So, it’s been a while.
But clearly, some things (and by things, I mean attempted coups) have happened, and so I figure a written record of the sermon for today might be appropriate.
Over the last few days, as I’ve been working on this sermon, I’ve been joking with my husband over how to preach it. He told me, in seriousness, to power down my rage a bit. I asked if that meant I should not begin the sermon with a chipper story about how I have long had a fascination with stories about the Resistance during WW2? “Yeah,” says my smart husband, “Try not to have Nazis all the way through. Start with a nice poem or something.”
I didn’t manage to work in a poem, despite my efforts, but here you go.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
January 10, 2021
Baptism of Christ/There was an armed Insurrection
In a normal year, we would have baptisms today.
In a normal year, we would be cheerfully and joyously welcoming new ones into our community, and waiting to see if the babies cried, and remembering that time Kang read his own baptismal prayers, and wiping away our own happy tears as we renewed our own promises to live in the reign of God.
In a normal year.
But, for a long time now, nothing has been normal. And this week, we entered a new level of Not Normal.
And so, what would have been a joyous occasion where we gather together to celebrate, feels in many ways like another surreal moment, as we come together virtually, continuing to process what happened in our country’s common life on Wednesday.
Like I said, usually, today we celebrate baptisms, and the reason we do that is because today the church recalls the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus begins his earthly ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist. And he comes up out of the water, and God says, loud as you please, You are my son, with you I am well-pleased.
These are words and actions that we echo, each time we baptize a new member. We pour water over their head, and we proclaim that we recognize in them a beloved child of God, with whom God is well-pleased. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever. We acknowledge publicly with liturgical actions what has always been true, but what they and their sponsors are now taking on as a chosen identity. They are a beloved and cherished Child of God. Period.
When we renew our baptismal promises, we acknowledge that identity and how it plays out, both in our inner lives, and in our outer lives. We promise to continue in the breaking of bread and the prayers. We promise to repent when we fall into sin. We promise to seek and serve Christ within all people. We promise to work for justice and peace. And when we promise to resist evil, we promise to resist anything that hurts and destroys the children of God.
Baptism, where we affirm our identity as children of God, also means that we step into a way of life that recognizes every other human being as also being a beloved child of God. Every other person as being cherished and valued as we are. And out of this core commitment, we find the guiding light of everything else we do.
Setting aside all the partisan talking points about the events of Wednesday, we as Christians need to see it through the eyes of our baptism. We need to stand squarely in the promises that were made on our behalf and that we reaffirmed, that we and every other person is a beloved child of God—because one of the implications of that baptismal way of life is that every person is entitled to their say. Every person is entitled to their voice, and to that voice being heard.
What we saw Wednesday just how threatening that idea is to many people. There is an element in our country, in our world that—instead of deriving their identity from knowing they are profoundly loved—derive it from believing that they can only be loved if someone else is not. They can only be powerful if someone else is not.
That fundamental interior insecurity is how racism festers, breeds and grows. It’s how homophobia spreads. It’s how sexism thrives, it’s how transphobia is fostered. That persistent belief that I can only be valued if people different from me are not. I can only be special if people different from me are silenced. And if people who are different from me begin to speak and prosper, then that threatens, not only what I have, but my very identity.
Our national history is story after story of progress made by people of color, and then the panicked few wresting back control through violence. The coup in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. The end of Radical Reconstruction and the start of Jim Crow across the South through the Hayes-Tilden commission. Tulsa. Wounded Knee in the 1970s. On and on and on.
All because for so many people, their identity is rooted not in the confidence of God’s unbounded love of them and all humanity, but in how much better they must be than others. And they will do literally anything to prevent that being threatened.
What we saw on Wednesday was not just an armed insurrection against our lawful government; it was a dramatic demonstration of how evil and destructive the lie of white supremacy is. It acted out on live television how deadly it is to root your sense of self in the illusion that your worth is only measured in how much better you are than someone else. When we talk about renouncing evil, renouncing the powers of death—that, those scenes of chaos on Wednesday? That’s part of what we’re talking about.
And I want to be very, very clear—the people who invaded our Capitol are still beloved of God. They are entranced with lies that tell them that this is only true if others aren’t, they follow politicians who encouraged them in these lies, and they have made evil decisions with deadly consequences. But even all of that does not erase the truth of their identity—or the truth that those black and brown people, the women, the LGBTQ folks and the others they wanted to silence are ALSO deeply beloved of God, just as they are. And that this love takes nothing away from them. And so yet another tragedy of Wednesday is that we watched angry, deluded people hurl themselves into the abyss of violence, threaten their fellow beings, all for a lie. Not just a lie about politics, not just a lie about votes, but a lie about existence.
And I want to be very clear about something else—those invaders may have claimed the name of Jesus, there may have been pastors in that crowd, they may have waved flags with crosses, and they may have prayed real hard, but I want to say loud and plainly that God does not now, nor does God ever call for the destruction of any his children. Our common life is meant to enable our abundant life, in God’s kingdom, and so God willing, there will be accountability, consequences, and hopefully true repentance from those involved in Wednesday, so that we can move forward with every voice counted in our system of government. But mark my words—if anyone tells you that what Jesus wants us to do is launch an assault on our fellow human beings, they are lying. They are not abiding in the ultimate truth of God’s love for all of us.
And if our faith is about anything, our faith is about that love—that way of love as our Presiding Bishop tells us again and again. A love of God cast over us so profound that it frees us to love ourselves. A love so strong that it saves us thinking we should hurt our fellow humans to find our identity. A love so powerful that no insecurity, no evil, no lie and not even death itself can stand against it. If we hold onto that love, if we abide in that love, we are going to be able to see our way out of this. If we root ourselves in God’s resounding love for us, if we fix ourselves in God’s echoing love for all humanity, if we insist that all we do extends from that central fact— then we are going to be able to withstand the lies we are fed, we can reform our imperfect nation, we can help God to renew the face of this earth.
Because that love that we recognize at baptism, that we promise to reflect in the rest of our lives, is the mightiest thing in all creation.