Sunday Homily - January 10, 2020 - A Fork in the Road

The Baptism of Christ Icon


The First Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11


I.

There is a vivid metaphor in literature
 that is often used to describe
  making a choice that invariably affects the rest of the story.
   And that wonderfully vivid metaphor is the phrase:
    "a fork in the road."

"A fork in the road" simply refers to a road
 that splits into two paths,
  of which you must make a choice to follow only one of them. 
   If you have taken a casual drive through the small towns of eastern Arkansas
    there are indeed many examples of these forks in the road. 

The poet Robert Frost uses this metaphor of the "fork in the road"
 in his poem "The Road Not Taken" :

  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
  And sorry I could not travel both
  And be one traveler, long I stood
  And looked down one as far as I could
  To where it bent in the undergrowth;

  Then took the other, as just as fair,
  And having perhaps the better claim,
  Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
  Though as for that the passing there
  Had worn them really about the same,

  And both that morning equally lay
  In leaves no step had trodden black.
  Oh, I kept the first for another day!
  Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
  I doubted if I should ever come back.

  I shall be telling this with a sigh
  Somewhere ages and ages hence:
  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
  I took the one less traveled by,
  And that has made all the difference.
   [Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," 

But, a "fork in the road" is far more than just a vivid image.
 This metaphor describes an often-experienced reality
  that we all very likely have had in our lives
   to smaller or greater extents. 

Perhaps your "fork in the road"
 was a decision of whether or not you go to college after high school.
  Either decision deeply affects your life in a myriad of ways,
   not all good and not all bad.
    But it is a decision that will affect your life going forward
     in ways that you can't really take back once you've made the decision.

But while we all have had our "forks in the road"
 Jesus Christ Our Lord might have chosen the most important part of the"fork"
  that has ever been chosen.
  
II.

You see, 
 when we speak of Christ Jesus,
  we have to speak in ways that are hard for us to describe easily. 

And part of that has to do with the "fork" 
 of God's holy Incarnation.

As Christians, we believe and confess every Sunday
 that there was a real, historical point in time
  in which God Himself
   was made known to us in a real, fully human person
    of Jesus Christ. 

But we also simultaneously confess that Jesus Christ is no ordinary kind of human:
 but instead was Very God of Very God,
  God-Made-Flesh.

And because of this mysterious and difficult tension,
 mere words and our human reason unaided
  have a hard time understanding why God does certain things.
   Why Jesus decides to do certain things. 

Which brings us to Jesus's Baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River.

Why does Jesus,
 the incarnate Son of God,
  go to be baptized?

After all, baptism was for the remission of sins,
 and if Jesus is God,
  and God does not nor ever has committed sin,
   what exactly is happening?

You see, the tension in the midst of this encounter
 is limited by our ability to understand the precise manner
  in which Jesus both occupied his Godhood and Manhood.
   In fact, the Church has historically been very reticent
    to rule too exactly on this mystery,
     for the simple reason that it is, in fact, truly a mystery to us. 

But there are certain things we do know for certain in our faith.

And one of those things that we can discern about Jesus's Baptism
 is that Jesus does this for a very different reason
  that anyone else there. 

Whereas people came to be baptized by John for the remission of sins,
 Jesus, who knew no sin, came to be baptized into solidarity with Sinners. 

Jesus does not need Baptism, 
 as John the Baptist himself says very clearly in our Gospel
  But rather, Jesus is Baptized as an outward pledge to us,
   our frail humanity,
    that God Almighty has chosen to dwell among us
     as one of us.

This pledge is made very explicit
 by the showing forth of the glory of the Godhead,
  a manifestation of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
   the Divine Trinity.

As Jesus comes up out of the water,
 the Father calls out to behold His Son,
  as the Spirit descends upon Him as a dove,
   signifying like the dove that brought Noah the olive branch after the Flood,
    that a new creation is taking place even at that moment. 

Jesus Christ has come to make a new creation,
 and that new creation begins with his own taking upon Himself
  the "stuff" of creation.
   Our physical embodied existence,
    to show us his deep and abiding love for us. 

You see, the fork in the road for the Eternal Word
 is that God didn't need to do any of this:
  become one of us,
   suffer as one of us,
    face mortal challenges that us mortals constantly face. 
     And yet, because God is Love,
      God freely chose one of the strangest and most mysterious forks in the road
       that history has ever had:
        Jesus chose to be with us,
         forever changing not just our own perception of what it means to be God,
          but forever restoring what it means to be truly human. 

You see, Jesus Christ in his baptism into our humanity
 as a pledge of his love
  also teaches us something vital:
   that sin is not an essential part of God's creation of humanity. 

For Jesus to take on our full humanity,
 that meant that there was indeed an essential goodness within that created humanity
  that was not ultimately marred by sin.

And that unmarred humanity, friends,
 is what Jesus Christ calls us into
  as disciples of the God-Made-Man,
   Humanity-Made-Divine.
 
III.

Because, 
 as Jesus's own choice to take that strangest of forks in the road shows us,
 we are also given a free gift of that salvation 
  brought through his Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

But that also comes at a very solemn and important fork in our roads:
 the choice of our own Baptism into Christ's body, the Church.

For those of us called to Baptism into Christ,
 we have taken a path in our lives
  that shapes and colors all of the rest of what we do,
   primarily because we have also taken the most solemn of vows 
    in our baptism:
     to become disciples of Jesus. 

This is vitally important to understand,
 because Jesus Christ himself has told us the terms and conditions
  under which we become disciples:
   "If anyone desires to become my disciples,
    you must deny yourself,
     take up your cross
      and follow me."

Because of our Baptism into Christ,
 we are no longer live for ourselves alone.
  Rather, we are held to the highest standard imaginable:
   to live in such a way that God's will is perfectly done in our lives
    just as God's will is done in heaven. 

And if you start diving deeper 
 into what exactly we have signed up for in your Baptism,
  we have signed up for an awful lot. 

We, as Christians,
 do not have a choice when it comes to loving God with all we got
  and our neighbor as ourselves. 
   It is our duty, because it is for the common good of the world,
    the world in which God loves so much that Jesus Christ became one of us.

We, as Christians,
 do not have a choice 
  not to tell of the Good News in Christ Jesus
   who has triumphed over the power of sin and death
    and that this gift is meant for everyone. 

We, as Christians, 
 do not have a choice to ignore or to aid and abet falsehood,
  as we are also those who live under the solemn charge
   "Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor."
    Instead, we are disciples of the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
     and falseness and lies have no place in Christ Jesus.
      Neither have they any place in we who take the name, "Christian."

And we, as Christians,
 do not have a choice to ignore the work we must do
  to strive for peace and justice in our daily life and work
   as witness to the fact that we serve a God whose will shall be done,
    even in spite of the powers of evil within the world.

Which brings us to a fork in the road
 that we do well to consider very carefully which path we choose
  this morning, friends.

Nationally, we have just experienced armed protestors
 break into the National Capitol of the United States
  leaving at least 4 dead, including a police officer,
   and endangering the lives of the duly elected congress of the United States,
    including our own Representatives and Senators from Arkansas.
 
We all still have intense negative emotions surrounding these events,
 as is only natural for an occurrence that hasn't happened arguably in over 200 years.
  
But the events at the National Capitol is not the fork in the road
 that we have in front of us, Christian brothers and sisters.

The fork in the road is the choice of what path we choose now.

There are two paths that diverge in front of us,
 and they are quite simple:
  1) unhealable, fracturous division
   or
  2) the suffering for the sake of truth.

We can choose division.
We can choose to deepen our trenches,
 disputing any set of facts that we don't like as 
  "not our truth"
   "not the reality of my world."
    And in forfeiting commonly held truth,
     we also forfeit the Way, the Truth, and the Life
      which we, at least outwardly, say we believe. 

Or we can choose life. 

We can choose instead to love our enemies in such a way
 that we lay down our weapons,
  take down our divisive sentiments,
   and choose instead to suffer for the cause of unity and truth
    in the same manner as Jesus Christ chose for the sake of the world. 

We can indeed choose to point fingers,
 blame until we run out of names to scapegoat,
  and thus plunge our communities and our own souls, 
   literally, 
    into hell.

Or we can take up our cross,
 our death to the world,
  and instead actually choose to follow all that Christ has commanded us,
   because it is for the sake of the world
    and for the safety and safekeeping of all of the lives around us. 

This isn't some pie in the sky choice, Christians.
 This is a real choice
  that is for the sake of saving people's physical and spiritual lives.

And it all comes down, friends,
 to whether we truly take Jesus seriously
  in the fork that He chose for the sake of us sinners
   that we might have life through him. 

Just as difficult and solemn a choice as Jesus Christ made for us,
 so also we are called to make similarly difficult and solemn choices
  for the sake of the world
   to live, truly, for the common good
    and according to our discipleship in Christ. 

The fork in the road is right in front of us now, friends.
 I urge you, by the authority of Christ invested in the Church,
  join me in making the difficult choice to suffer for the sake of love and truth,
   that our communities and likewise our nation may be made safe by God's gracious hand.

I urge you, choose suffering for the sake of life.
 As it is the only Way that Christ has taught us
  that will truly save the world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  

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