By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
On Friday we began the season of Epiphany. This season is all about our human experience of awakening to God and the transformation that comes when we choose to walk with God. Like the three wise men, when we take a risk and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to Christ, we are overwhelmed by the joy of knowing God and we are changed. We celebrate that awakening throughout the season of Epiphany, and today we do so by celebrating Jesus’ baptism.
At Jesus’ baptism, he offers a lesson to bystanders, then and now, about life and death. He teaches us that death does not need to come by 1,000 paper cuts, instead it can be one final dying of the self so that we are born again in the waters of baptism to a new life in Christ. It is not just about washing away our sinfulness, instead it is about dying to the self and becoming a follower of Christ.
We are gathered here today because over two thousand years ago, a group of people that followed Jesus were changed by their relationship with him. Forever changed when they realized he was not just any man, but God incarnate. We are here because generations before us have continued the work of the apostles in the teaching, in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread. For them it started in houses, and grew into churches. For us at Saint James it started in 1812 in one bedroom of what is now McCarthy Funeral Home when followers of Jesus chose to start an Episcopal community in Greenfield. That eventually became our community. Here we are today, showing that we are as agile and resilient as ever, all the while continuing in the same work set before the original apostles.
Yet in order to engage in that work full heartedly, we have to know why we are here.
Every year on the Baptism of our Lord, we remind ourselves why we are here by renewing our baptismal vows. We remind one another of the transformation we longed for before we became followers of Jesus Christ and were baptized, confirmed, or received into the Church. We remind one another about what really matters. We remind one another that your story, is related to our story, which is related to the story revealed in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.
But too often, we are unsure of how to tell our story, or are afraid of actually being vulnerable enough with anyone to share how our faith in Christ has changed our lives. In our trepidation, we forget that a piece of our promise in our baptismal vows is to share the good news of how Christ changed our lives. Yet it is precisely when we become vulnerable enough to share our story that another person might be opened to knowing Christ and be changed. I know it makes us uncomfortable to talk about evangelism, after all we are Episcopalians and we avoid evangelism like it’s the worst of the plagues. We don’t want to risk offending anyone, or embarrassing ourselves, or not having all the answers. But whether we like it or not, evangelism is a part of our tradition, and more importantly it is part of our calling as followers of Jesus.Honestly, we wouldn’t be here if no one had ever evangelised to us. And when we share our story, it can be a gift of transformation for a neighbor ready for a change in their life.
So to help us be a bit more courageous I want us to do three things. Three things that fellow Episcopalians who attended the Evangelism Matters conference did as part of a presentation made by the Rev. Cn. Stephanie Spellers. We are going to accept her challenge here today. First, in the safety of this space together, we are going to do Cardboard Testimonials. On one side write the thing you struggled with in a couple of words, and on the other side capture in a few words what God has done for you, where God has brought you. A couple of examples are...maybe you loved money, now you love to give. Maybe you were paralyzed by fear, now you are confident and free. Maybe you were self-centered and now you are God centered. When was there a moment you were in the valley and God brought you out?
To give us the courage to do this, let us now renew our baptismal vows.
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