Every person is a precious mystery. An individual cannot be weighed by public opinion; he cannot be measured by his conditionings; he belongs to no-one but himself, and no creature in all the world can penetrate his mystery except the God who made him. The dignity of every person is beyond our reckoning.Fulton J. Sheen Lift Up Your Heart
January is a time for dieting, for turning away from the excess of Christmas, and so at one level when we hear in this morning’s Old Testament reading ‘Eat the fat and drink sweet wine’ we could be quite concerned. But we are also told to ‘send portions to anyone who has nothing ready’ – to feast then in the Kingdom of God involves everyone eating. In a world where we produce enough food for all to eat and not go hungry, it is good that there is a campaign to put an end to Global Hunger, as this is what the Kingdom of God looks like in action.
In St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians we see what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ, through our common baptism. We may be different, but we all need one another, and are dependent on one another, a place of unity in, through and with Christ. Looking back on this two thousand later we can see the wounds which mar the Body of Christ and also how they can be healed.
In the Gospels we have seen Our Lord baptised to show the world how to turn away from sin and how to be reconciled with God, we have seen the Kingdom of God come among us in the Wedding at Cana. It is a place of joy, which we cannot understand, like the steward – the best wine has been kept for now, the new wine of the Kingdom, better than we have ever tasted, beyond our expectations and our efforts. We have seen in Our Lady’s word to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ that obedience is the key to new life in Christ.
In this morning’s Gospel we Jesus ‘full of the power of the Spirit’ teaching people, showing them the way, and being glorified by them – they give to God what is due. When he comes to his home town and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he proclaims ‘good news to the poor’ ‘liberty to captives’ ‘new sight to the blind’ ‘freedom for the oppressed’ and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’. As He will say in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’. The good news of the Gospel is for those who know their need of God, their spiritual poverty. Those who are slaves to sin can find true freedom in Christ; it allows us to see the world with new eyes, where everyone is our brother and sister, where we can be one in Christ.
‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ we, here, today, have heard this among us, we have come to be fed with Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Christ, with Christ, to have new life in Him, and to share that new life with others, a new life and a freedom which the world cannot give. So let us be fed to have new life in him, to live that life and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
As Christians we are to live lives of joy and love in Christ, and through him, rejoicing in our new life in baptism, in the saving sacrifice of the Cross, in the hope of the Empty Tomb, in our unity in the Body of Christ, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.
In Christ’s Baptism we see a God who walks with us, who is not a cold, remote figure; but who, for love of us, comes among us, and is one with us, and who shows us the way to his Father. Christ’s Baptism is an act of obedience to God the Father, an act of humility and of healing and restoration – the work of God in Christ, done for our sake. What began at the Annunciation, and was brought about at the Incarnation, and made manifest to the whole world at the Epiphany, is deepened: the world is invited to share in the saving love of God through baptism.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so his baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.
We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom he enfolds in his loving arms on the Cross, whom he washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of him, regardless of whom or what they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.
In our suspicious modern world that gift is spurned and mocked, by those who feel that they can no longer trust the church, or denounce it is as hypocritical, an oppressor of one group or another. To which we can only reply with open doors, open arms, and open hearts – the church may be full of sinners and hypocrites and there’s always room for a few more! God in Christ is nothing if not generous, and so the Church, his body is called to the same generosity of spirit. With the open invitation comes a call to repentance, to a fundamental change of mind, which sees us turn away from sin to God.
Here is where I suspect it gets difficult for humanity, we know that sin is wrong, but we enjoy it, we can soothe our conscience with the fiction that something is not a sin: that it doesn’t hurt or harm us, we can even twist the Gospel to our own ends. But these will not do, because in them we say that we know better than God – the sin of pride, that primal sin which separates humanity from God. This was the problem Christ comes to fix, to heal and restore our nature, through his grace, to feed us with Word and Sacrament that we might share in the life and love of God.
We need to take to heart the words of advice written by St Paul to Titus and the Church in Crete: given that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11) the Church has to respond to that grace, that free gift of a loving God, by living in a certain way, the Church is there to train us to renounce, to turn our back on ‘ungodliness and worldly passions’ – using our lives and our bodies which fall short of what is expected of us. Notice the word ‘train’: it’s a process, very few people indeed can run a marathon without training; we need help and practice to turn our lives around together, as a community of faith. It takes time, and hard work and love, but it is something which we can do together – people will fail, but can be picked up, and helped to continue, that’s what healing and repentance are all about. It’s about saying ‘we can be better, we can do better together’ if we truly let the love of God into our hearts and turn away from the past and look forward to a future of hope and glory in Christ. So then, let us live out our faith and our baptism together, turning from sin to new life in Christ, and encourage others so to do, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.