Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 12, 2020 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 42:1-9+Psalm 29+Acts 10:34-43+Matthew 3:13-17

On most Saturday nights, I head to bed by 9:00 or 9:30 to read for a bit before falling asleep, resting up for an early alarm clock and three services with all of you on Sunday morning. Tim is not quite so inclined to go to bed early, so it has become his custom to watch whatever Netflix series has caught his fancy that I may have avoided getting hooked on. One of his favorite such shows of late is Schitt’s Creek (spelled, mind you, S-C-H-I-T-T-‘-S!). If you have not discovered this series as it enters its sixth and final season, it is about a wealthy family, the Roses, who lose their fortune and are forced to take refuge in the tiny town of Schitt’s Creek which the father, Johnny, bought as a joke for his son’s birthday years before.

As you might imagine, this family of four, parents and two adult children, are insufferably privileged, and they arrive at this “hick” town with all the prejudices and assumptions you might imagine. Over the course of the series, they begin to soften, to develop relationships with the townsfolk, and to get involved with the community, putting down roots, and losing a bit of the condescension in which they first held the people and the town.        

When Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the Jordan River, there was a major power differential. John, the six-months older cousin, lived in the wilderness, dressed like someone without resources, and ate a questionable diet of bugs and honey. Jesus, on the other hand, was the son of God. Now, I don’t think Jesus walked around with a halo over his head. I’m not even convinced, at this point, that he knew – really knew – who he was.

If we believe that Jesus was without sin, then he certainly didn’t need baptism the way that we do. It is an ongoing theological question then: why did he come to John at the Jordan to be baptized if he was God, without sin? Maybe it was to do what we do. If Jesus was about relationship, about being in relationship with us, then he did what we do: he humbled himself to be baptized by his cousin.

Jesus may have absolutely nothing in common with Moira Rose, the overly-dramatic and self-obsessed mother in Schitt’s Creek, but over the course of several seasons of this TV show, Moira realizes that being in relationship is not such a bad thing. She knows she doesn’t really belong there, but still she becomes one of them, sort of, all the same.

At Joyful Noise, our interactive morning worship, on Thursday, the children and their families and I read this same text. I gave them each a “birth certificate” naming them and asked them to write down what words God may have used to describe why God might be well-pleased with them. Some of the they said were:

  • I’m kind.
  • I’m helpful.
  • I’m loving.

After listening to them share and commending them for knowing that these are all good traits to have and well-pleasing to God (and their parents!), I told them not to forget that they don’t have to do or be anything at all for God to love them. God loves them because they are, they are alive, they are God’s creation, and nothing they can do or not do can change that. God always wants to be in relationship with us more than anything else because we are each beloved of God. Just as God named Jesus beloved, so God names us, and it is this that binds us in relationship.

This morning, we will baptize three children into the household of faith. It is one of the great joys of my ministry to meet with families as they prepare to baptize their children. I always start by asking them why they want to have their child baptized, and it isn’t always easy for parents to answer, but usually it’s some variation of “it’s important for my child to have the experience of being part of church like I did.” Those of us who had some experience of Church growing up might remember that we felt part of something, part of a community, of being in relationship with our friends; of the little old ladies who always sat in the same pew every week; of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, of trying to figure out our place once we were teenagers. Yet it’s always about relationship, and if Church has done what it is supposed to do, we have shown these children something of Jesus and what it means to be beloved.

Baptism is just a starting point. We grow more and more into the likeness of God, and we do this by coming together in worship, asking questions, pushing boundaries, exploring the tough questions of faith, and living our lives. And yet, through it all, we “are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP 308). No matter how we mess things up, “nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).

I don’t imagine the creators of Schitt’s Creek would ever have imagined that the “settling in” of the Rose family would be described as sanctification, but that is really what it looks like. We are flawed and maybe not very likeable human beings, but in being around others, tossed about like jewels in a tumbler getting polished, we become a little bit better at being the humans God created us to be.

Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized because that was how Jesus was truly like everyone else, that he was truly human. But then that voice names him, names him beloved, and God is pleased.

God is pleased with each and every one of us. It is a life-changing gift to know just how beloved we are.

God is speaking to you, to me, to all of us. You are my beloved.

ASEPSermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 12, 2020 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas