Sermon

Epiphany 1 - Year A

2011-01-09
St. James's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Change
Anyone who has ever gone through premarital counseling with me knows that one of the things I ask all couples to do is to write me a list of three things about their future spouse that really bugs them. (Now, I know all you folks out there who have been married 20, 30, 40, even 50 years are thinking – “Three things, heck I could give you thirty!” But blessedly all of these couples are recently engaged and newly in love and so asking for only three things seems to be enough.) The idea is for us to talk about at least three things that really annoys them or even disappoints them about the other. I do this for several reasons. First, before a couple gets married it is always good to discuss any areas where there is tension. Second, I always tell couples that the best way to ruin a marriage before it even starts is to enter into this new relationship with the idea that, “I’ll fix him once we get married,” or “She’ll come around after we get married.” Because the fact of the matter is people rarely change and if they do, they change for their own reasons, not because we fixed them. Often the things that bug people about their future spouse before they get married are variations of the same things that are going to bug them 30 years from now. Therefore, we need to talk about them and get very comfortable with them because these bothersome ways aren’t going anywhere.
Change is hard. Just ask anyone who has struggled with addiction or weight issues. It’s hard to change who we are. It’s like the old self constantly wants to pull us backwards, back into old habits, back into old ways of living, and it takes a lot of work to create a new normal. So on this Sunday when we celebrate the life changing transformation of Jesus at his baptism, and during a month when I know many of you still have your new year’s resolutions fresh in your minds, I thought it might be good to talk about change. Can we change? How do we change? And what are we to change into?
When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River it was a watershed moment in our Lord’s life. The gospels tell us that Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his ministry. Before his baptism Jesus was just another young man born and raised in Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, Mary’s first born. Yes he was still the same child the angel had promised Mary. He was indeed the promised one, but that promise was yet unfulfilled. However, after his baptism something significant changed and Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, became who he was meant to be. After his baptism he gathered together his disciples and went about preaching, teaching, healing the sick and sharing the news of God’s Kingdom. After his baptism, Jesus claimed his full identity and began his journey to the cross.
This biblical story of transformation is just one of many found in scripture. Indeed, in the Bible there is a recurrent theme of God changing lives in ways individuals never expect. Moses, a Jew raised as Egyptian royalty, was changed by God into a leader who would free his people from slavery. Abraham, the nomadic leader of a wandering tribe, was changed by God into the Patriarch of a great people. David was a simple shepherd boy, believed to be unfit for leadership. God made him into Israel’s greatest King. Even the disciples, many of whom started out as modest fisherman, became brave apostles willing to give their lives for the sake of the good news. The Bible is full of stories of God changing people in ways they never imagined but in ways that suited them perfectly.
What do these biblical stories have to do with us? What can we learn from them? First, know that God wants you to become the person you were intended to be. Just the way every parent yearns for their children to make the most of their gifts, to realize their full potential, so God yearns for you. God wants us to grow and change in the ways that make us our best selves and God gives us his grace to help with that growth. Many people hold God at arms length because they fear what God will do with them if they let him into their hearts. As it says in the letter to the Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:31) But what we have to realize is that God only seeks to make us more ourselves, to fulfill us, to complete us – to help us become who we were intended to be. When we allow God to change us we don’t lose ourselves, rather we become more fully ourselves. Moses was always intended to be a liberator, Abraham a patriarch, David a king, Peter an apostle. Jesus was born to be the Messiah, to save us from the power of sin and death. But it was his willingness to allow God to transform him at his baptism that revealed his best self.
Second, never give up trying to become the better husband, the more understanding parent, the kinder employee – whatever those things are that make you a better person. If is it anger or resentment that keeps you from being your best self then you can count on the fact that God’s grace is with you empowering you to forgive. If it is addiction that mars your soul, there are many all around you who know the transforming power of God to change lives for the better. If it is selfishness or ego, unbridled ambition or “work-aholism” that warps your best self then know that God can help you to find your center and live the balanced life. Too often all we want to change is the size of our waistline. The Bible tells us that if we let God fully into our lives we can change more than our pants size, we can find healing, peace, a deep sense of being loved, and renewed purpose. This change may not be easy but we are promised that it will be fulfilling. But we have to want more than just to change – we have to want God.
By submitting to the baptism of John in the Jordan River, Jesus was doing more than allowing John to wash away sins. More importantly he was submitting to the power of God to rule his life. He let go of his own ego needs about who he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do and he let his Creator transform him into the man he was intended to be. Therefore, if you want to take on a real New Year’s resolution then open your heart to God in prayer. Invite him fully into your life and then let his loving grace change you in ways you never imagined. I promise you will be better for it. Amen.