The Baptism of Jesus Year A Episcopal Church at Yale
The Rev. Dr. Paul J. Carling January 12, 2020
Blessed are the Hopeful
Isaiah 42: 1-9; Acts 10: 24-43; Matthew 3: 13-17
In the name of God, creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Amen.
Whenever Cherise and I consider moving to a new house, or even staying in a hotel, the first thing I check out is the shower… You might be thinking… “I feel you. Really hot showers wake me up, especially after finishing that paper at 2:00am.” Or maybe you’re freaking out, “The last thing I want right now is to picture ECY’s Chaplain in the shower!” Whatever. But the reason I always check out the shower, is because that’s where I typically hear God’s voice first thing in the morning.
One morning this week – yes, I was in the shower – I was mulling over Isaiah’s report of God’s call to God’s people: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness…” And it came to me that while, as Christians, we certainly need to keep aware of how much our world is lacking in justice, and kindness, and mercy and peace – and how much we’re continuously called to be lights and agents of healing for God’s people – what we’re in shortest supply of these days – as individuals, as a nation, even as a world – is hope. Everywhere around us, we’re encouraged toward hopelessness – our collective intransigence toward climate change, the multiple threats to our system of democracy, or the explosion of memes this week about the inevitability, indeed the relief from endemic uncertainty, that a World War III would being.
I believe this chiseling away at our capacity to hope, to believe that things can be better, that we can make a difference, that we can actually live out our faith individually and in the public arena, is perhaps the most serious existential crisis in our world today.
Existential, my beloveds, because the naked truth is that it’s hope that gives us a sense of agency and power. It’s hope that fans the flames of humility and compassion and mercy and seeking after justice. It’s hope that makes acting on our faith even possible.
When last we gathered here, it was Advent, a season interrupted by winter break. The Advent candles are gone, but as we enter the season of Epiphany, we pray their light will keep burning, illuminating all the ways God keeps showing up in our lives. Did you know each of those Advent candles has its own name? Here’s a children’s story.
Four candles slowly burned on the altar. Their glow was so soft, you could almost hear them talking. The first candle said, “I am Peace, but the world is so full of anger and fighting. It seems like no one can keep me lit.” So the flame of Peace flickered out. The second candle said, “I am Faith. But so many people act like they don’t need me anymore.” And a breeze softly blew out the Faith candle. The third candle began to speak in a sad voice. “I am Love. But people don’t understand how important I am these days. They even forget to love those who are nearest to them. I just don’t have the strength to stay lit.” And Love’s flame went out. Just then, a young child came into the church and saw the 3 unlit candles, and began to cry. “You’re all supposed to be lit!” he blurted out. “Don’t cry,” said the fourth candle. “I am Hope. As long as I’m still burning, I can light the other three candles. With Hope, we can live lives full of Peace and Faith and Love.” So the boy took the candle of Hope, and lit the other three.
It’s hope that keeps our ragtag ECY community coming back every Sunday, no matter how diligently we’ve observed our baptismal promises, or whether we even thought about them. Whether our week was intentional, reactive, or nearly unconscious, we come to rekindle our hope that God is good – all the time – that God – our Emmanuel – is with us each moment, highs, lows, and everywhere in between.
We gather to nurture hope – hope that pricks our consciousness, that leads us to simple acts of kindness, or to take a break for Compline, or spend a Sunday afternoon over conversation and cookies with our friends at Chapel on the Green. Hope that we won’t be rejected when we call a friend to take a walk, or ask another friend to sit and listen to our broken heart. Hope that we know enough, are enough, even if we don’t feel as prepared as we’d like for an exam or a performance or a date. Hope that just trying to pray every day will somehow yield great fruit. Hope that breaking out of our stressful routine for a retreat, or even a pilgrimage to Taize, will satisfy our hunger for a deeper connection with God. It’s hope that reminds us we’re called first to live for others – so we choose a gap year after college, and strike a huge blow against poverty – in God’s people and in our own hearts.
Hope niggles at us until we decide to be confirmed, or reaffirm our faith, or be received into the church at Easter Vigil. Hope leads us to advocate for the last and the lost and the least, just as Jesus did, and whether it’s at this altar, or in the public square, to publicly witness to a committed faith. It’s hope that helps us accept that pausing to take care of ourselves won’t lead to our entire world of responsibility from imploding.
Because make no mistake my friends, each of these choices, each act of hope, is what Jesuit mystic Jean – Pierre de Caussade called a sacrament of the present moment. Each is a sacrament with the transformative power to change our lives into one of joy and meaning, freeing us from the solitary confinement of obsessive self – interest. Each contains the ripple effect to give that precious gift of hope, in turn, to everyone around us.
Maybe that accounts for Jesus’ strange behavior in today’s gospel. Maybe it was hope that led Jesus to the banks of the Jordan. Though divine, Jesus was also human. Scholars disagree about what Jesus knew about his divinity and when he knew it, but if this was a gradual awareness, certainly his impulse to be baptized was an act of hope, that God’s claim on him might be revealed. Certainly, Jesus understood our human temptation to abandon hope in the face of day to day discouragement. And he also understood that the bedrock on which our hope rests, is the twin reality that each of us is a beloved child of God – completely lovable, and unconditionally loved; and that because God not only loves, but because God is love, we never have to face any of life’s trials, personal or global, alone.
In embracing the risk of baptism, maybe Jesus is saying, “Even if you are the Son of God, you need the hope that comes from knowing your place in the universe – as God’s beloved.” Which is why we choose to renew our own baptismal promises every day, in the quality of our own choices.
Today, Jesus offers us the hope that liberates us to dream again, individually and collectively. Hope that no matter how distracted or busy, each time we take a shower, if we listen, we just might hear God say, “I’m with you, my beloved. Open your heart, accept the gift of hope, and pass it on.”
 For a delightful video version of this story, which is also a great discussion tool for families with