hardened heart?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t needed 10 plagues

To convince him that he was on the wrong path?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t chased after the Israelites

Into the Red Sea?

What if Pharoah

Had recognized the error of his ways

And repented,

And returned to the Lord?

That’s what we promise in baptism,

Isn’t it?

That when we fall into sin,

We will repent,

And return to the Lord.

We don’t say if

In that promise.

Because there is no doubt we will fall into sin.

And since there is no doubt about it,

There needn’t be any shame about it, either.

We are sinners,

Every last one of us!

We have all been tyrants

In our own way

In our own time

To somebody

That God loves

At least as much

As God loves us.

The important part is

That we repent

And we return to the Lord.

That we not make excuses for our behaviour,

And get defensive,

And say stuff like, “Well, that’s just how I was raised,”

To excuse the way we treat

God’s beloved children.

We may all be tyrants,

One way or another,

But we have a chance

To topple ourselves

Before it’s too late.

Before God sends a famine on the land

Of hearing the words of the Lord.

We have a chance

To take a step back.

To get off our high horse.

To listen to the cries

Our neighbour is offering to God

Because of the persecution

We are inflicting upon them

And to demolish utterly our tyrannical ways

With repentance,

With gentle and humble hearts

Willing to change our ways

To follow after God’s way.

So we all may be liberated

Not only from the clutches of earthly tyrants,

But from the greatest tyrant of them all: sin.

Because the great project of God

The God of the whole Bible

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

The God of Moses, and Miriam,

Of Deborah and David,

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Is one of liberation.

May the God who made us

Make us all free.

Amen.

Easter Vigil

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

………………..

If anyone here is feeling poor in spirit,

Let them rejoice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If anyone mourns,

Let them seek refuge in the bosom of Christ, for they shall be comforted.

If anyone hungers and thirsts after righteousness,

Let them come

Partake of this feast.

If any feels compelled to follow Jesus our Saviour

Who has opened the grave and gate of death

Into immortality

Let them come to the waters.

For Christ offers mercy upon those who come late

As on those who came first.

The door in heaven stands open

For the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

He offers to share the burdens of the weary ones of this world

Whose backs are broken

With hard and heavy labour

Who see no hope of ever finding

A vine or a fig tree

That they can sit under and call their own.

He offers living water that truly satisfies

To those who have chased after vain things

Whose hearts ache to know the joy of Christ.

He calls to repentance those who would use his name as a club

To beat others

And declare them unworthy to stand before the Lord.

For to you who have much

And to you who have little

To you who are always here

And to you who are newly come

To you who are merciful

And to you who need mercy

Christ’s victory is for you.

On this night

When heaven is wedded to earth

And we are reconciled to God;

This night

When the heavenly host and all angel choirs

Rejoice to the ends of the universe;

This night

When Death is defeated

And Hell is overthrown;

We are come

To hear the story

Of God’s plan of salvation

From our earliest days.

We are come

To hear of God’s lovingkindness made known to us

In a world tenderly made

And given into our care.

We are come

To hear of a God who demands no sacrifice of us

But offers the sacrifice of himself.

We are come

To hear of a God

Who parts the waters that threaten us

Who quenches every thirst

Who raises dry bones

And gathers together his people.

This same story

That our ancestors told

From time immemorial

Is now our story.

For we who have been united with Christ in baptism

And the one who will be united with Christ in baptism tonight,

Receive the promise

That we will also be united with Christ

In a resurrection like his.

Death has lost its sting.

The grave has lost its victory.

Shout alleluia, for Christ is risen,

And we too shall rise.

Christ is risen,

And evil is fallen.

Christ is risen,

And Death is trampled under his feet.

Christ is risen,

And “not one dead will remain in the grave.”

Therefore come.

Love Himself bids us welcome.

Let no soul draw back

Guilty of dust and sin.

Partake of Christ’s victory

For you

And for many.

Amen.

 *this sermon inspired by (and in the style of) John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily

Baptism of Our Lord (1st Sunday After Epiphany)

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus,

At your baptism you demonstrated there was nowhere you would not go

To show your faithfulness to us.

Grant that all who have been baptized in your name

May remain faithful to you.

Amen.

……………..

Over the holidays I went to see the movie Aquaman.

It is a supremely dumb film,

But it’s a lot of fun,

So if you go in with the right expectations,

It’ll be a good time.

As you might expect,

It’s a movie about the sea,

And the creatures that live therein.

Early on, a teacher tells Aquaman’s grade school class

That we have better maps of the surface of Mars

Than we do of the ocean floor.

That’s true, by the way, NASA confirms it,

And the main characters in the movie are kingdoms and tribes of beings

Who live undetected by people like us,

Whom they call surface-dwellers.

The ocean is an unknown place,

Filled with hidden dangers,

Perhaps not the fish monsters put forward by blockbuster movies,

But dangers all the same.

In Jesus’s time,

The ocean was thought to be a symbol of chaos,

And the abode of evil spirits.

I mentioned last summer that in the Enuma Elish,

A Babylonian creation story,

Creation itself is conquest of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos

And the sea,

And the Psalmist uses these images

As he sings of God’s victory over the great sea creature Leviathan.

The depths of the ocean are unknown,

And frightening to us even now,

How much more so to our ancestors

Who had told and retold these ancient stories

Of the monsters hiding in the deep?

And so today we celebrate the feast

Of the Baptism of Our Lord.

The Baptism of Our Lord is something of a surprising feast.

The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four gospels,

Even those gospels that do not tell the story of his birth.

It’s Jesus’s first public act as an adult.

It’s remarkable that these gospels,

Who so rarely agree on the order in which events

In Jesus’s life happen,

Sometimes even where or how they happened

Agree on this.

And yet it makes no sense theologically.

Because the baptism that John was offering

Was for the remission of sin.

The book of Acts makes clear the distinction between Christian baptism

Commanded by Jesus

After his resurrection

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

And the baptism of John,

Which is a ritual washing away of sin.

But the Scriptures are also clear

That Jesus,

Our Saviour,

Did not sin.

Jesus did not need his sins to be washed away in baptism

As we do,

Because he was without sin.

So why was he baptized?

There are many reasons, I think,

But one of them, surely, was because of water.

Jesus begins his ministry

By being submerged in water.

He has entered the home of the evil spirits.

He has completed God’s victory over Leviathan,

By entering Leviathan’s abode.

Scott Sharman, a priest in this diocese,

Posted an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Jesus’s baptism this week.

“See how the monsters hiding in the deep

Scramble to flee as his body touches the water,”

He says.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus

Is a continuation of the sign of the Incarnation

Began at Christmas:

That there is nowhere God will not go

For the love of his Creation.

All those places of our lives

That we keep hidden,

The places where evil loves to dwell,

The secret corners of our mind that torment us

With worry, fear, anger, despair

Those places are not closed off to God,

And God will conquer them too,

For our sake.

No matter what monsters of the deep

Threaten our peace of mind,

God is there.

No matter what unknown futures

Send us into spasms of worry,

God is there.

No matter how often we feel crushed by the pressure of the waters around us,

God is there.

We who are baptized

Can journey through the deepest waters

Because our God went there first.

And so today we come to baptize Malik.

In so doing,

His parents and godparents,

And all of us, really,

Will make some pretty big promises.

Promises that sometimes feel too overwhelming to keep.

At our rehearsal,

I mentioned to the family that when we promise to

“Respect the dignity of every human being,”

It really does mean EVERY human being,

Not just those who respect our dignity in return.

That’s a hard promise.

We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,

Which means we can’t prioritize our own wealth or safety

Over that of our neighbours.

That’s a hard promise.

We make these promises

Not because we are confident in our own ability to keep them,

24/7/365

All the days of our lives,

But because we are confident

That the Lord who is faithful

Who came among us as one of us

Because he did not choose to be God without us

Who went down unto the abode of evil and chaos itself

To show us the safe way through

Will not let the rivers overwhelm us.

Whatever waters are rising in your life,

Know that the God who has stretched to fill the deepest depths,

Beyond what we even still know,

Thousands of years later,

Will never forsake you or abandon you.

We who have been sealed in baptism

And marked as Christ’s own forever

Can be confident

That even in the deepest waters

We will fear no evil

For God is with us.

Amen.