A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 11, 2015 (Baptism of our Lord, Year B)
“Always we begin again” Our readings and liturgy are bursting with beginnings this morning. It’s hard to miss the first words of the first book of the Bible: “In the beginning.” And in Mark’s gospel we encounter Jesus for the first time in a book that begins starkly with the announcement “The beginning of the Good News.” Jesus’ public ministry begins after his baptism in the Jordan. We have a baptism this morning, the beginning of a person’s new life in Christ. We also come together at the beginning of January as we begin a new year.
There’s always great energy and enthusiasm as something begins. Remember when you resolved to learn Italian and went out and bought books and CD-roms and started frequenting restaurants in Little Italy? That didn’t go so well but then you decided to get a juicer and start eating healthier and you bought lots of kale and pomegranates and any other so-called super foods you could get your hands on and, well, Twinkies are just so darn yummy. Not all beginnings end well. And yet…
“Always we begin again.” The beginning of our faith lives takes place at the baptismal font. Just as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry takes place through the waters of baptism at the River Jordan. You’ll recall that immediately following this seminal moment, he is driven out to be tempted in the wilderness. And it all begins.
And it is through baptism we die to sin and are reborn in Jesus Christ. It is the initiation rite, the entrance ritual into the tribe, into the Christian faith. When an infant is baptized, it is a sign to this community and to the whole world that this child will be raised in the faith. Here’s at St. John’s to start, but wherever a person goes, your baptism goes with you. It is a moveable feast; an indissoluble bond that never fades, even when we inevitably fall away and turn from God’s love.
“Always we begin again.” And when we renew our own baptismal covenants, as we will do in a few moments, as we do whenever we witness and by virtue of our presence participate, in a baptism, we are returning to the beginning. To where the relationship began; to the groundwater of our relationship with God. And we’re not just doing this to be polite or to make the family of the newly baptized feel supported. We are re-initiating and renewing the formative moment of our lives. We are beginning again.
“Always we begin again.” This wonderful and poignant phrase comes from the writings of St. Benedict, the 6th century monk and so-called father of western monasticism. Specifically, it comes from Benedict’s Rule, a guide for monks living in community that remains beloved for its simplicity and application to modern, non-monastic life.
Among the many gems is that phrase, “Always we begin again.” In other words we are always starting anew; every moment is a second chance; we are continually presented with opportunities for new beginnings. And that resonates, certainly in the context of the many beginnings we mark this morning.
“Always we begin again.” It’s a phrase that I, for one, return to often in my own spiritual life. Because I find this incredibly encouraging. Especially when I’m feeling beat down or frustrated or ready to give up. That chance to begin again is continually offered. Not occasionally or sometimes or with certain conditions but always. And I find tremendous freedom in this.
The fact is, we’re not perfect. Try as we might, we mess up, we make mistakes, we sin. Not because we’re horrible people but because we’re human. Faith holds us accountable but it also allows us to always begin again. That’s really what renewing our baptismal vows is all about. Allowing us to die again to the sin that clings to us and to be reborn in the Spirit. And we need to do this again and again and again.
“Always we begin again.” Perhaps this is the attraction to saying prayers in the morning, something people of faith have been doing for generations. We wake up every day with a clean slate teeming with opportunity. Praying in the morning is a way of putting the day into context and offering it to God. In an ideal world, we’d slip out of bed and fall directly onto our knees. But we don’t live in an ideal world. There are kids to rouse and coffee to brew and appointments to keep and a to-do list to attack and, well, some of our knees are a bit creaky.
But, still, the opportunity is offered. And perhaps, in this season of resolutions, this is as good a time as any to begin again. A lot of this is about finding what works for you at this particular phase of your life. It might be something as informal as praying in the shower each morning and envisioning the water that rains down upon you as God’s loving grace. Sometimes simple awareness of the divine presence in your life is enough. Or closing your eyes for a few minutes while commuting in on the train or boat and giving thanks (though I don’t recommend this method if you’re driving in bumper to bumper traffic on 93).
Or maybe you want to carve out some time for something a bit more structured — the Daily Devotions in the Prayer Book are perfect if you have a few minutes to spare at any time of the day (page 136). You can certainly do this online if you don’t want to lug a Prayer Book around. Or you could join me at church at 8:45 am for Morning Prayer — a service that takes about 10 minutes. Now that Anne’s gone, it’s usually just me and my coffee and you’re always welcome to stop by and pray with me. It’s quick, casual, I’ll show you how to do it, and I don’t bite. Or preach.
In context, here are Benedict’s words about prayer: “It is for us to train our hearts to live in grace, to sacrifice our self-centered desires, to find the peace without want, without seeking it for ourselves; and even when we fail, always we begin again.” Amen.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck