This morning, four days after the violent and deadly siege of The United States Capitol, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist.
The siege was led by our fellow Americans who acted at the direction of the President of the United States.
I prayed with this Gospel passage while the details of Wednesday’s attack unfolded in real time.
The image of Jesus plunging down into the waters of the Jordan River and emerging into the light of day juxtaposed against confederate flags waving in the Rotunda of the Capitol.
God’s voice in the Gospel proclaiming “You Are My Beloved, With Whom I am Well Pleased”
Clashing with the sounds of an angry mob.
The dissonance between the Gospel and the current state of our democratic life together overwhelms.
What does it even mean to be a baptized Christian in America today?
In the early church, baptism into the Christian faith was an act of courage. Some might even say foolishness. Persecution was all but promised.
It was dangerous to live as a baptized Christian in the Roman Empire.
At least for the first 300 years or so--
Until the conversion of Constantine, when Christianity became the religion of the Emperor--and the Empire.
After Constantine, living as a baptized Christian in the Roman Empire was no longer foolish or courageous but politically and socially astute --especially for Roman socialites with political aspirations.
For the first time, the power of church and state aligned.
When the American Revolutionary war was fought and ultimately won, living as a Baptized Christian in America was dangerous--if you belonged to the Church of England.
How could a Christian pledge allegiance to the United States of America while also pledging loyalty and obedience to the King of England?
It was impossible. And grounds for treason.
That is how The Episcopal Church emerged.
Anglican Christians in the newly independent colonies separated from the Church of England in order to be set free from loyalty to the King--and made free for full and active participation in a democratic society.
For the first time, the power of the church and the power of the state separated.
So, what does it mean to be a baptized Christian in America today--four days after the violent siege of The United States Capitol?
Foundationally, for us as Episcopalians, it means to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Baptismal Covenant in our Book of Common Prayer.
In the covenant we profess our faith through the Apostle’s Creed, and, with God’s help we promise to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. We promise to persevere in resisting evil, to repent and return to the Lord when we fall into sin, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and the dignity of every human being
But how? How do we do the things we promise to do as baptized Christians?
There is only one answer: With God’s Help.
With God’s Help.
To be a baptized Christian living in America today means to ask God for Help.
Help me God: I am so tired and angry.
Help me God: continue to keep fellowship and break bread at your Altar.
To live as a baptized Christian in America today means to get real curious real fast about old ideas like repentance, social sin, prayer, scripture and idolatry.
Help me God to examine my conscience:
How have I participated in evil? How have I participated in idolatry?
Have I in any way elevated my identity as a member of a political party or political ideology above my identity as a baptized Christian?
How have I abandoned sacred media: prayer and study of Holy Scripture, the prayers of the church, and the examination of conscience in exchange for social media, punditry, and partisanship?
To live as a Baptized Christian in America today means to pray for our country, for our elected leaders, and for our democracy.
Baptized Christians are not free to abandon the work of democracy.
We are called to faithful citizenship and full and active participation in our democratic principles.
In our book of Common Prayer there are eight prayers for National Life; twelve prayers for Social Order, and four prayers of thanksgiving for National life and Social Order.
Pray these prayers, friends. Say the words.
Pray these prayers even though the language is old, gendered, and patriarchal.
Do not allow this very valid critique of the language become a stumbling block to our common prayer.
Help me God to pray.
To live as a baptized Christian today means to listen.
Help me God to listen with a heart of faith:
Listen to this,
“Violent insurrection and the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot coexist,” tweeted Russell Moore, director of The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy initiatives, in response to the violence at the Capitol.
“Let us be perfectly clear: To those who see this [violence at the Capitol] as a Christian endeavor, or something to be blessed in the name of Jesus, there is nothing Christian about what we are witnessing today. Nothing.” From a joint statement written by The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, and the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington:
“Even mature societies [like the United States] can have flaws, and there are often people "who take a path against the community, against democracy, and against the common good." Pope Francis.
What does it mean to live as a baptized Christian today?
It means to actively seek to understand the social issues that contributed to the violent extremism on Wednesday.
It means leaving our echo chambers.
It means being able to see and name the persistent evil of white supremacy in our country.
And getting curious about why those words might make us squirm a little.
It means learning about the entrenched racism and white privilege at work in our criminal justice system.
And getting curious about why those words might make us squirm a little, too.
It means looking at ourselves: at our personal political views and the politicians we personally support and asking: why do I believe this idea? Why do I support this elected official? How does this person represent me and my identity as a baptized Christian?
It means praying for our enemies, whoever they may be.
To live as a baptized Christian in America today is complicated. Uncomfortable. Necessary.
To live as a baptized Christian in America today requires faithful citizenship rooted in prayer, study of scripture, self-reflection, and repentance for our participation in evil and sin.
I believe we must live more fully and authentically into our identity as Christians. I believe our very lives and our fragile democracy depend on it.
And I believe we can and we will with God’s help.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
Baptism of the Lord
January 10, 2020
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other reflections