This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at St. Stephen’s, Hurst, on Sunday, March 24, 2019. Listen to the podcast or read the text below.
St Stephen’s Hurst 2019 7 Epiphany – Year C February 24
It’s an exciting time in the life of St Stephen’s, and I believe it’s an exciting time – even a transformative time – in The Episcopal Church, especially as we are being led by our now famous Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. It’s estimated that over a billion people watched him preach about love on a Saturday morning at Windsor. And people are so captivated by both the message and the messenger that he’s been on talk shows and cable news ever since.
As our Presiding Bishop, Bishop Curry understands himself as a CEO, but not so much as Chief Executive Officer, as “Chief Evangelism Officer,” and he reminds us that the earliest Christians understood themselves to be part of a movement. More than understanding themselves as belonging to an institution, they understood themselves to be part of a movement. Bishop Curry refers to this as the “Jesus Movement” – a movement called into being to “make disciples of Jesus who will change this world by the power of God’s love.”
Bishop Curry boldly proclaims: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Love changes lives and changes this world, and baptized people are part of a movement to change the world by the power of God’s love.
Momentarily, everyone gathered will say together the Baptismal Covenant – as we do every time we celebrate Baptism or Confirmation – reminding ourselves that we are called into this Body (into this Movement) for a purpose beyond ourselves.
And that purpose is to proclaim and embody the love of Jesus (a love offered without conditions); to embody the grace of Jesus (unearned, unmerited grace); to embody the forgiveness of Jesus (who forgives from the cross before we apologize or make our confession or repent); to embody the compassion of Jesus (who touches the leper); to embody the justice of Jesus (who seeks a just world); to embody the mercy of Jesus (for when we fail) – to BE the Good News of God’s love in the flesh.
So, that’s our purpose, as Christians – we could say, “our marching orders.” And yet there is something more proclaimed at baptism – something more about the Good News of God’s love. For, at baptism, what was true all along is made known. That we are children of God is made known.
We see that in the story of the Baptism of Jesus, when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. As the story is told according to Luke, “crowds” came out to be baptized by John. Matthew says “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him,” and Mark says, “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John] and were baptized by him in the river.” So, crowds – multitudes – are being baptized by John in the Jordan River for the repentance of sins.
And Jesus, who has no reason to repent and who could have watched from the riverbank, steps into the river with the multitudes. Jesus chooses to be baptized; chooses to be in solidarity with the multitudes (and you and me).
And then, when Jesus is baptized and is coming up out of the water, the Voice from heaven proclaims: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Before Jesus begins his public ministry, before Jesus suffers, before Jesus dies on the cross, before Jesus accomplishes what he was called to accomplish, the Voice proclaims that this is “my Son with whom I am well pleased.” What was true all along is made known: this is God’s Son.
And those words are meant for you, and for me: you are God’s daughter; you are God’s son. What was true all along is made known to us. You are created in God’s image – true all along, and proclaimed at baptism. And that’s important. I’m going to give two reasons this morning, as to why it’s important to know deep in your bones and at the cellular level that you are God’s child.
These two reasons come from an author and speaker named Glennon Doyle. She is best known for her book, “Carry On Warrior,” and her blog called “Momastery.” At any rate, she writes: “I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too.”
She says that “confidence” and “humility” are two sides of the same coin. They go hand in hand. She says: “If I am humble but lack confidence, it is because I haven’t accepted that there is a divine spark inside me. It means that I don’t believe in the miracle that I was made by God for a purpose all my own, and so I am worthy of the space I occupy on this earth. And that as a child of God, no one deserves more respect, joy, or peace than I. … Just because I am a child of God.”
“And thankfully, there is nothing I can add to that title to make it more impressive. There is also nothing I can do to lose that title. I am confident not because I am pretty, or smart, or athletic, or talented, or kind. Those things can change and can be given or taken. I am confident simply because I am a child of God.”
Everyone here can have such confidence. There is nothing we can add to the title, “Child of God,” to make it more impressive. There is nothing we can do to lose the title. The title is unearned, unmerited gift. It is by God’s Grace that we have the title.
The other side of the same coin is humility. Glennon says humility is tricky, “like when I write an essay about humility and then spend the rest of the day wondering whether it might actually be the best ‘humility essay’ ever written by anyone in the history of the world.” And then she says: “If I am confident but not humble, it is because I have not fully accepted that … everyone has the same amount of God in her [or him].” … “I am a child of God, and so is everyone else. … Be confident because you are a child of God. Be humble because everyone else is too.”
All of this calls to mind a passage spoken by Nelson Mandela, although not original to him. It’s from his Inaugural Speech as he became President of South Africa in 1994. Remember, apartheid has ended, and after 27 years in prison, Mandela is released and elected President. In his Inaugural Speech he says the following:
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous?”
“Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Nelson Mandela.
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone.” You were born for that – born to make manifest the glory of God. Playing small does not serve the world. Let your light shine. We are created in the image of God; marked as Christ’s own forever to participate in this Jesus Movement to change this world by the power of God’s love … in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.