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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Epiphany 1 – Year C

Good morning, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas – lots of loot, lots of goodies under the Christmas tree. I certainly did. My family spoiled me. However, I did receive one thing that I was less than happy about. (Pull him out) I received this – a doll named Mr. Wonderful. Maybe you’ve seen one. They are all the rage this season.

Now, my question is, given the fact that Melissa is married to yours truly, why would anyone need to send us a doll named Mr. Wonderful? Don’t answer that question.

However, the thing that really began to drive me nuts by the 26th of December is that Mr. Wonderful talks. Yes, and husbands he makes us all look bad. I don’t know if you can hear him or not but if you squeeze his hand he says all kind of things. Can you hear that? With every squeeze of his hand, in the most sickly sweet soothing deep voice he says things like: You know honey, why don’t you relax and let me make dinner tonight./ You’ve been on my mind all day. That’s why I bought you these flowers./ MMM, you look so beautiful in the morning./ Aw, can’t your mother stay another week./ You’re going shopping by yourself? Why don’t I tag along and carry your bags?/ Actually, I’m not sure which way to go. I’ll turn in here and ask directions./ The ball game isn’t really that important, I’d rather spend time with you./ Here you take the remote, as long as I’m with you, I don’t care what we watch./

In fact, he says 16 different things and believe me, by now I know them all by heart. Who, you may ask would give us this kind of a gift? What practical joker spent good money on such a present? —– My mother-in-law!

That’s right. Do you think she is trying to tell me something? In fact she gave one to all of her sons-in-law. Well, at least I am in good company. All I can say is that I cannot wait until next Christmas because I read yesterday on the internet that they are coming out with a Ms. Wonderful Doll. Just you wait!

(By the way, when I was on the internet I also read some reviews of Mr. Wonderful. My favorite came from a woman who said – “The greatest thing about this kind of a boyfriend? When you get fed up with the conversation, you can put him in a drawer and be done!”)

Many of you might be wondering – what does this silly doll have to do with anything happening this morning? Where is that preacher going? (I don’t know, I just thought it was funny.) No, actually, I brought Mr. Wonderful with me today because I think many people believe that the Christian life, the life of faith that starts in baptism, ought to turn us into our own versions of Mr. and Ms. Wonderful. And when it doesn’t, when we discover that we are not even close to being the kind of people we want to be, the kind of people our spouses want us to be, much less the kind of people we think God wants us to be – then our faith must not work, our baptisms must be of no real consequence.

After all, after Jesus was baptized he went out into the world – withstood the temptations of the devil, healed the sick and the lame, showed people how to love one another and then gave his life to save you and me. Jesus’ baptism seemed to have an immense affect on him. Before he met John in the Jordan River he was just a simple carpenter. Afterward, he became the savior of our broken world.

Baptism is nice, what we do for these children this morning is sweet and reminiscent of our own baptisms but it doesn’t really matter much – does it? How can it? When we are baptized we are made part of the body of Christ. We are promised new life in Jesus, a new relationship with God. But isn’t that all just rhetoric? I was baptized almost 40 years ago and in those 40 years I haven’t come close to being any kind of a Mr. Wonderful. Have you? Where is this new life we have been promised? Aren’t we all still the same sinful, fallible people we have always been? If so, then what difference does today make? Can baptism really mean that much to these little babies?

C.S. Lewis once said: “a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble – because the Christ life is inside him, repairing him all the time.” (Mere Christianity, p.63)

And here is the point, faith, membership in the church, baptism, doesn’t make us perfect, saintly or even wonderful. Those who believe don’t cling to Christ because they want to be perfect, rather they cling to Christ because they know they can never be perfect and the only hope for their lives lies in him and with him. Our baptisms don’t fix us and they don’t turn us into little automatons that only do and say the right things. Rather, our baptisms give us a relationship with God where forgiveness is always possible and the power of the Holy Spirit to try again and again and again to amend our lives is always available.

While I was at St. Peter’s in Savannah, one of my favorite parishioners was a man that no one would ever call Mr. Wonderful. He had fallen so far so often and so hard – that many thought his life tragic. His first marriage failed because of his selfishness. After that, he got involved with some shady business partners and actually spent some time in jail. Then he struggled with alcohol and spent years battling addiction. He was not what you would call a saint. But he was in church Sunday after Sunday receiving the sacrament, asking God to forgive him, genuinely repenting of his sins and honestly struggling to put his life on the right track.

He wasn’t one of those hypocrites who tried to fool people with his piety on Sunday only to forget about his faith on Monday. Rather he was just a sinful man, but a man who had been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was someone who found in the promise of baptism the strength and the courage to try and turn his life around every time he did something stupid or wrong.

I loved him because he was a man who never let go of the hope that because of Christ he could be different and his life could be different. In some ways he was the most faithful man I knew, not because he was Mr. Wonderful but because he knew he wasn’t, in fact he knew that perhaps he needed the love and forgiveness of God more than others. As a result, he clung to Christ like a drowning man clings to piece of driftwood.

Remember that the story of the Bible is the history of God’s faithfulness in spite of humanity’s unfaithfulness. From the apple in the Garden of Eden all the way through the crucifixion, the Bible tells us about God’s love in spite of our rejection of that love. God knows we will never be Mr. or Ms Wonderful, we can’t be. But through the waters of baptism we are infused with another life that joins with our life – the life of Christ – catching us when we fall, forgiving us when we sin and encouraging us never to give up the fight to become the kind of people we were meant to be – to become imitators of Christ and the children of God. Amen.

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