[Homily delivered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Piney Parish, Waldorf, MD on Sunday, January 12, 2014]
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my Beloved Son, with you, I am well pleased.”
As we have discussed before, I like certain kinds of movies. The kind that have some message, a ‘learning’ if you will. Last summer, in a homily, we talked about the movie, “Hoosiers”. Today, I want to talk about “Coach Carter”.
Coach Carter is a story about a man who went to Richmond High School in Southern California.The school is in a rough neighborhood with many students that have trouble. They have trouble with grades, behavior, and in some cases, the law. So, Coach Carter is asked to come back to the school as an adult and coach the basketball team. He employs great discipline.
There are many storylines in the movie. The big one is really about a coach and his relationship with his players. In an unorthodox move, Coach Carter requires each student to sign a contract to get their grades up, go to class, etc.
There are many conflicts. The players test the rules. They test the coach. The practice sessions are sometimes brutal. At one point, it gets so bad, Coach Carter padlocks the gym.
Before we finish this story……what on earth does this have to do with the Gospel reading for today?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes to John to be baptized. But, it is John who says that he should be baptized by Jesus. Jesus tells John it’s the other way around. I am guessing that John is really confused. However, as the scripture says, John baptizes Jesus.
And what happens next?
The Spirit of God descends like a dove and the voice says, “You are my Beloved Son, with you, I am well pleased.”
When Mother Julie asked me to preach this morning, I said yes without checking out what the readings were. You see, I consider it an honor to share thoughts together and I am grateful for the opportunities.
But, I have to be honest, I struggled with the reading. I discovered that I really did not know the meaning of Jesus baptism…I didn’t really know why he did it. It says in the Gospel that is was “to fulfill all righteousness.” That didn’t help me, I had to dig deeper.
I began to read about this passage. I used the internet. I used study guides and Bible handbooks. It was very interesting what I learned.
I found out that Jesus and John grew up together. Their families were related. One source suggested the John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. That would explain why John would have questioned why he should baptize Jesus and not the other way around. I mean, if they grew up together, surly the circumstances of Jesus’ birth would have been talked about. And the scriptures tell us both John and Jesus knew that they had “heavenly missions” to fulfill.
My research indicates that John and Jesus at the time of the baptism, had not seen each other for a while, at least many months and more likely several years. So Jesus comes to him and in a very short conversation, John baptizes Jesus. This marks the beginning of Jesus ministry on earth.
There are three important reasons this was needed to happen.
First, is was to fulfill all righteousness. That is to say it was Jesus being consecrated to God and being publically approved by God in the act of the baptism.
The second important reason was the public announcement by John the Baptist of the arrival of the Messiah that he had been preaching about.
And the third reason, and perhaps the one we can most identify with, is through the baptism, Jesus fully identified with man’s sin and failure.
In this scene of Jesus’ baptism, we also see the Holy Trinity as the Father speaks from heaven and the Holy Spirit manifests itself in the form of the dove that sits on Jesus shoulder. And what does God say?
“You are my Beloved Son, with you, I am well pleased.”
As I did my research for this message, I ran across a writing by Fr. John Alexander, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island. He tells about a retreat he was attending and the retreat leader suggested this. In the last sentence of the reading, take out the word “Son”.
Now you have, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Let me say that again…
“You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Fr. John, in his writing, said that the exercise then was for the folks at the retreat to break into small groups and discuss this. He relates that he was very uncomfortable with it.
However, I want to suggest; that God says this to us at our baptism. No, wait… I really would say to you that God says this to us all of the time, or at least, wants to.
You see my friends, I know that God says to you and to me all the time, “You are my Beloved…” But, can he always say to us, “I am well pleased.”?
A perfect place to end the homily, right? You were all expecting an “Amen”? Not so fast, we still have a little work to do together…
Let’s go back to Coach Carter.
Remember, we have a coach and team. The team is defiant and undisciplined at first. Coach Carter uses a contract with the players to lay out his expectations. Through many troubles, conflicts and accomplishments; the team and the coach develop great relationships. The team begins to play and play very well. They start winning games. Their success sends them to state tournaments and they advance to the finals.
The coach, the teachers, the parents, and the students were “well pleased”. They did what they were supposed to do.
We know what we are supposed to do. We know that we are supposed to love God. We know we are supposed to love each other. We know the Ten Commandments. We know the rules! We know all these things and we know that living our lives following the rules leads to “well pleased.”
I will leave you with one last thought that I think is illustrated in this story.
It’s a story about a 10 year-old boy named Cameron who attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.
You see, one day, Cameron walked into the priest’s office. Fresh from soccer practice, hot and sweaty and still wearing his soccer gear, he had a request.
“I’d like to be baptized,” he said. “We were learning about Jesus’ baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too.”
“Cameron, do you want to be baptized because everyone else is?” the priest asked.
He wrinkled up his freckled nose and he replied, “No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God.”
The priest was touched by his understanding. “Well, then,” he said, “How about I talk to your parents and we have it this Sunday?”
The boy’s smile turned to concern and he asked, “Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can’t I just have a friend baptize me privately? Jesus was baptized by his cousin.”
“You have a point,” the priest responded. “But, if a friend baptized you and no one else knew about it, how would people know you were baptized?”
Realizing this was a teachable moment, the priest reached for his Bible, but before he could open his book, the boy responded, “I guess people would know by how I live my life!”
“You are my beloved… It’s up to us to finish this sentence every day in how we live.