I would like to express my gratitude for being invited here today to celebrate this Eucharist and to speak this evening. I am also very grateful to all of you. I appreciate very much the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the midst of a community that obviously is a believing and prayerful community. It inspires me very much, and so I thank you for the faith that you manifest here today. I'm also especially pleased that this liturgy includes a scrutiny for those who are about to be received into the church, or to be baptized. It's an honor to be with all of you and to share with you as you continue to grow in your faith and prepare yourself for these sacred celebrations of Holy Saturday night.
The Peace Pulpit
At the beginning of our second lesson today, St. Paul exhorts us: "You were once darkness, but now you are light in Jesus, and so behave as children of light and the fruits of light. Your fruits will be kindness, justice, peace and truth in every form." At the end of the passage, Paul says, "Awake, you who sleep. Arise from the dead, that the light of Christ may shine on you." Of course, then through you on our world to transform it.
[Editor's Note: Because of technical difficulties, the first few minutes of this homily were not recorded. We regret this error.]
Is God in our midst or not? Well, recently I had an experience that made me realize, and I hadn't thought about it so clearly before, how desperate is the need for water and what people will do to get water. This past year in El Salvador, the government made a move to privatize water. Can you imagine? Something that every human person has a right to, the government is going to sell or allow people to sell for profit, and of course it'll be at a price that probably most of the poor in that country would not be able to pay.
As we listen to this gospel and to the three readings of today, it becomes very clear that the main subject for us to reflect upon is our call to follow Jesus, to be disciples of Jesus. That's clear because as we just heard proclaimed in the second lesson, Paul writing to Timothy, "Do not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in laboring for the gospel with the strength of God. God loved us and called us, a calling which proceeds from God's holiness. This calling does not depend on our merits, but on God's generosity and on God's own initiative."
Last Sunday, we remember, Jesus proclaimed good news: “The reign of God is at hand.” The reign of God is at hand. How often do we think about that, what that means? The reign of God, a time when all injustices would be eliminated. Everyone will have a full chance for a human life. Resources of the whole earth would be made available to every person on the earth, instead of a few having so much and so many having so little.
Every so often throughout the liturgical year as we listen to the scriptures, we will find times when the call of God for us to follow Jesus is made much more explicit and clear than perhaps it has at other times. Today is one of those days when we are being challenged very directly by God through Jesus to become his disciples, to follow him.
As we reflect on these readings from God's word today, it will be very helpful for us, I think, if we do it with the context of the Sacrament of Baptism, which we are celebrating for this baby, Kaelynn Christine, because the readings guide us as to what it means for her to be baptized, and also what our baptism means for each one of us, and that that, of course, is something very important for us to reflect upon regularly: What does it means to be a baptized follower of Jesus, one of his disciples?
I’m sure we are all aware that today when we celebrate this Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we are bringing to a completion the Advent and Christmas season. Over the past couple of months, we remembered the Annunciation to Mary, the Visitation and then the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and then Jesus being brought to the temple for circumcision and the giving of his name. Then also, the time he was presented in the temple where he was purified. Then also, the time when Jesus was lost and then found in the temple by Mary and Joseph.
In order to really hear the message that is proclaimed to us in the Gospel today, it's very important that we situate this incident within the context of what was happening in the Jewish Christian community for whom Matthew wrote the Gospel. We may not be so aware, but we need to remind ourselves that the Gospels, like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were not written down immediately after Jesus left. The gospels developed out of oral traditions that were passed on for a number of years before anything was written down.
In a few moments when we begin our Eucharistic prayer, I will proclaim the words:
"Yes, God, you are holy. You are kind to us and to all. For this, we thank you. We thank you, above all, for your son Jesus. You sent him into this world because people had turned away from you and no longer loved one another. Jesus opened our eyes and our hearts to understand that we are brothers and sisters, and that you are the one God of us all. And Jesus brought us the good news of life to be lived with you forever in heaven, and he showed us the way to that life, the way of love."