A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 13, 2022

By: David H. May, Rector


One of the certified saints of God of this parish, Staige Nolley, gave me a little book last year. I know I really shouldn’t single out people by name for particular praise. But if you know Staige, you’re probably glad that I have. Hers was one of the voices I heard soon after I came here that showed that God was near. I heard her voice one Sunday morning during the Prayers of the People. The person leading the prayers read words inviting the congregation to offer our own prayers – an invitation that usually sends us Episcopalians into panicked silence. But I heard this voice coming from that back, back part of the church calling out to God. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was praying for. But that didn’t matter. It was a voice that you could tell was familiar with talking with God. It was a voice coming out of someone who God has been loving on for a long time.’

The book Staige gave me has sat on the little coffee table in my office – unread – all this time. At least til last week. It’s a little book with lots of drawings in it called, ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’. It’s a picture book that you can probably read in about a twenty minute sitting. I don’t think the author and illustrator, Charlie Mackesy, set out to write a theological book. Probably he didn’t. But I think he did anyway.

Early in the book, the boy and the mole are sitting on the branch of a tree talking. Responding to a worry and uncertainty the boy has just named about himself, the mole says, “Most of the old moles I know wish they had listened less to their fears and more to their dreams.”

Which I think in one short sentence points our hearts towards a way into the gospel reading we have before us this morning. On the face of it, Jesus’ words sound like he’s naming ‘winners’ and ‘losers’: blessed are you folks, and woe unto you other folks. Or maybe I just think that because my ears have gotten so programmed to hear that kind of talk of winners and losers as if those are the only kinds of ways we have to think about people these days. There’s not much else to choose from right now it seems.

Flannery O’Conner wrote a short story about exactly this mindset called ‘Revelation’. The heroine of the story, Mrs. Claude Turpin, spends most of the story talking about the different categories of people in the world – which only means her neck of the woods. Winners and losers all: black people, white people, rich people, poor people, working people, lazy people, native sons and daughters, outsiders. There isn’t one kind of person who Mrs. Turpin can’t fit neatly into a category. She also assigns a moral value to each kind of person in each category, like, trashy or no-count or uppity or arrogant noses-in-the-air snobs. Not surprisingly, she sees herself and folk like her as the good, sturdy, righteous people – not too high on themselves and not to low – who are, really, the only ones with good sense. I won’t give away what happens to her. But I will say that she runs into the Living God and receives a holy revelation that burns away the orderly world as she would prefer that it be fashioned and replaces it with God’s vision and word about the world God has made. ‘No ma’am,’ this revelation says to her, ‘you don’t get to condemn what God loves! You don’t get to decide.’ If the prophet Jeremiah had had a chance to read Flannery’s story I’m sure he would have said, ‘that’s what I’m talking about!’

Now this may not sound like a promising way for a sermon to be preached on a Sunday of baptism. But to get back to what the mole said to the boy, let me suggest that baptism into the life of Jesus brings us into a life that spends less time listening to our fears about who we are and more time reaching for God’s dream of who we are.

Luke tells us that people from all over came out, from nearby Judean towns and villages, from the great city of Jerusalem, folks from the countryside, and other folks streamed in from as far away as the foreign, strange seaports of Tyre and Sidon with their accents and weird clothes, and all of them crowded in to see Jesus. Mrs. Turpin would have had a field day sorting through that multitude. They reached out for him to touch him and he healed them all. They were all them there – in one way or another – coming to him like so many who were to follow, up to and including this morning, because they were sick of listening to their fears and ready to reach for something closer to their own dreams that bloomed in them when they reached for him.

In baptism, the Holy Spirit gathers us into the life of Jesus who tells us who we are. No earthly power gets to decide that. You may be rich or poor, insider or outsider, up and coming or fallen from grace – but who you mostly are is his. A lamb of his flock, a sheep of his fold, a sinner of his own redeeming.

Jack and Archer and Felton and George and Seiler (9AM: the five little boys who will be baptized at the 11am service; 11AM: who in just a few minutes into Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Chruch, the Body of Christ on earth) come to this morning beloved children from the hand of God. And in baptism these five boys join in the company of old moles like Staige Nolley and all the rest of us who in their lives show us God is near and we reach out for Jesus, to touch him, and be healed from spending too much time listening to our fears and more time listening to God’s dream of who we are in him. Amen.