Reaching Beyond the Divisions

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Year A     (video link)
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Well aren’t these interesting lessons for today? From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

That’s a great thing to hear after an election cycle that revealed our deepest divisions and on a weekend that has held both Inaugural celebrations and Inaugural protests.

Paul continues: For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” We might add, “I belong to Donald,” or “I belong to Hillary,” or “I belong to Bernie,” or “I belong to fill in the blank.”

Paul continues: Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.

 Okay, that’s getting a little personal, seeing as I am about to baptize Leo here. And God love Paul, He just can’t help himself. Here he is trying to make clear that the baptism isn’t really about him, and his ego just sneaks up there and has to say, “I thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, well, except Crispus and Gaius, oh, and (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)” Our little false self just can’t stay quiet, can it? It lives within us, ever ready to leap up and take some credit, claim some ownership.

But, Paul continues: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Oh, now we get down to the heart of the matter. Parochial Report statistics aside, it’s not about how many people we baptize under the age of 16 and over the age of 16 (honest to goodness, our denominational report asks us that), and it’s not about who does the baptizing (though I am quite thrilled that I get to participate in Leo’s baptism this morning); it’s not about adding members to the Jesus team, but it’s about proclaiming the gospel; it’s about announcing glad tidings, like that angel did to the shepherds on the hillside; it’s about proclaiming good news. And our proclamation isn’t filled with fancy words, and it isn’t accomplished with eloquent wisdom, or as the greek says, “cleverness of speech” because that “cleverness of speech,” that “turning of the word” might grab our attention and distract us and then, the cross of Christ might be emptied of its power. No, proclamation of this good news cuts through all of that.

Paul reminds us: For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. But the NRSV translation misses something here. The word it translates as “message” is the same greek word that popped up in that “eloquent wisdom,” that “cleverness of speech, turning of the word” that Paul warns us about in the verse before. This “message” about the cross is also λόγος“the word”as in, “In the beginning was the λόγος and the λόγος was with God and the λόγος was God…and this λόγος was made fleshand the word was made flesh and lived among us.”

This isn’t about a message; this isn’t about a doctrine; this is about a witness—this is about the word made flesh who lived among us and who stretched out his arms upon the cross to touch and hold and embrace all the extremes, all the divisions, all the places that are flying apart; this is about the word made flesh who stretched out his arms on the cross to transcend all the enmities and animosities that drive us all to violence, who stretched out his arms to gather all the us’s and them’s into one body, into his body, to take down the dividing wall that keeps us apart, and to gently reconnect us to the whole and to one another.

Paul knows this word is foolishness to those who have lost their way—and we’re not talking about those who are perishing for eternity here. No, it’s much, much closer in proximity than that. Context is so important. This word made flesh on the cross is foolishness to those who have lost their way in the adrenalin of division.  It’s foolishness to those who would rather stake their claim on whom they belong to—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, even Christinstead of understanding that being baptized into Christ’s body means you belong to everyone.

To those who can receive the wholeness this baptism offers, well then, you’ve just tapped into the deepest, most intimate, most creative power of God.

Oh Leo, you have come into this world at such an interesting time, and you are being baptized at such a crossroads moment.

Division is all around us. And yet, and yet, here we gather at these waters to bury you with Christ in his death and to raise you with him in his resurrection.

Today, we will mark you with the sign of the cross and seal you with the Holy Spirit and mark you as Christ’s own forever. Today, we proclaim the good news that you belong to him, and when you belong to him, you belong to all of humanity.

Today, we imprint into your being the capacity to reach beyond all the divisions that will swirl around you and to hold a space with Christ where those divisions may be healed.

Today, water will flow over you reminding you that you are held in the flow of love always, no matter what, without exception.

Today, we invite you into this utter foolishness that we call the way of Jesus, and we watch in awe as this portal of power opens before you that will allow you to know and be that light that shines out in the deep darkness.

You, of course, don’t understand a single word I’m saying right now, and that’s okay, Paul’s already reminded us that it’s not about eloquence, but about simply announcing glad tidings, and that gets quite, quite simple when it’s all said and done.

Leo, you are God’s beloved son, and in you, God is well pleased. Always has been, always will be, no matter what. And no matter how divided this world gets, no matter how much division you will witness in your life time, there is a deeper truth that holds you—you are knit into the body of Christ, woven into a wholeness that surpasses all our human understanding, and from this place, you can move with strength and power.

It will look like foolishness to all those who would rather stake their claim on the rush of division, but truly, this wholeness is salvation.

You will spend the rest of your days figuring out how to live from this place of this wholeness, and as your light grows, that darkness out there won’t be near as dark.

In a land of where everyone wants to belong to someone and “their someone” is the best, welcome to the revolution, Leo. You belong to the body of Christ whose love knows no bounds. Help us reach across all these places of division and knit back together this broken body one glad tiding of wholeness at a time. Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
January 22, 2017