Renouncing Evil and Turning Again to Christ

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

Read the full text of the sermon here: 

Probably like many of you, as I watched the mob of angry white people stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, I was furious. I was saddened. And I was sickened. But unlike some, I was not shocked.

I was not shocked because the words that inspired that mob were not very different from words used over the past four years and before. Jesus often said, “Let those who have ears hear.” And those of us whose ears that have been open have heard that same kind of ignorant and arrogant language that divides, belittles, twists, and falsifies … words that come from the kind of person scripture describes as the Prince of Lies.

But it’s important to remember that hate (and for that matter, evil) do not begin and end with particular people. People turn or are turned from light to darkness. It’s as old as the oldest stories in our scriptures. It’s as current as the liars and twisters who are yacking away on the Sunday talk shows and filling up the internet with their dangerous nonsense.

I had a good conversation with a parishioner this week as we shared our outrage, our worry and our fear. He asked me if I would be “speaking out” in a decisive way today. We talked about that for a little while.

What’s the role of a parish priest? The church’s nonprofit status notwithstanding, what ought to be the role of a pastor around issues of prophecy and social justice? I explained what most of you know—my own style tends to be subtle and I admit that I base my leadership of our prayers and worship on certain assumptions—your intelligence, your (like me) being overwhelmed by information, and your basic orientation towards good will.

And also, personally, I don’t like it when religious officials (or anyone else, for that matter) tell me what I ought to think or feel. And so, I resist doing that with you.

I also resist saying much on social media—not because I’m afraid of hurting your feelings or losing members— that’s all way beyond my power, anyway. But I resist getting all busy with social media because it makes me feel bad after I post something that reduces me to some new level of nastiness. And I also know that nothing I post on Facebook or twitter or anywhere else is going to change the mind of my crazy cousins, my in-laws, or anyone else who refuses to think for themselves, to risk listening, or to be serious about the hard work of following Jesus.

Please understand: If you’re someone who vents your rage or other strong feelings online, I’m not judging you here. I’m just explaining why that doesn’t work for me. For me, it doesn’t help. And at this point of my life, I continue to learn and be aware of the problems of our day, and there are plenty of people and resources to help us understand problems more deeply. But I want to put my energy into solutions.

And as Christians, there are important ways we can be part of the solution.

One is prayer. We pray daily at Holy Trinity, through Zoom and in person on Wednesdays. Many of you participate in your own disciplines of prayer—both contemplative and active. For the next two weeks, the National Cathedral in Washington is praying online especially for our country every day at 5PM until the Inauguration. We pray individually and as a community. We pray not to try to control events—but something mystical happens when our prayers mix with the parts and particles of the universe and it all somehow goes into the will and way of God. And prayer changes us—with openness, with wisdom, with love.

We should be politically active. Voting is a Christian responsibility, but so is writing, calling, emailing, and nagging our representatives. We should lend our time, talent, and treasure to God, but also toward political change. Change happens. The new senators from Georgia are an African American and a Jew. Change happens. The Vice President elect is a African American and South Asian. And my marriage certificate to another man is issued, it says, by authority of the United States Congress (because we were married in Washington, DC.) Don’t tell me change is not possible.

And then, there’s our Christian life, the day-to-day, nitty gritty, falling and getting back up again, repenting and renewing, that we do every day, between Sundays and including our formal times of worship. Today, we remind ourselves of what it means to follow Christ as we reaffirm our baptismal vows.

Too often the Baptismal Covenant is muttered over crying babies and filming relatives as we celebrate a Baptism. But these are words of commitment and purpose.

In the early Church, the person to be baptized would face the West, the darkness and be asked to renounce evil. Sometimes a person was encouraged to add gestures, as though renouncing the devil himself. But then, for the affirmative questions, the person would be invited to turn East, toward the light, the direction from which the sun rises.

We pledge to turn from evil at baptisms, but through our faithful living, we aim to do, and say things that continue to turn us from darkness to light, from evil to goodness.

Bishop Dietsche, our own Bishop of New York has also written, reminding us of the work ahead. In his letter on Friday he wrote

 

As Christians, we are people for whom reconciliation is not simply another virtue, but is the foundation of our life and who we are. “I came,” Jesus said, “that all may be one, as the Father and I are one.” We must have a part in this work of unification and reconciliation, in our nation, indeed, but it begins in our own communities and parishes. But reconciliation is deeper and richer than simply “making up” or agreeing to disagree. It also requires of us the amendment of our own lives, the striving for justice, the naming of evil in our midst, the forgiveness of sin, true humility, and the tireless effort of calling our friends and adversaries into the work of peace. (Letter of January 9, 2021).

Reaffirming our Baptismal Vows does not solve all the world’s problems, but it reminds us of an important place to begin again—with our own side of the street, our own lives, our own souls.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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