THE BAPTISM OF JESUS:
OUT OF THE DARKNESS OF TRUMP’S VICTORY WILL COME
A NEW LIGHT OF HOPE, A NEW SOLIDARITY AND A NEW MOVEMENT.
First Sunday in the Time of Galilee.
Today we begin the second season in our spiritual year – as today we begin the year 2017. We have taken time to prepare ourselves and to let God prepare us. Emma and others from the congregation have been in Washington DC, taking to those in power the case of Miguel Perez and the thousands of deported veterans. The youth have been organizing for the beginning of the resistance on January 20th. We have been preparing people to defend themselves against deportation and training defenders and mobilizers. Today is a time for us to come together in our commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as he begins his ministry.
In scripture, Jesus begins his ministry by joining in the baptism of John, joining in John’s ministry to renew the spirit of the people during a dark time in their lives. Today we will ask each of you to renew your baptismal vows. I believe that the Holy Spirit in Baptism you experience today, of death and new life, will show you the way to something stronger and better than that on which you had pinned our hopes before. I believe also that out of the darkness of trump’s victory will come a new light of hope, a new solidarity and a new movement.
I want to begin today, however, with something I experienced this week. This last Tuesday we had a funeral service at our justice center on the north side for a Familia Latina Unida member who had just passed. Manuel’s wife awoke to find that he had died in his sleep. Manuel had worked every day in a seafood restaurant to support his wife and five U.S. citizen children. In the midst of her grief, this mother faced the harsh reality of survival for an undocumented person. She looked everywhere for support to bury her husband – and for assistance to stay in their home. Even though her children are U.S. citizens there is no safety net, no social security, no insurance, no network of support for an undocumented family whose provider worked every day and paid his taxes.
You can imagine that it was a dark time for this wounded family. Yet the many people that crowded into the center to pray, to hear the word of God and to celebrate communion together revealed something new. Out of Manuel’s death a new and larger family of support rose up around the family which he had worked so hard and long to support. I saw the Spirit of solidarity rise from the people before my eyes like a cloud full of angels. It was a Holy Spirit right there in that room. The family could feel in the prayers and embraces that they were not alone. They received the donations that the young people had gathered for them – and they could feel the love of people who understood what they were going through. Turned away by the government of this country they were embraced by a community convened powerfully by a higher authority.
Jesus told the disciples towards the end of his life that “there is no greater love than to give up one’s life for his friends.” Manuel gave every day of his life in the love for his family. Yet when he died, they were not left alone. They were left with a new and larger family of support. Out of death came new life. Out of his love came a new Kingdom family that will be stronger than the hypocritical threads of government bureaucracies – and a vision of the kind of economic cooperative we must begin to build this year.
Our faith is about resurrection, our experience of hope arising out of difficulty, of strength coming out of hard times through perseverance – and of victory coming out of defeats. As we begin the year, Jesus has been born. We celebrated that birth as the seed of the new people we will become as we work through to the harvest of this year in our lives, our families and our movement. The Baptism of Jesus, the call for us to renew our baptism, is a sign of that seed growing in us. It is a sign of the new solidarity of hope and faith that is already rising amongst us.
Now John had begun his movement while his cousin Jesus was growing up. A strong man who took nothing for himself he called people to repent of their sins and be baptized in the river. His message was that they did not have to go to a hypocritical temple to receive forgiveness. No. God offered forgiveness freely to those who sought to renew their faith. When they were lowered into the water they let the world of hypocrisy and wickedness die in them. When they came up out of the water they were born again as God made them.
John was coming up in the face of the Temple authorities with these baptisms. The priest claimed that only they could forgive sins. John went further. He called them out as hypocrites and snakes who sold out their people to the Romans, violated the principles of the faith and exploited the people. Can’t you just hear John the Baptist today calling out Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed adulterer and molester of women?
The people asked if John was the liberator the people had been waiting for to lead them out of oppression. John said no. John prophesied that one would come who would bring a baptism not of water, but of fire and the spirit, one whose sandals he was not even fit to tie.
When Jesus came, John recognized him, just as he had recognized him when he lay in Elizabeth’s belly. Jesus asked John to baptize him along with everyone else – and John did. You see Jesus was joining a movement of the people, a movement of resistance, a movement that called on a discouraged people to renew their faith and their unity as a people of God.
Then it is said that something wonderful happened. A dove came and sat on the shoulder of Jesus as he stood in the water among the people and many heard a voice from the heavens saying, “This is my son.” The liberator the people had been waiting for was here! Yet the ministry of Jesus was yet to be revealed. The next steps that Jesus would take would show us what that ministry was to be about, show us how “the seed would become the people of God.”
Just as Jesus had been taken down into the water to be raised up a new person, so now he went to the desert for forty days. There he did battle with Satan who tempted him three times. These were the same temptations that the Israelites of old had failed when they were in the desert after Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt.
They were hungry and wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt where at least they had food. The devil offered to turn stones into bread if Jesus would follow him. But Jesus refused and quoted the scripture: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Holy Word of God.”
The Israelites wanted power and wealth and turned away from the God who had freed them but led them into a long journey through the desert and they turned to worship a golden idol. Satan told Jesus he would make him a King and give him wealth if Jesus would worship him, but Jesus refused and again quoted from scripture, “We will worship the Lord our God and put no other Gods before him.”
The Israelites had tested God. They had said, “If there is a God then let him give us food to eat, otherwise, we will turn away from him. The devil told Jesus to test God – he brought him to a high temple building and said “jump, for if you are the son of God, angels will save you from the fall.” But Jesus refused, saying, “Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.”
If we commit in these next weeks to walk in the footsteps of Jesus then we should pay special attention to these first few days in his ministry. First, he joined a movement of his people. It was a movement both of repentance, spiritual renewal and resistance. In spite of the threats against John’s movement Jesus was unafraid to be part of it. The sign from God through him gave the people hope and direction. Then he went alone to confront the demons that attack us all in our innermost thoughts. Yet even alone in the desert Jesus sought the strength and faith to remind his people of their history, to help his people overcome the obstacles they faced, the illusions and the discouragement they had fallen into. This would be the ministry of this liberator – not to lead an army but to give new life to a people so that they could persevere and overcome. He would be through his life, death and resurrection the seed of that new people.
This is the process we begin today with the renewal of our baptisms. We begin to organize the witness of solidarity against the threats from the government that is coming to power on January 20th. We turn to each other to give each other strength. Then we make our own solitary commitment before God to be the person he created us to be.
How many times have we thought, “I could have made something work if I had only persevered, if I had only stuck with it? If I had been honest, if I had been faithful, if I had not let a lie eat away at my marriage, I would still be with my family, with my children.
How many times has a young woman thought, “If only I had the strength to wait on a relationship truly based on love and respect and common commitment to my people?
How many times have we said to ourselves, “If I had only not lost confidence and given up on my goals, if I had not gone back to drugs or alcohol or to the way of excuses, I could have been a better person; I could have had the life I dreamed of?”
How many times have we thought, “If my son or my friend had not made the choice he did, if he had not been standing on that corner, if he had not had a gun in his pocket – he would not be in prison today, or he would not be lying in a grave?”
How many times have we thought, “If only I had the faith in my people to stand up, to march, to confront the injustice under which we live, then today we would be free of the burden on the undocumented, our children would be free, our family would have been together?”
How many times in these last years has a young “dreamer” said to themselves, “If only I had seen that the American Dream they put before me was also the American nightmare my people endure and can never bring me the life that standing with my people in struggle offers.”
None of us are free of the discouragement and fear that Donald Trump’s election has brought. When we are discouraged, when we lose hope, we fall into a selfish despair and lose the faith that binds us together in solidarity. The Good News is that after the crucifixion comes the resurrection and in the Spirit of the Resurrection we are forgiven our discouragement and made stronger.
Miguel Perez sits in the darkness of detention, hurt by the betrayal of a government he fought for – but from the dark place thousands are gathering together to resist the injustice done to the deported veterans. And the solidarity in their hearts lifts Miguel’s spirit beyond prison walls. Just as the thousands demanding freedom for Oscar Lopez raises a movement among Puerto Ricans in a dark hour and takes away the victory from those who would break his Spirit.
From the terrible deaths of now hundreds of African American and Latino young men at the hands of police has come a movement of hundreds of thousands. As Trump threatens even more repression to deal with the violence on our streets, a new spirit of brotherhood and resistance will rise among the people themselves – the only thing that can actually stop the violence.
From the new government’s attack on every person’s right to health care will come a renewed movement to close the twenty year death gap through the work and dedication of the youth health service corps.
Just as a new family was born at the funeral for Manuel this week, so a movement of Familia Latina Unida will be reborn again this year from the darkness of Donald Trump’s threats. It will be stronger because it will rely more on the support of the people and be free of those who would control it for their political benefit.
Just as a new government claims the power to divide and separate, to discriminate and exploit, to increase profits and lower wages, so a new movement of solidarity will be born on January 20th! It is a movement that will fight for better wages but not turn its back on the millions in Latin America who live on less than $4 a day.
Out of Trump’s ignorant defiance of Global warming will come a stronger environmental movement that does not place second the need for new technologies in poor communities here and throughout the world. Out of the legislation of hate in the Congress against the LGBTQ community will come a new solidarity with them in our churches.
Look, Clinton won the popular vote but was defeated by the apartheid political structure of this nation. Out of that defeat a new, stronger and more just coalition will rise up, replacing paternalism with self-determination and world domination with people’s solidarity.
It is just the way our God works: the light of His Kingdom is made known through the hearts of his people when the culture of ego and death brings darkness to the earth.
And so we sing, “Make me your people; give me a heart big enough for love, a heart strong enough for struggle.” And we ask God to bless us. And if our hearts are true, if our repentance is sincere, God restores our faith. He renews our baptism. He reconnects us with the people he had chosen to survive invasion, conquest and slavery, colonialism and dependency. He reconnects us to the people he brought to the north, across the desert of despair, who he made to be fruitful and multiply, to be the largest group in numbers in this nation. He reconnects us to the people to whom he sent the dark Virgin to tell Juan he was indeed “her dignified son” and gave him the courage to confront his conquerors while she healed his uncle.
You see, God is a God of forgiveness and renewal. He heals broken families and puts together the broken pieces in new ways to give rise to a new messiah generation in this nation. He heals broken lives torn apart by drugs and murder, by greed and selfishness and false pride, and puts together the broken pieces of our lives in new forms of commitment and faith.
We are challenged today. We are challenged to hold together our families threatened on the outside by the law and on the inside by our own weakness in the face of temptations.
We are challenged to be “the messiah generation”, the generation of young men and women who can reconnect with their history and their purpose and in their lives and their unity bring the power of the Kingdom of God to save their people and make a place and a power for them in this nation, a power that will transform the lives of a people on the whole continent.
We are challenged so that we can challenge others with whom we share our lives every day. We are called to challenge the churches and cities and schools throughout this nation to stand in sanctuary and demand that the President stop the deportations and the sinful separation of families. We are called to challenge others to restore their faith, their families and their purpose in life. We are challenged today to rebuild a movement from faith that can again put millions together on the streets of our cities.
Make no mistake. Satan is coming to occupy the White House. We will call out this hypocritical adulterer who boasted of assaulting women just as John called out that hypocritical leader of his time. We will stand up to Satan as Jesus did in the desert and claim the victory that is already won in heaven.
Today, you are called to accept the renewal of your baptism, to accept your reconnection with a people that God has touched and chosen and blessed through the centuries to be his light now to the nations. While our baptism here is with water, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit will come upon those whose repentance is sincere, whose commitment is complete. If you accept his call, God will fill you each day with more and more strength to do his will – and you will not be alone. You will feel Jesus walking beside you – healing you just as God healed the terrible wounds that wicked men inflicted on his body. You will walk in the presence of the Virgin whom God sent to your ancestors that they might know who they are.
Let us prepare to sit at the table with Jesus and renew our baptism in the fire of resistance and the Spirit of Solidarity as we stand and sing Un Nueve Gente!
The Holy Scriptures for the First Week in the Season of Galilee
Matthew 3: 1-11 John the Baptist Prepares the Way
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” … 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River….7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire.
Matthew 3:13-17 The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Matthew 4: 4-11 Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.