The Baptism of our LordBy Bishop John Mack
You are my beloved Son – on You my favor rests. – Mark 1
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. We jump from the Nativity scene and the family’s flight to Egypt to escape the rage of Herod --- to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at age 30. That’s quite a gap in years. Some wish that we could know more about Jesus in his formative years. The years he spent as the natural son of Mary and the adopted son of Joseph the carpenter. Some wish that we could hear stories about him at work in his father’s business – being a carpenter’s apprentice, so to speak. We only hear one story about a trip to Jerusalem when He was 12 – and how he astonished the teachers in the temple. But God chose to “jump ahead” to this Baptism. The Christmas season unofficially ends today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The PNCC continues to allow Christmas hymns to be sung until the presentation of the Lord (called Candlemass) on February 2nd. We will however be back in what is called Ordinary Time Sundays. The stable, the manger and the statuary will vanish until next Christmas.
The beginning and end of the season have much in common. On Christmas, we celebrate God becoming one of us, taking upon himself a human nature. On the Feast of the Baptism, we celebrate the public proclamation that Jesus is more than just one of us. He has more than a human nature. He has a Divine Nature. He is the Son of God, in whom the father in well pleased. We begin with John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of John’s birth. You remember, Zachary and Elizabeth b to have children. Elizabeth was past childbearing age when Zachary had a vision in the Temple of the angel Gabriel telling him that he and Elizabeth would have a son that he would name John. This son would be a prophet like Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament.
Today’s Gospel, from the Gospel of Mark, advances the story 30 years. We come upon John, teaching and baptizing at the Jordan River. He is demanding an end to evil in the world and calling the people to accept his baptism as a sign that they will join him in the fight for the Kingdom of God. He also speaks about the one to come. The last book of the Old Testament is the Book of Malachi. It ends with a prophecy that Elijah would come again to prepare the world for the Messiah. John is this new Elijah, as Gabriel had told Zachary.
Jesus chooses to be baptized by John to show that he is one with all those who are fighting against evil and fighting for the Kingdom of God. John says that he himself does not deserve to unfasten Jesus’ sandals, but Jesus demands he be baptized. The people of the world who long for the Kingdom must see that their King is one of them. The voice of God the Father proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. What does this mean to us? It means that our union with Jesus is a union with God. It means that Jesus is not just another man, not even another extraordinary man. He is God. He has a human nature given to him through Mary, and a divine nature eternally at one with the God. The One who is our brother is also the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. We don’t just give him the title God. He is God. When we call upon Jesus to help us, we are praying to God. When we receive communion, we receive God within us. When we seek forgiveness, we are forgiven not by the priest but by God. When you married in the Church, Jesus united His Love to your love for each other in the sacrament of marriage.
We have to remember that all of this began when we were linked to the life of Christ at our own baptism. Our journey with Jesus as our closest friend began when we were brought to church to be baptized. For most, we were brought when we were an infant, but it doesn’t matter at what age it occurred – the important thing to remember is that it DID HAPPEN. We were grafted onto the vine into the family of God. We were accepted into God’s kingdom and became part of the Body of Christ. We received God’s grace but more importantly – we were given a charge. What does that mean – it means that we took on a new identity / we accepted a new way of life / we PROMISED or at least our baptismal sponsors promised for us / that we would be faithful to JESUS! I think it is very important to think back to that moment in your life every once in a while. If you were an infant – I know that you don’t have that recollection of the day -- Perhaps you have a baptismal picture that you can gaze upon – maybe you could find your baptismal gown – or the candle you were given. I always tell parents to burn that candle and say a prayer for your child on that anniversary day. Lastly – I just want to read a couple of the prayers that we recite during the Baptismal rite—The words are very meaningful to every Christian.
From the introduction:
The Holy Sacrament of Baptism was instituted by Jesus Christ as the means whereby a person is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, is admitted into the fellowship of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and is given the gift of eternal life.
Near the conclusion a candle is given to the baptized. The celebrant says:
May the light of Christ’s holy Gospel illumine your way of life. Keep in deepest respect this Holy Baptism which has united you with Jesus Christ, made you a part of His Holy Church and brought you into the Communion of Saints.
Observe the commandments of God that when our Lord shall return, you shall meet Him together with all the Saints in the heavenly court and live forever.
Baptism marked the start of Jesus’ ministry on this earth. It was the springboard for all that he said, did and taught. Likewise and identically – baptism is and was the start of our ministry as Christians - We were linked forever with the Son of God and the Blessed Trinity. We were given the power and boldness to tell others about Jesus / about OUR OWN FAITH WALK!
Baptism is a gift given to us by God. May we cherish it always and live our lives as people born again in water and the Holy Spirit. Most Importantly --- we must ASK OURSELVES THIS QUESTION – What have we DONE FOR HIM LATELY & what have you done personally to spread the faith?? I pray that you take this question home with you today --- I pray that you take YOUR BAPTISM and YOUR PART in the Body of Christ seriously.
Solemnity of the Holy FamilyBy Bishop John Mack
The Lord sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority He confirms over her sons. Book of Sirach
We Americans are a competitive people. We have this drive to always want to be better than someone else. As a result, we spend a lot of energy comparing ourselves, or our situations with those with whom we work, live near, etc. In many ways this is healthy. I want a doctor who does everything she or he can to be better than every other doctor. The same can be applied to every service orientated position, or even to any person we work with or for. We would be wrong if we were to apply this natural competitive attitude to our families. It is neither just nor wise for us to compare our families to our neighbors. Yet, so many of us do this. "I wish my marriage was as happy as theirs. I wish my children got along as well as theirs. I wish our family was as strong as theirs." This is wrong because every family is made up of unique individuals. It is impossible for two families to be identical. Secondly, every family has challenges that usually are not apparent to the eye of the envious neighbors.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. In our natural competitive attitude, we are tempted to look at the Holy Family as an ideal we cannot realize in our families. But, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had their share of struggles. The trust which is essentially to any marriage was challenged by the pregnancy. Joseph was forced to bring Mary to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. He must have felt terrible when they had no choice but to have the child in a stable. Then they had to get up in the middle of the night and escape Herod by moving to a foreign land, Egypt, away from family and traditions. Still, the Holy Family made it through the difficulties of their family life for one reason only: they had great faith. Joseph had faith in the angel of his dreams and treated the pregnant Mary in an honorable way. He had faith that God would help him protect the child, and he moved the family to Egypt. Mary had faith both in the angel and in God's working through Joseph. Jesus, having emptied himself of his divinity, had faith in his parents to care for him.
The Holy Family conquered their struggles through their faith-life. This must be the primary concern of our families. Sometimes parents wish they had the financial resources of their neighbors to be able to provide more for their children. That is a great ideal, but do not forget, what children really need is a Christian home, not the things that the neighbor’s kids have.
The readings for this Sunday present some aspects of a Christian home. The first reading from Sirach says that children need to respect their parents. At first it refers to young children as it notes that mothers and fathers have their authority from God. Then it refers to older children when it says that children should take care of their parents when they age. Little children learn respect for their parents from the respect they see their parents giving each other and the respect their parents have for their grandparents. I have always believed that the way you treat your parents will be the way your children will treat you. If your relations with your parents are motivated by respect and love, and are evident in your kindness to them, your children will have learned this aspect of Christianity and will treat you the same way as your years mount.
The second reading deals with the relationships within a family. Paul tells the Colossians and us to treat each other with kindness, to be patient with each other, to forgive each other continually, not to let our pride determine what we say and do to each other. He uses the term heartfelt compassion. The way we accept each other comes from deep within our hearts. If we strive to live this way, then as a family we can pray together not just in Church, but in every aspect of our lives. "Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord." Paul presents the roles within the families of his day and age. At that time the equality of women was not recognized. In the Roman Empire women were seen as property that needed to be protected by their fathers or their husbands or, if the father died and they were not yet married, their brothers. The respect given to a woman was different from that given to a man. That is why we have the phrase, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” closely followed by “Husbands love your wives.” The heart of this reading is that husbands and wives must respect each other. This same line of thought continues with children being told to respect their parents, and parents being told not to nag, to continually find fault, with their children. And even if our children don’t live up to our expectations, we must still love and cherish them.
Today’s Gospel is acted out many Sundays in many parishes. Mary and Joseph went to the Temple holding Jesus. Simeon and Anna made a fuss. Over the years in the priesthood, a couple will come in to the church holding their newborn child. Their joy is indescribable. “Look who we have with us,” they say before they even open their mouths. I make believe I’m surprised; even though I may have seen the expectant Mom every week. I love seeing the babies, and I enjoy making a fuss. And I love seeing the huge change in the parents who present their first child. It is a joy seeing how much you love your children and grandchildren. I love the fact that you all are determined to provide the best for your children. Let me remind you, to be the best parents you can be, remain grounded in the Lord. Make prayer a part of your home life. Pray with your children at bedtime and pray for them after they fall asleep. Teach your children respect. Let them witness your respect for them, for each other, and for others and demand that they respect others, including you. Men, if you want to be good fathers, love your wives. Women, if you want to be good mothers, love your husbands.
Some may say, “I can’t do this. I can’t be the mother or the father my children need me to be.” If you ever had that thought, put it out of your mind. You can be all that your children need as long as your love for your children remains the love of Christ, sacrificial love. Then, do your best, and trust God to do the rest.
We know for sure that there is no family that is “Perfect” but we also pray on this solemnity that all our families, with God’s help, may be Holy Families. Amen
Feast of the Humble ShepherdsBy Bishop John Mack
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen ----
Words taken from the Gospel of St. Luke ---
My Dear Ones in Christ --- Today we celebrate the Feast of the Humble Shepherds --- It is a feast that is unique to the PNCC --- instituted by Bishop Hodur back in the early years of the church. Why a Feast to honor the Shepherds --- well we just heard in the Gospel we know that the shepherds were the first eye-witnesses to the birth of Jesus Christ. They were the ones that paid attention to the message of the angels. They SAW AND BELIEVED! We could say that they were the first disciples sent out into the world.
One of the ailments of modern man is that he is too self-sufficient. As I’ve said in other sermons – if we have a question about something – want to look up a fact – or the answer to some trivia question – we simply google it on our phones. Everything is there at our fingertips. I’m not saying that having that technology is a bad thing – it’s just that we MUST have the answers to all our questions IMMEDIATELY! And yet --- there are some questions that we can’t google and get back the answer that we want. Questions such as: Why does my friend at school have 3 months to live due to cancer? Why are there kids in school that have to belittle and bully other kids in their classes, on the bus, in the locker room? Why do kids get so depressed and despondent that they see no other alternative than to take their own life? And perhaps some others such as: Why did my boyfriend/girlfriend break up with me / Why didn’t I get that promotion at work that I really, really wanted. Does my wife/husband still love me? None of these questions can be answered by google. We’ve become a people who are so totally self-dependent on our own talents, abilities and status, that we’ve forgotten about God – even though we “say” we are believers. The shepherds believed the message of the angels because they were in tune with their surroundings, their flocks, their responsibilities as shepherds and most importantly they were in tune with their Creator – God. They lived a hand-to-mouth existence --- one that wasn’t glamorous at all – they had no permanent addresses – they were nomadic - they lived off of the land, moving their sheep to where there was good pasture and water. They didn’t care much about their appearance – the sheep really didn’t care how they as shepherds looked –they just wanted them to take care of them. And again – they were in tune – in touch with their Creator.
The reason that we oftentimes miss opportunities to bring others to Christ it that we are seldom in touch with our Creator --- I’d like you to take a personal inventory – just answering the questions inside your head.
1 - Do you pray to God every day? In the morning when you awaken – at night before you
go to sleep? What about other times during the course of the day?
2 - Do you spend time reading scripture during the week. Two or three times – or even every
3 - Do you prepare for the reception of Eucharist by taking time to examine your conscience
reviewing the past week before you come to church – or even taking 5 minutes before mass?
4 - When was the last time you talked seriously with your spouse, children, grand-children
about your faith and what it means to believe in God???
5 - Do you keep sacramentals (such as a crucifix above the door / a palm from Last year /
A holy statue – picture – icon in your home (the manger from Christmas doesn’t count –
unless you leave it up all year!!)
6 - Do you have your home blessed after Epiphany –how many years has it been???
Do you even believe that it will have any effect on your household? Your family?
Your relationships in the home?
This year the “Future Directions” sub-group has decided to continue on with the theme of Discipleship for 2020. The sub-theme is “We will trust you.” they have chosen various Saints, prominent figures from Scripture and contemporary figures such as Bp Hodur and Mother Theresa to highlight on a monthly basis. The theme was chosen due to the great pandemic of 2020 – Covid 19. The theme was chosen to give hope and strength and faith and renewed belief to the people of our denomination – but also to all people of this earth. So many have suffered during these past 10 months –and the committee wanted to give the people hope. These figures which we will highlight monthly also faced some trying times and personal set-backs in their lives. Nonetheless they persisted – they didn’t turn away from God – they didn’t give up all hope – NO! -- They sought God’s abiding comfort and grace: Thus the theme: Discipleship –We will Trust in You!
Let us use this one year calendar to be strong as well: spiritually, physically and emotionally in this coming year. Let us all be shepherds: one to another as we travel this journey of life. Amen