Epiphanies, Divine and Evil

A Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Acts 19:1-7; St. Mark 1:4-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will reveal all things. Amen.

Our Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized by John, and as he came out of the water, “the heavens were torn apart.”

Saint Mark, usually so direct and terse, here is very descriptive. The heavens are not merely opened, as in Matthew or Luke’s telling, but rent asunder. In this moment, the glory of God is revealed, the barrier between the sacred and profane ruptures, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of the Father declares Christ’s true identity: the Son, the Beloved One, with whom his Father is well-pleased.

In his baptism at the Jordan, we see the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of his glory and his divine nature as the Son of God.

And at the Font, we see a little epiphany – the line between death in the waters and new life in Christ is torn apart when our Heavenly Father claims us as adopted children, anointing us with the Holy Spirit and oil.

Oh, that all such epiphanies were so glorious. But too often, when things are torn apart, we see only the sinful and violent chaos of this world.

On Wednesday, the feast of Epiphany itself, a curtain was torn back to reveal what some of us have seen coming for years when QAnon conspiracy theorists, neo-Confederates, and white supremacists, and other far right protestors stormed the US Capitol building in an attempted insurrection aimed at overthrowing the results of a free and fair election.

It would be too easy to say this is not who we are as a country, that this is not the American way, or to say that these violent thugs are not Christians. But this is what has happened in this country since 1619, when the first enslaved Africans arrived on these shores, which continued through two and a half centuries of slavery, and a century of Jim Crow, and a half century of attacks on the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement. The truth is that this violence was on display as violent mobs rose up against Reconstruction, formed the Ku Klux Klan, adopting the cross as their symbol. This present crisis is no more out of place than the century of lynchings celebrated by white mobs, the massacre of Black Americans in Atlanta in 1906 and Tulsa in 1921, or the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. And as we reckon with the long history of race-based terrorism in this nation, it should not be lost too us that the same rioters who built a gallows on the National Mall also erected a cross, that a gang of self-styled Proud Boys knelt in prayer before attempting to overthrow the government, that so-called Christian flags flew alongside the that symbol of Confederate hatred as marauders stalked the halls of Congress.

Over the course of several hours, the veil of this world was ripped away, exposing the horrifying and hypocritical reality of white supremacy and Christian nationalism.

In parts of the Capitol, law enforcement stood aside as armed insurgents stormed the hall of Congress. The violent mob, comprised of veterans, state office holders, and local police officers, and waving banners of support for law enforcement, beat a member of the Capitol Police to death with a fire extinguisher. Members of the press were threatened and assaulted. Rioters hung constructed gallows on the National Mall as militia members prowled through the House and Senate chambers with restraints, making their intent perfectly clear. And when it was all said and done, many of them simply walked away, returning to the lobbies of their hotels to relax with fast food.

This was a blatant attack by a mob with little fear of reprisal or consequences.

These scenes stand in stark relief to how we have seen people of color treated at peaceful protests. When, at Standing Rock, members of the Lakota were assaulted by both state police and mercenaries. When the Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock was arrested for praying in the Capitol Rotunda during a protest in 2017, and when, during that same protest, Americans with disability were forcibly removed from hearings. But the starkest comparison is to what took place this summer, as retreating crowds of protestors were beaten by an advancing mob of uniformed officers. When protestors kneeling peacefully were teargassed. When reporters were assaulted and detained for daring to cover the violence. When city police departments rammed protestors with cop cars. When cops in Buffalo shoved 75 year old Catholic Worker activist Martin Gugino to the ground and then marched by him as he lay in a growing pool of his own blood. When unmarked federal agents in Portland detained bystanders without charge. When police across the country covered their badge numbers, their name tags, and their body cameras to operate with violent impunity.

Eric Garner was strangled by police for selling loose cigarettes.

George Floyd was killed by police on suspicion of using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill.

Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police in her own bed.

And yet police managed to arrest Adam Johnson alive and without bodily harm after he stormed the US Capitol and posed for a picture while stealing federal property.

Richard Barnett was peacefully detained after posing for pictures in the office of the Speaker of the House, and after leaving the highest ranking member of Congress a threatening letter. He stopped to give an interview on his way out of the Capitol.

West Virginia state delegate Derrick Evans was able to return to his grandmother’s house after livestreaming his participation in the attack. He was apprehended alive, entirely without incident.

These men did not expect consequences. They proudly boasted of their actions; they carried off trophies and gave their names to reporters.

The contrasting events of this summer and this Wednesday make manifestly clear the problem of race in this country: that those who would stand up for the lives of persons of color are treated as enemies of the state while violent insurrectionists are allowed to carry out an attempted coup and then simply walk away without fear of physical harm. All the while, we have been told that we live in a post-racial society, that we should be “color blind.” Dear ones, to be color blind is to willingly ignore the disparity that exists in this world, to blind ourselves to how persons of color are mistreated while oppressive violence goes unchecked. We, the Church, MUST DEMAND that this society recognize and correct the disparity between how we treat persons of color and white rioters.

I do not expect everyone to be happy with the election results, but your Lord Christ commands you to open your eyes to the sinful realities all around. They are on grim display more clearly now than perhaps any other time in the past half century.

Open your eyes and behold the revelation of the sinful powers of this world! Cling not to them! Love them not! Serve them not! For they will pass away, and they will drag their servants to hell with them.

Remember your baptism and the promise of new life given to you through the waters of the Font!

Remember and recommit yourselves!

Do you continue to renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?

Do you continue to renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?

Do you continue to renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?

Then renounce the lies of racism and white supremacy! Renounce the creeping totalitarianism that would murder your Black kindred! Renounce the violence that has stormed the Capitol and harmed the common good!

Called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love of God, remember the gifts and responsibilities of Baptism: live among God’s faithful people, attend to the word of God and the Sacraments, remember the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, study the Holy Scriptures, pray in faith, trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and WORK FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

Lend your voice to those who have been silenced. Stand against violence. Work against racism.

Now is not the time to be timid or to retreat to the comforts of partisan affiliation or claims of color-blindness. Now is the time to see the world for what it really is and to respond by remembering your Baptism, to take up our cross, to follow Christ, and reveal the divine glory of his Coming Kingdom in the midst of this sinful world.

Renounce sin. Turn to Christ.

Amen.

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