Scripture - Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; 1 Corinthians 12:4-16
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (New Revised Standard Version)
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
A Retelling of 1 Corinthians 12, as written by enfleshed, which talks about the gifts given to us by God - gifts that we all use...gifts given to children and adults and elderly alike:
Though we bring different gifts, it is the same Spirit who makes them alive in us. There are so many ways to serve the vision of Love. None of us are without something to bring to the work of the common good.
To one, the Spirit gives wisdom
and to another, the strength to weep for all that is lost,
to another, the belief that change is possible among us,
to another, a soft presence that heals in the midst of destruction,
to another, a spirit that inspires and compels,
To another, the courage to name what is making us all ill,
To another, discernment about what is good and what is evil,
To another, the ability to translate between those who cannot communicate with each other,
To another still, the gifts of recognizing God in unexpected places.
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and just as all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – we are different in culture, social location, backgrounds, bodies, and beliefs – but we were all made to drink of one Spirit who collapses the power among us.
Our baptism does not condone hierarchies. It calls upon us to bring about the dreams of God on earth – where all is held in rightful balance, none oppressed or confined, and all with access to what is needed to flourish.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one part but of many. If the artist would say, “because I am not a bridge-builder, I do not belong to the work of the common good,” that would not make them any less needed. And if the healer would say, “because I am not a dynamic speaker, I do not belong to the work of the common good,” that would not make them any less needed.
If the whole body were listeners, where would the ones who tell the truth be? If the only ones who are valued in the work of Love are those with money to give, who will be the ones to practice civil disobedience for us when evil will not budge? Who will teach our children in the ways of justice and compassion? Who will nourish our bodies – feed us, offer us touch, tend to our wounds? Who will provide us with music, that our labor may be accompanied with dancing? Will we find laughter anywhere, to sustain our spirits?
God has arranged it so that each of us are needed and each of us have offerings to bring. If we were all the same, what could we achieve? How would we survive? What a dull endeavor this would be.
The business person cannot say to the activist, I have no need of you.
Nor can the doctor say to the poet, I need you not.
On the contrary, the members of the body that society deems least significant are those most needed. We respect the disrespected. We recognize the value of the quiet ones, the strange ones, the misunderstood, misrepresented, and under-resourced ones. We lift them up and honor them, that the whole body might be restored to its natural balance, as God intended.
If any of us suffer, we all suffer.
If any of us have cause to rejoice, we all celebrate.
Video Reflection - https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2022/1/10/a-visual-poem-for-mlk-day
“There is another reason why we must get rid of racial injustice. Not merely because it is sociologically untenable or because it is politically unsound, not merely to meet the communist challenge or to create a good image in the world or to appeal to African and Asian peoples, as important as that happens to be. In the final analysis racial injustice must be uprooted from American society because it is morally wrong. Segregation is morally wrong, to use the words of the great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, because it substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship. Or to use the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas, segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws that are out of harmony with the eternal natural and moral laws of the universe. The great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, said that sin is separation. And what is segregation but an existential expression of man's tragic estrangement - his awful segregation, his terrible sinfulness? And so in order to rise to our full moral maturity as a nation, we must get rid of segregation whether it is in housing, whether it is a de facto segregation in the public schools, whether it is segregation in public accommodations, or whether it is segregation in the church. We must see that it is morally wrong. We must see that it is a national problem. And no section of our country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. We strengthen our nation, above all we strengthen our moral commitment; as we work to get rid of this problem.
Now there is another problem facing us that we must deal with if we are to remain awake through a social revolution. We must get rid of violence, hatred, and war. Anyone who feels that the problems of mankind can be solved through violence is sleeping through a revolution. I've said this over and over again, and I believe it more than ever today. We know about violence. It's been the inseparable twin of Western materialism, the hallmark of its grandeur. I am convinced that violence ends up creating many more social problems than it solves. This is why I say to my people that if we succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness. There is another way - a way as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. For it is possible to stand up against an unjust system with all of your might, with all of your body, with all of your soul, and yet not stoop to hatred and violence. Something about this approach disarms the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, weakens his morale, and at the same time, works on his conscience. He doesn't know how to handle it. So it is my great hope that, as we struggle for racial justice, we will follow that philosophy and method of non-violent resistance, realizing that this is the approach that can bring about that better day of racial justice for everyone.” - from “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution", Commencement Address for Oberlin College by By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, June 1965, Oberlin Ohio
This Sunday for us combines a few different days we acknowledge in the year - first is the baptism of Jesus, the day that offers us an opportunity to reflect on the start of Jesus’s public ministry, on our own baptisms, and on our incorporation into God’s family -- and the second is Martin Luther King Jr. day, a day that honors the achievements of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and in recent years has been an opportunity to reflect on the work that is yet before our country in terms of racial equality and ending racial injustice.
I find that the pairing of these two days to be a bit fortuitous, for the first one, marked by the baptismal waters, offers us a foundation for thinking through the second.
One of the powerful pieces of baptism is this radical notion that we claim our identity as God’s children, and while we believe that all of humankind belongs to God’s family, in the waters of baptism, we stake ourselves on that identity and choose to live in such a way that reflects our place in God’s family. We are incorporated and gifted into a body where we serve the unfolding of God’s love and in the world around us, working for the day where all is made right. We grow in the life of the Spirit and as our Corinthian passage reminds us - we all have different abilities and callings and talents as we partner with what God is about in the world.
And as I think about the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and as I think about the ongoing conversations around racial justice and poverty and violence that are still happening more than 50 years after his assassination - I’m reminded of the responsibility that comes with being a part of God’s family and the body of Christ. It’s not only about loving my Black, Asian, Hispanic, poor, Islamic, neighbor - though that is certainly a large part of how we are to treat one another in this world. It’s about working for a world where God’s justice prevails, where - as we talked about in Advent in Mary’s Magnificat - the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled, those who are oppressed and exploited will find freedom and hope.
I’m reminded of the end of the rewrite of the Corinthians passage, and I love this retelling so much because it brings to life in contemporary images the different functions in the body of Christ. But it ends this way:
“On the contrary, the members of the body that society deems least significant are those most needed. We respect the disrespected. We recognize the value of the quiet ones, the strange ones, the misunderstood, misrepresented, and under-resourced ones. We lift them up and honor them, that the whole body might be restored to its natural balance, as God intended. If any of us suffer, we all suffer. If any of us have cause to rejoice, we all celebrate.”
As we remember our baptism today - and as we receive new members into the congregation - let us remember that is part of the call as those who are baptized - to proclaim that all belong, to understand that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, to feel in our bones that we are all inextricably connected….
…again in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let us remember that “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Let us work for that day together. Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.