Declichéing New Year,
Pastor Elyse Ambrose
Happy New Year!!!
What a joy it is to be here on this first day of what promises to be a year filled with surprising beauty, courageous steps forward, and the everyday ups and down that make life… life. If you are feeling hopeful, I pray your light will shine and inspire others. If you are feeling a bit down or some combination of emotions that make you feel trepidation or anxiety about the new year, I want to encourage you, inspired by the words of Valerie Kaur that perhaps, these present shadows you feel are not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb. And, something powerful is being birthed in your life, in this world. Let us have faith in God. We give thanks for what the Christmas season, and prayerfully our daily life, affirms time and time again: Emmanuel—God is with us.
Even in its uncertainty, the new year can bring with it a sense of excitement that moves us in meaningful ways. A new year makes some of us want to save more money, learn a new language, mend broken relationships, or commit to better eating habits. As for others of us, the entire enterprise of resolution-making is a huge waste of time, an overdone tradition that we all end up quitting around March anyway. For many people, the whole thing is pretty cliché.
Well, even though I never learned French the way I planned to on Jan 1, 2016 (sidenote: as it turns out, learning a language is not as fun as it sounds) and some of our resolutions did not get off the ground, we still believe in the power that a brand-new year has to initiate us into a fresh season of possibilities. Whenever we are open, no matter what date, to more fully embodying the self and the world that God desires and to walking with God to co-create these realities—God hears us and is also ready to walk with us. The new year reminds of that opportunity for possibility.
There’s another initiation into new possibilities that I’d like to draw a parallel with this morning that is a pretty crucial part of our faith practice as Christians. It’s a practice that we here at the Church of the Village would like to utilize as a theme for us to think and feel through in a special way over the next few weeks at this genesis of this year. And, that is, BAPTISM.
Baptism is a rich ceremony with extraordinary mystery and history. And we’ll get a sense of that over the next few weeks. But what is baptism?
Well, particularly in the Methodist tradition of which we are a part, baptism is an outward sign of an inward change of heart. Christian tradition often translates that change as turning away from sin. In the waters of baptism, symbolically, the self that is manipulated by self-glorification or self-abasement; fear of difference, greed, or anything that might estrange persons from themselves; from their God, their neighbor, or any part of creation, is washed away. And a new person emerges—often still afflicted by those same barriers to deep love and wholeness, but differentiated by the decision that they have made to walk with God—no matter the challenge or the cost. Baptism symbolizes the beginning of a journey with awareness of and participation in God’s kin-dom, that community that the gospels proclaim, of justice and rightness.
So, that’s part of what baptism does. There’s other parts that are holy mystery where God does what God does, and no outside person can control or direct that. But, what we do know of baptism, as we heard in today’s scripture lesson in the lives of those who come to John the Baptist and we’ll soon see even through Jesus who is baptized, is that there is something transformative that can take place in these waters that is helpful for us to reflect on today whether we’ve been baptized for a month or since our infancy, or even if we’re not baptized at all.
As we reflect on these waters of baptism, they, like each new year, invite us. They invite us to attention, intention, and action. This is one way we get to God-led possibility. Attention, Intention, and Action.
Attention… in the scripture, the gospel records that people came to John “confessing their sins.” Confessing those things, those actions, those thoughts that acted as a barrier to them being in right relationship with their neighbor, their God, themselves. They gave attention to the condition of their heart and their world. They may have confessed prejudice. They may have confessed self-hatred, or turning a blind eye to anti-immigrant speech. I see them and us confessing all these things that cloud our vision of the God who is always standing by inviting us to a better way. It’s in paying attention that we dig deep and dare to speak the truth that we have discovered or uncovered. That’s attention.
Now, Intention… after we’ve discovered a truth, we’ve found what could be transformed—we know we take in too much sugar or caffeine, or we realize we’re giving inordinate time to unfruitful things, we see a wrong—then we set an intention to openness.
When we are awakened to what is really going on in and around us, we have to be open to hear how God might be speaking to us to bring the transformation that reflects the kin-dom within us and outside of us. As a faith community in the year 2017, what would it look like for us to set our intentions to be open to God and Her wild and unexpected but comforting and loving journeying? To set our intentions to be open to one another as we share a common covenant in this community that we just renewed this morning? What would it look like for us to be open to seeking where justice is lacking, where inequity is sapping life, where the Spirit is doing a new thing outside these 4 walls and we can to be a part of it? Let’s listen for these answers.
And finally, Action… we’ve paid attention, we’ve set our intention to listen, then it’s time to take an action. I’ve been inspired by a member of this congregation who encouraged this community to think, “what is the next faithful step we can take?” When the task seems insurmountable, one step and another step and another small, but faithful step can be just what is needed to bring about new possibilities. And if not in our world, certainly in our own hearts.
The waters invite us. This new year is inviting us. Let’s respond with courage and faith.
To conclude, this isn’t a fool-proof 3-step formula to achieve the new you in this new year… But it is a gentle invitation in this new season to participate in the new possibilities of building God’s internal and external kin-dom in ways that are necessary, relevant, and suited for this unique time in history. We need each other. If we take the courage God gives and pay attention, set our intention, and act boldly led of the Spirit, we move closer and closer to that possibility of the new you and me and the new world that God is calling forth – one of kindness, bearing one another’s loads, helping the most vulnerable among us—and that sort of newness is never cliché.
Many blessings and much peace to you in the new year. Amen.