Baptism of the Lord

Sunday, January 10, 2021

St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA

Readings:  Isaiah 55:1-11; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

Greeting: 

Today we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism, which marks the beginning of Jesus’ public life of ministry. For after he was baptized, he then gathered disciples to himself and went about healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom of God.

Let’s notice that Jesus was all about inviting and welcoming.  By his example, John invited Jesus to be baptized. Thefather affirmed Jesus: “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. Jesus invited disciples to join him. Together they welcomed others through their preaching and healing to take their place at the divine banquet.  “All are welcome” is the message. 

We are part of this chain of invitation and welcome from the Lord!  Let’s listen to the scriptures and hear Jesus inviting us on the journey with him to welcome others to God’s table.

Penitential Act:

Lord Jesus you gather all the nations into the peace of God’s kingdom. Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus you come to us in Word and Sacrament to strengthen us in holiness, Christ have mercy. 

Christ have mercy. 

Lord Jesus, you will come in glory with salvation for all your people.  Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest…

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Homily:

The baptism of Jesus is a great turning point in his life, the moment when his relatively private and obscure life as a carpenter in Nazareth ended, and his public life as a preacher, a healer, and — as many in time would acknowledge — as the savior of the nations, began.

It takes courage to make a radical change in your life!  It was no less so for Jesus. It took him a while, too.  He was thirty years old when the day finally came that he went out to be baptized by John in the Jordan river.

He was not alone either. He found himself in the company of many people who were going out to repent and make a holy turn in their lives.

The cheer leader of that repentance? The encourager of these new starts to holiness?  It was John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus – who, as you may recall, was just six months Jesus’ senior. 

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Through the centuries believers have wondered why Jesus — the sinless Son of God — needed to go out to be baptized since he had nothing to repent for.  John the Baptist himself said “I am unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal” and, in Matthew’s gospel account (which we did not hear today) John protests and says “it is you who should be baptizing me!”.  So why did Jesus go to be baptized alongside, presumably, some pretty serious sinners? 

Theologian Fr. Bill Reiser, and an old professor of mine, explained that Jesus underwent this baptism of repentance that John preached because he wanted to be in solidarity with God’s people.  He wanted to be alongside them in their most vulnerable moments — when they were admitting and turning away from their sin.  For Jesus felt drawn to embrace people in the depths of human weakness, to show them the strength of the God who loves them.  I agree!  This is the Jesus I know, the one to whom I pray, and I have found at my side even in the tough moments of life. 

I think there is another reason too — Jesus underwent this baptism because, as we said before, it takes courage to make a radical change in life!  And the words of his cousin John — the zealous preacher, the energetic cheerleader of holiness — were an invitation for Jesus to take courage!  You can imagine Jesus receiving John’s encouragement something like this:

Yes, Jesus, you know it! God has given you a special vocation.  It’s time to get started!  Go outside your comfort zone. Your destiny does not end with carpentry and a quiet life.  You know it. Step out!

In stepping into the waters of the Jordan River, in solidarity with, we hear, “all of Jerusalem” which was going out to be baptized, Jesus was infused with the Spirit and the voice of heaven spoke to him: “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!”. 

Imagine the swelling of the heart that must have come when Jesus heard that… God the Father calling him beloved, calling him his Son, and saying how pleased he is with him!

It feels good when we hear such a thing from our human parents. All the more to hear that from God! 

So yes, in his humanity, Jesus, like us, had to discern his vocation, arrive at clarity, and act with courage.  And people like his cousin John, and no doubt Mary and Joseph too, helped him realize fully who he was and what he was called to do.

Thus began Jesus’ public ministry. It only lasted three short years and he would then be pursued, tried and executed by small minded and jealous men who could not see their way to surrender their little kingdoms and vanity projects to God’s ways of justice, peace and love.  Only three years, but Divine grace is not measured in time but in the spiritual depth it reaches in human hearts. 

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The Divine plan which Jesus served is described well by our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. It is nothing short of an unconditional invitation to a banquet of abundance, a celebration of color and complexity, a gathering of unity for all God’s children.

All you who are thirsty,

come to the water!

You who have no money,

come, receive grain and eat;

come, without paying and without cost,

drink wine and milk!

And it is not only a promise of material plenty, of distributive justice; but of wholeness for our souls as well:

listen, that you may have life.

I will renew with you the everlasting covenant

You see how this is all an invitation?  Come to the water! Come to the table!  Welcome to the feast!  You will have life and have it to the full.  It’s an invitation we may accept or reject.

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God’s invitation, God’s welcome, comes to us in various ways.

Our baptism is one such invitation. Come to the water! God says to you, in effect “I love you and you are mine, forever” (Isaiah 43:1).  But that is mediated by your parents and godparents who probably brought you to the sacrament. The priest or deacon said your name and announced “I claim YOU for Christ!”  The Church community welcomed you too, the newly baptized, promising to help your parents and godparents raise you in the faith, care for your well being just as God does: without condition

How has God’s invitation, God’s welcome, been manifest to you? 

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A few weeks ago our church leaders had two mornings of prayer.  One of the things we spent time praying about was what makes St. Anselm’s special that we want to build on and magnify.  After our prayer we shared, and many people said it was the WELCOME they experienced here that stood out.  Everyone had their own stories — who welcomed them, how they were welcomed — some as a newcomer to the church years ago, some more recently, or how in a difficult time in their life St. Anselm people showed extraordinary love and welcomed them to be served at the table — much like the image evoked by the prophet Isaiah of God’s table where there is nourishment for all, where justice and love is to be found. 

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This all has to do with Jesus’ baptism because, as you see, even He was welcomed by his cousin John to the waters of baptism.  In accepting that welcome, he then heard the voice of his Father in heaven affirming him & calling him.  This gave him the courage to begin his public ministry. 

Jesus didn’t complete his mission alone.  Right from the start he extended the invitation!  He called disciples to his side — Andrew and Peter, James and John, and all the rest. 

He invited them because he wanted to serve them, heal them, give them a place at the table, the banquet of life.  But he also wanted them to help him to welcome others to the feast.  As I have done, so also you must do.  Jesus’ welcome is always inclusive, not exclusive. It’s never about the in-crowd, always about a growing crowd!

Let’s be honest, we don’t always like that idea… All are welcome? Have you ever received an invitation to some special event and, even for a minute, entertained the thought, “oh I hope so-and-so hasn’t been invited” or “I’ll only go if he’s not going”?  We don’t always buy into the Divine banquet model, do we? For we get petty, competitive, exclusive.  And you know what?  That’s sinful. 

The disciples of Jesus often fell into that sin, and Jesus gently corrected them, called them to have more generous hearts.  All are welcome!

As St. Peter concluded, “In truth I see that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:35); he realized that Christ came for all to be saved, not just one nation or an in-crowd that was holy in their own estimation!

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Through the pastoral council’s discernment and a survey last month of the whole community, St. Anselm Church adopted a slogan that captures how we want to be, and WELCOMING ALL into our midst with sincere hospitality, inclusivity and love, is a part of it. 

St. Anselm Church: A Caring, Committed, Catholic Community –

On a Journey with Christ, to Welcome, Love and Serve

Yes, just like Andrew & Peter, James and John, and the other disciples, Jesus invites us to join him on his journey.   

You know it was probably hard for some of them to accept the invitation, despite Jesus’ warm welcome. It meant change for their lives. They probably put other plans on hold to follow him around the Judean countryside healing sick people, preaching and going deeper in their faith.  What about their fishing business?  How about the marriage they were planning?  Lots of things probably were put on hold. But they felt compelled by the welcome!  Something very good was there and they knew it, so the sacrifice and change of plans was worthwhile!

It may be hard for some of us too. We may be reluctant to fully hear and accept the invitation because of our attachments or routines or plans.  But just maybe, Christ’s welcome which we have received — in baptism, in the heart of this community, in the events of our lives — has been compelling enough

& has had the ring of Gospel truth to it, that we’ve accepted it, because we just knew God was there.

We welcome you! — all of you here present, long time parishioners, visitors, newcomers, people watching this liturgy online, people looking on from the sidelines, people reluctant or searching and seeking. You’re all welcome! 

We welcome you in the name of Jesus who first welcomes us.

As Jesus welcomed his disciples to come as they were, we welcome you as you are; let’s welcome each other as we are

Jesus welcomed his disciples, both to help them and to invite them to help him help others. 

We are doctor and patient. 

We are host and guest.  We are healer and healed. 

That’s what the Journey with Christ is about.  Come join us with Christ on the journey!

Get involved.

Reach out with your ideas.

Tell me and other church leaders what you need and hope for in your spiritual life.

Serve to those in need.  Take opportunities to deepen prayer.  Ways to be companions to one another — even in this pandemic.  All this we do with Christ’s help.

Let’s take this journey together with Christ, to welcome, love and serve.