Music Sunday 10 January 2021
January 10, 2021
Based on Mark 1:4-11
In the letter Roger read, he notes the tradition of disagreement, often vigorous, between Rabbis. There was rarely uniform agreement between religious authorities and scholars within that tradition. “Argument” continues to be a significant part of Jewish tradition. It is one I believe Christianity can take a lesson from. My reflection today is one that cold provoke some disagreement. I am this morning asking several questions. Where do we draw the line between community and individuality and what is our responsibility as a community of faith?
One of the questions posed to me over the years is why do we need a prayer of confession?
It is fair to say people often do not see themselves in the lists of sins or transgressions that we name. It can seem like an attempt at shaming or making us feel guilty. Or, perhaps such confessions should be a personal matter between ourselves as individuals and God.
Well, perhaps. But historically and traditionally there has been the sense that in coming to God, to listening for the word of God in scripture and the message, we symbolically cleanse ourselves through confession and the acknowledgement of pardon.
But there is more. We do this as a community. Just as we take time as a community to offer prayer and to pray for our community and the world during our Prayers of the People. We as a community, as a part of the wider society, confess to that society’s sins and seek forgiveness. We name the ways the society has failed or lost sight of the path to a more just and merciful community.
We read today about John baptizing people for the repentance of sin. Baptism is in part a welcome into something new. It marks people taking a new direction. It is a sign of transformation. Sometimes described as a new birth.
Baptism is done in community. For us in the United Church it is a symbol of formally welcoming people, often children, into our community. It comes with promises and acknowledgment of responsibilities on both sides.
It is an example of the dynamic that exists in our world and in the church of the tension between individual and the community. Where do we mark the separation between the person and the community?
I am not going to even begin an attempt at defining that line.
Throughout history there has been a question about to what extent do we as individuals identify with a particular community. That line has certainly shifted over the years. At the time that people came to John for repentance and baptism there was a very strong connection between the person and the community.
As people came to repent, it was as much about the salvation of community; of Judea, as it was about individual salvation. It was in part personal repentance but also about the repentance of the society.
And it was into that dynamic that Jesus walks. Was Jesus seeking repentance for his own sin, or as part of a society was he acting for a communal salvation?
The heavens are torn apart and the Holy spirit descends. God, in the person of Jesus walks among the people.
We are struggling right now with the line between individual freedom and acting on behalf of the health of our community. Here in Ontario and throughout Canada, the number of people infected by COVID-19 continues to grow. Governments are struggling to slow the spread once again and we are seeing still, some resistance to those actions. I am reluctant to step into that debate with any certitude. That said, I believe we need to ask ourselves how much do my personal actions and attitude affect the community as a whole? What are my responsibilities to the community that I claim to be a part of?
Is it possible to isolate myself completely from the society in which I live? And if possible, would I want to?
I am increasingly of the view that we are at a point in our history where things are shifting significantly. Matters such as white supremacy and systemic racism can no longer be brushed aside or denied. Many of us have lived comfortably with a status quo that has left a great many people on the outside looking in in terms of privilege and wealth. A great many people have been exploited or disregarded for far too long.
While many of us as individuals can claim we were not part of that sin; we are a part of the community; or society; or country that is responsible. In order to forge new and just relationships, forgiveness is needed and that demands repentance. Perhaps we, on behalf of a community, need to consider our responsibility or our duty in that matter.
This is a difficult subject. This is not an attempt to guilt people or accuse people of being racist. This is an attempt to say the society to which we belong has benefitted from the cruel treatment of any people or peoples. Many would argue that is systemic racism. If we are part of that society, where does our responsibility lie? Can we as a faith community lead in our actions and attitude? Baptism marks a time of transformation. May we be transformed through our baptism and be part of working for a just and a healing world.
And let us never forget that as God created this world God looked upon it and set this is good. And as God looked upon Jesus at his baptism, as part of that community, He said, this is my son the beloved in whom I am well pleased.
God loves us. God sees us as good and God desires for us a world of justice and love and mercy. Let us never forget that.
The Reverend Warner Bloomfield
Permission to podcast /stream the music in this service obtained from CCL I
streaming license number 20369698, Size A.