Friends, it’s always an honor to speak, that’s all I have to say. This last Sunday found me at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, and our time together was nothing short of a gift. So, click here to listen to the short thirteen-minute homily, or read it in its entirety below.
Well, good morning!
A couple of years ago, my family was driving down the road when our son, Canon, who was three at the time, pointed out the window.
“Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to a homeless woman sitting by the side of the road.
“That’s a person.”
“Who’s that?” he asked again, pointing across the street to a young man with spiky pink hair, riding a skateboard down the sidewalk.
“That’s a person, too.” And then he asked the question every three-year old is prone to ask – (fill in the blank, exactly).
“Well, because persons are humans.”
“Because humans matter, buddy. You and me, we matter, even if we look different from one another. And every single person on this earth matters, because they’re human.”
Had my husband, James or I expanded more on the theological ramifications behind our answer, we would have probably added in the phrase, imago dei, which means image of God. We would have said, yes, in all of these persons, even in all of our differences, a deeper, greater truth is embedded within our humanity simply because we are God’s. For we humans bear an image, a picture, a likeness of God – and that’s what matters. That’s what counts.
I think we see the same thing in today’s readings. Take, Mark 1:
When John the Baptist, the one we sometimes label a different duck, the one who dips his hand in honey and rolls it around in a bowl full of locusts, who wears camel fur all over his body, complete with fashionable leather belt around his waist, appears in the middle of the wilderness and begins baptizing people like the Baptizer he IS, as he dunks them in the Jordan old, they emerge out of the Jordan new.
But this, this isn’t about me, he says, this is about the one who is greater than me, the one who comes after me. This is about the Christ.
And when the Baptizer finally dunks Jesus into the Jordan River, everything changes, for this is the outward sign that the son has finally, officially been baptized into God’s family – for in that moment, Jesus was marked with the image, the sign, the picture of God. The imago dei stamped from father to son.
And is it not the same for us?
Through Christ, we have too have been baptized into God’s family. We too have been called sons and daughters of God. Who’s that? They say – oh, it’s a child of God. It’s one of God’s own. We are in, simply because God loves us, because we are called God’s own. We are in, we are accepted and we are loved, exactly as we are now – and this not for who we’ve been in the past, nor for who we might be in the future, but for who we are right now.
But with this newness also comes a “baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, where suffering and loss are sewn into the very fabric of this way of life” [here].
And just as we celebrate our identity into the family of God, we also acknowledge that not every life is treated with the celebration it deserves.
Although every human has worth in the eyes of God – a value given to them simply because of their humanity – not every human is treated with dignity. As children we sang the song, Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, but both in the present and in our past, those with black and brown skin have not been deemed precious in the sight of their fellow citizens and even in the sight of their President. Forced to operate in a system of hate and injustice decidedly not in their favor, although all lives matter equally to God, not all lives have been treated equally in our country and in our world today [here]. And the fact that we’re still having this conversation is only further evidence that we have to keep having this conversation.
So, I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that we not only celebrate the baptism of Christ in the season of epiphany, but we celebrate Christ’s baptism on the holiday weekend of a man who stood for equality. Martin Luther King, Jr no doubt believed his life and the lives of his black and brown brothers and sisters held EQUAL worth in the eyes of God, and to this belief he hung HOPE – for out of darkness comes light, and out of hate, love.
But many historians say that King would not done what he did had it not been for “The Kitchen Moment”:
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to give up, too. I too am here taking a stand for what I believe is right, but I am so afraid. But to that, I too am told, Stand up for justice, stand up for truth – and God will be at your side forever. And when this happens, when I hear this, my fear begins to quell.
“What did Dr King believe?” We asked our five-year old son the other night, while sitting at the dinner table.
“Dr King believed everyone was good,” he replied, as if it was as simple as that – as if all I need to do is believe everyone is good as well. But goodness and beauty mark God’s kingdom, for there is a delight not in uniformity, but in diversity.
As some of you know, I’m in the middle of writing a book, a memoir about my journey into issues of race. It’s a story about how love helped me see color, how love helped me see Christ in the faces of color. It’s a story of inclusion and it’s a story of identifying my privilege, of realizing that I too am an oppressor, even if I swear I’m not a racist. It’s a story of marrying a black man, and it’s a story of marrying a black man who is the son of Civil Rights icon, James Meredith. It’s a story of leaning into the legacy my two sons now carry in their bones.
And perhaps not unlike the story of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River, it’s a story of baptism and rebirth. It’s a tale of one woman entering into the waters of justice and wholeness and peace, because justice and wholeness and peace are for every single one of us, no matter the color of our skin.
I guess you could even say it’s a story of being dunked in the waters and born again.
But the story is not mine alone – for the story is an invitation to each one of us. Like baptism, it’s an invitation of movement, an invitation to move toward racial justice and reconciliation, newness marking the change birthed within us. It’s an invitation to return to God, to be dunked in the waters and born again, changed as we reaffirm the baptism of our faith. It’s an invitation for a kitchen moment of peace and wholeness.
I don’t know what it’ll look like for you, but maybe it’ll look like identifying your privilege, for the very first time. Maybe it’ll look like entering into a season of listening or into a period of lament. Maybe it’ll look like giving eye contact and learning to see the imago dei present in those you’ve never chosen to see it in before. Maybe it’ll look like saying “I’m sorry,” or like extending an invitation of friendship, or like begging God for a kitchen moment of your own.
However it looks, might it be one of inclusion and one of grace, one that honors the other, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the status of their citizenship, no matter the country of their origin. For all are welcome and all have worth, simply because of the stamp of their humanity, the stamp of God’s divine image.
After all, we’re all persons, and persons are humans who matter deeply to God.
Hey! You’re a person, which means you’re a human …which means you matter deeply to God, no matter the color of your skin, the status of your citizenship or the country of your origin. Receive it.0