So the New Year begins. On my Facebook feed, some are greeting 2018 with cautious optimism, although truthfully there are many who seem to be saying good riddance to 2017. I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum, as there were a lot of good things that happened last year. Truth is, every year comes with its triumphs and challenges, and I don’t expect 2018 to be any different.
The New Year always affords us a chance to reflect and reconsider. Part of the rituals that we go through on New Year’s Eve, beyond an excuse to party, is to look back on the year we have had, and to look forward with a new sense of hope and optimism. It may also be an opportunity to let go of the things that hold us back, and to take on something new.
The story of Jesus coming to be baptized is perfect for this time of year. Mark’s telling of it is simple: John the Baptiser is out in the wilderness, baptising people for the forgiveness of sins in the Jordan River. Jesus comes, John baptizes him as well, without comment, and it marks the beginning of his ministry. At its best, baptism is a powerful symbol of new life, and new hope. In the practice of full immersion, it is dying to one’s past, letting it go, and rising to a new life in Christ. It is affirming that we are letting go, and looking forward in the sure and certain hope that God is walking with us to show us the way. That doesn’t get old, and perhaps because we are fresh off of the New Year’s celebrations, need to remember this: regardless of what the year holds, God continues to walk with us no matter where our path lies. Epiphany, baptism, the new year, is all about beginnings, and opening new doors.
When it comes to us as a church community, I think we really need to re-affirm that. God is with us. The whole point of Christmas is the declaration, the good news, the assertion that God came to us, to be with us, and continues to walk with us and speak to us. We sing “O Come to Us, Abide with Us, our Lord, Emmanuel” every Christmas, but it is in this season, and every day that come after where we live it out. The good news of our faith is that God cared enough about creation to experience what it is to become a human being, and to share that with us. It is a powerful reminder that we matter to God, and that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we are not outside of God’s love and care.
This assertion, this position of faith, more than anything else, is what opens new doors… or more accurately, it allows us to see what new doors God is opening for us.
Too often I’ve seen people or churches trying to go at it on their own. They make a plan and then ask God to bless it as an afterthought. They assume that they have to do it all themselves… but that’s not how this works. It’s not how any of this works. If we are trying to sustain St. Matthew’s on our own, then we are ignoring our greatest asset: that God is already here in the community calling us forward, and giving us the resources we need to do it. Yet God is also calling us to recognize that there are things we need to let go of, that are getting in the way of God’s vision…
Reaffirming our baptism is also about letting go, and embracing the new. It is also about letting go of our fear. That’s why Christianity spread so fast in the Roman Empire. It wasn’t about preserving a heritage. They didn’t have buildings or monuments that occupied their time, they didn’t worry about how full or empty a place looked. It was about sharing God’s love to everyone, no matter what their station in life, and to show that everyone matters, everyone is invited to the table. That is why an offshoot movement from a quirky religion in a distant province took root. Not because of superior management or organization, not because of solid financial planning. It spread because the core message mattered to people.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be bringing up things that we may need to let go of… or more specifically certain things that we may think are what it means to be the church that really aren’t… or rather, they weren’t something that was even on the radar for early Christians. Sometimes, it is worth going back to those original years, from Paul’s mission through Constantine, to help us understand what really matters, and to give us some perspective on what God is calling us to be.
God is opening new doors for us. Never forget that. Our question is, what’s holding us back from seeing them, much less walking through them? What new revelations are waiting for us? If we are open to that, we are open to the infinite possibilities that God has in store for us. That’s an exciting prospect!
Happy Epiphany! Amen.