Home > Worship > Sermons >
Epiphany 2 - Commemoration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, January 15, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
(Commemoration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday January 15, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
Last Sunday,
the Feast of the Baptism of Christ,
Father Torvend
told us stories of two baptisms,
which, if you were here,
I’m sure you remember.
The first baptism,
of a 27-year-old gay man
who had experienced only condemnation
from the fundamentalist Christianity of his youth
          and from his parents . . .
whose life was forever changed
when he ventured
into his university’s parish church.

Because of the welcome, the acceptance,
of that faith community,
he at last was able to
accept and welcome
and tell the truth of
his own life,
his own being,
as God had created him.
Attracted to
Christianity as that community practiced it,
he spent a year exploring the idea of baptism.
And on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ,
as he came up out of the water
he was greeted
by the applause and cheers and Alleluias
of the whole assembly,
and he wept.
Through Baptism,
he had received God’s gift
          of new life in Christ. 
The second baptism,
Father Torvend’s own,
as an infant.

Of course he had no memory of it,
but he spoke with gratitude
for his parents
who brought him as an infant
          to the font,
that he might have,
from the very beginning,
          strength for his life
and grow to maturity in
          a faith community
          shaped by the gospel of Christ.
Through Baptism,
he had received God’s gift
          of strength for his life in Christ.
Those two stories of baptism
were on my mind this past week
as I was thinking of this day
when we commemorate
          and give thanks for
                   the life and ministry of
                             Martin Luther King . . .
. . . pastor, preacher, prophet,
passionate advocate
          for social and economic justice,
leader of
          the Civil Rights movement,
founder of  
          the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King saw that the diminishment
          of any one person
                   diminishes every person,
and put himself
          in the crosshairs of racial hatred,
          a Black man in the turbulent 50’s and 60’s,
                   daring to preach a vision
                             of a just and equitable society.
The courage of the man . . .
to speak and act as he did
in the treacherous world                  
          of the segregated South
where racism’s evil
the highest levels of government
          and law enforcement . . .
The courage of the man . . .
to persevere in peaceful protest
constant harassment
          and death threats.
Where did such courage
come from?
From his baptism,
I thought,
for when we are baptised
          into the life of Jesus,
are we not baptized into his courage?
The courage of Jesus
fasting in the wilderness,
taunted and tempted by the devil;
The courage of Jesus
daily pursuing his mission
in the treacherous world
          of Roman occupied Palestine:
          proclaiming God’s love, mercy and justice
          over against the powers of this world
          that demean, corrupt, and destroy the children of God . . .
The courage of Jesus
at the last supper,
washing his disciples’ feet,
preparing the disciples for his departure;
in the Garden of Gethsemane,
facing arrest and death,
fervently praying there might be
          another way;
in his silent refusal
to kowtow to Pontius Pilate,
in his agony on the cross,
when for a terrible moment,
he feared that God had forsaken him.

For although he was fully God,
Jesus was also entirely human,
free in his choices and
subject to doubt and fear,
          weakness and pain,
in need of strength and courage
          just as we are.
As the gospels attest,
he found that strength and courage
in his relationship with the God
he called his Father.
The God who had said at his baptism,
“This is my Son, the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.”
The God who never abandoned him,
who brought him through
the cross to resurrection.
This Friday
we inaugurate
          a new president
after a campaign season, an election,
and a time of transition
          that have exposed
the fault-lines in our society,
the fears, angers, hates, divisions
          we had perhaps naively thought
                   were not there,
                   or no longer there.

Are these also
treacherous times?
I think we can’t know . . . yet . . .
but they are certainly concerning times,
times that call us
to put on the courage of our baptism,
we who renewed our baptismal promises
          just last week –
          to persevere in resisting evil,
          to strive for justice and peace,
          to seek and serve Christ in all persons,
          to respect the dignity of every human being,
          to care for all God’s creation.
times that call us
to put on the courage of our baptism
as stewards
of Dr. King’s legacy,
          stewards of his legacy
          for the sake of the gospel of Christ . . .
times that call us
to put on
the courage to act
          and the courage to wait,
the courage to speak
          and the courage to keep silent,
the courage to risk
          and the courage to be cautious,
the courage to persevere in hope
          when there is disappointment, frustration,
                   a sense of futility . . .
the courage, in short,
to be wise as serpents
          and innocent as doves.
Today’s readings remind us
that our confidence is in  
the source of all baptism’s gifts –
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prophet Isaiah  
writes of God’s call to God’s servant people,
the people of Israel,
to be a light to the nations . . .
Despite defeat and exile
          at the hands of their enemies,
God is at work in and through them
          that God’s salvation may reach
                   to the ends of the earth . . .
a seemingly impossible dream . . .
Take heart, says God, “for I have become your strength.”

Paul encourages the Church in Corinth
to persevere
despite the hostility of the world around them
to their nascent faith,
by reminding them of the spiritual gifts
given them by God,
who, Paul says, “will strengthen you to the end.”
And in the Gospel of John,
the Baptist proclaims Jesus
as the Lamb of God, the Son of God,
          the Messiah . . .
          the long-awaited one
          through whom all God’s purposes will be fulfilled.
And Jesus gathers to himself
Andrew and Peter,
the first two
of the millions of disciples
who will be
imbued with his courage
          through the Sacrament of Baptism,
nourished with his courage
          in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood,
surrounded by his courage
          in the gathered community of faith,
led forward in his courage
          by the guiding Holy Spirit.

After receiving a particularly vicious telephone call
late one night,
Dr. King sat in his kitchen
weeping and praying . . .
Then he heard the voice of Jesus
“Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness,
stand up for justice,”
and promising never to leave him alone,
          “No, never alone.”
          Never alone.
Stand up for righteousness, Christ Church,
stand up for justice.
          We are never alone.