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Pentecost 2 June 7, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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PENTECOST 2  Proper 5  Year B
Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday June 7, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
 
Last week on Trinity Sunday
          we baptized little Leia Evangline.  
 
Leia’s parents and godparents
made promises on her behalf
          since she wasn’t able to make them for herself . . .
 
actually, she can’t even talk yet . . .
 
(although she had no problem
          letting us know how she felt
                   about the surprise of the water . . .)
 
The first 6 promises made for Leia
were
three “renunciations of evil”
and
three “commitments to Jesus.”                               

“Do you renounce Satan                                                          [BCP 302-3]
and all the spiritual forces of wickedness
that rebel against God?”
 
“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”
 
“Do you renounce all sinful desires
that draw you from the love of God?”
 
“I renounce them,”
said Leia’s parents and godparents
each time.
 
 
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ
and accept him as your Savior?”
 
“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?”
 
“Do you promise to follow and obey him
as your Lord?”
 
“I do,”
they said each time.
 

Then we promised to support them
and joined with them
in the Baptismal Covenant,
which
they were making for Leia for the first time,
and we were renewing
for however many times we have done that:
 
the Apostles’ Creed,
          the ancient baptismal statement of belief,
and then the 5 baptismal-living vows:
 
Promising, with God’s help,
          to continue in the worship and life of the Church,
          to persevere in resisting evil
                   and in seeking God’s forgiveness,
          to proclaim and live the Good News,
          to seek and serve Christ in all persons,
          to strive for justice and peace . . .
 
How-we-are-to-live-as-the-baptized
and,
in a sense, our mission statement,
both individually and collectively.
 
At the 8 o’clock liturgy that day
there wasn’t a baptism
but we renewed our baptismal covenant
          as we do on all baptismal occasions.
 

The rite for the Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant
in the Book of Common Prayer
begins with one summary question:
 
“Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil
and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”
 
“I do,” we say,
and then we continue
with the Apostles’ Creed
and the 5 baptismal-living vows
          in their fullness.
 
I found myself wondering this week, 
not for the first time,
why this is so,
why there is only a summary of
the 3 renunciations and 3 commitments:
         
          “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil
          and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”
 
to which we respond, “I do,”
but surely without having to grapple
with what it is
we are actually saying,
 
while the 5 baptismal-living questions,
in their specificity,
call for some intentionality,
          some connection to the particulars of our lives,
as we respond to each,
“I will, with God’s help.”
In the church’s early baptismal practice,
the candidates actually turned
          toward the West for the renunciations,
the West, where the sun descends into darkness,
          (the darkness signifying all that is evil).
 
Then the candidates turned 180 degrees,
          to the East,
                   for the turnings to Jesus;
the East, where the Sun rises into the morning
          dispelling, overcoming, the darkness . . .
                    (signifying Christ,
                             the Light of the World
                             the morning star who knows no setting).
 
This turning was a physical
as well as a verbal expression of intent,
 
a profession both spoken and performed,
imprinting its meaning on mind and body
          through word and action . . .
 
that meaning being
a profound and complete
          conversion of life.
 
(And I didn’t even bring in the part
about spitting toward the West
after each renunciation . . .)
 

What if,
in the renewal of the Baptismal Covenant,
we were to do that . . .
          (minus the spitting).
 
 
We all know
that we need a periodic reminder and refreshment
of those 5 vows that shape
          how we are to live as the baptized,
 
how important it is to revisit and renew them
                   as we move through the challenge
                             of living them.
 
But don’t we also need
more than a summary reminder
of the renunciation and turning
we did
at our entrance into that life?
 
Don’t we need to intentionally
confront the reality that there are forces
in this world
that
rebel against God,
corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,
draw us from the love of God?
 

Whatever name we give those forces . . .
Satan, the spiritual forces of wickedness,
the evil powers of this world, sinful desires,
the Evil One, the Tempter, Beelzebul,
the ruler of Demons,
 
the biases inherent in our education,
our history and society,
our upbringing,
the intentional or unintentional
          warp-age of family and culture,
(the Set-up as our friend
          Ann Holmes Redding calls it)
 
we encounter forces every day
that present us with choices we must make,
which means we must
learn to recognize them
          in whatever guise they come to us,
and pay attention
          to which way we are facing –
in case we may need to
          turn back to the East,
          re-turn to Jesus Christ.
 
 
Adam and Eve
had really only one choice to make
          that mattered.
 

God had given them everything
in the Garden of Eden,
everything
except the fruit of one tree,
          the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
                   That fruit they were not to eat.
 
But, beguiled by the serpent,
 they chose to eat it,
because then, the serpent had said,
“you will be like God.”
 
And what came into their lives
          from that choice?
 
The very first experience of shame and fear,
the very first finger-pointing and blaming,
the very first alienation
          from each other,
the very first alienation
          from God –
                   the God
                   who used to walk and talk with them
                   in the garden
                   in the cool of the evening.
         
 
 
The serpent who tricked them
is the personification
          (if you can say that of a snake)
the personification of temptation,
the insistent whisper in the back of the mind:
false promises
          of happiness, security,
                   prosperity, success,
 
“If you will only take this, do this, have this, try this . . . “
 
and oh, the subtlety, the expertise, 
the wiliness of the Tempter . . .
who knows our capacity for self-deception,
our foolishness,
our weakness
          and vanity,
our outsize desires . . .
knows just how to turn our heads . . .
 
An ancient story
as true and relevant
today
as it was
in the earliest days
of the human predicament . . .
 
the predicament so poignantly
expressed by Paul
in his Letter to the Romans:
 

“. . . I do not do the good I want,
          but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Now if I do what I do not want,
          it is no longer I that do it,
          but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law
          that when I want to do what is good,
          evil lies close at hand . . .
. . . Wretched man that I am!
          Who will rescue me from this body of death?
          Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
                                                                            
                                                                                      [Romans 7:19-21; 24-25]
 
Already
in the first three chapters
of his gospel,
Mark has made clear to his readers
that Jesus has this power to save:
he has driven an unclean spirit
          out of a man,
healed another of leprosy
          another of paralysis,
          Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever,
restored a man’s withered hand,
and healed all in Capernaum
          who were brought to him . . .
                    whether sick or possessed by demons.
 

He is the one who is stronger
than Satan,
who enters Satan’s realm,
renders him powerless,
and plunders his property,
          all those over whom
                   Satan holds sway.
 
Such incredible power for good
          could come only from God,
yet the scribes from Jerusalem
accused Jesus of being in league
with the powers of darkness,
with Beelzebul,
the ruler of demons,
the evil One.
 
“How,” Jesus countered their accusation,
“could Satan conspire against Satan . . .”
 
“Why would Satan engineer his own downfall?”
“That makes no sense at all.”
 
“These good works that I do
come from God’s Holy Spirit,
and yet you call that Spirit unclean . . .
this is the true blasphemy.”
 

The commotion around Jesus
caused his family to fear for his well-being,
for people were saying
“He has gone out of his mind.”
 
And so they came
to try to restrain him.
 
 
“Who are my mother and my brothers and sisters?”
Jesus asked.
And, looking at those sitting around him,
answered his own question:
“Here is my family . . .
“Whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
 
The will of God,
the discernment of spirits,
the knowledge of good and evil,
sometimes so clear,
sometimes so ambiguous,
sometimes so confusing . . . 
is something the family of Jesus
          mustgrapple with every day.
 
And why it is, I think,
that it would behoove us,
when we renew our baptismal vows,
fully to engage with
those first six questions:
 

“Do you renounce Satan                                                          
and all the spiritual forces of wickedness
that rebel against God?”
 
          Just what do we mean by
          Satan
          and the spiritual forces of wickedness?
 
“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”
 
          What are those evil powers of this world?
 
“Do you renounce all sinful desires
that draw you from the love of God?”
 
          What are those sinful desires?
 
Really, what do we mean
          when we renounce them?

How do they connect
with the particulars of our lives,
 
and how,
wretched persons that we are,
will we ever keep those promises?
 
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ
and accept him as your Savior?”
 
“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?”
 
“Do you promise to follow and obey him
as your Lord?”
 
There it is . . .  Thanks be to God!