Der Vasken's Sermon on January 12, 2020

Jan 20, 2020

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

About a month ago, I did something that I don't usually do.  I attended a meeting hosted by my local town's School Committee.  The subject caught my eye but I debated  about attending for a number of days until I finally came to the realization that if I was to be true to myself, then I needed to be at that meeting.  And I'll be honest, I didn't want to go.  It was at night and it was only a few days after our church bazaar so I could have easily stayed home and relaxed for a change, but I went.  I went because the meeting was held to discuss the possibility of dropping three religious holidays from the school calendar.  Two of these holidays concerned the Jewish tradition and the third concerned, what I considered the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, Good Friday.

So I went and I listened for a while, and then I asked the committee members a question: "Why have you decided to bring this subject up now?"  The answer I received back amounted to nothing more than "because we noticed that the surrounding towns are all taking these religious holidays off their calendars." And so there I was, dressed as all of the others in the room were dressed, and I very politely began to explain my personal views.  And as soon as the word "faith" left my mouth, every head in the room turned with a shocked look on their face staring at me...every head in the room.  Someday I will share more about this eventful evening but for now, I think you can imagine the feeling in that room.  For me, it was about respecting the faith traditions of the families within our town regardless of their religion, but for the School Committee, it was about not making anyone feel left out or marginalized by a religious holiday--two very different ways at looking at the same picture.

I share this story because, today, we are commemorating the Baptism of Jesus Christ.  This is where His story begins as an adult in this world.  And there is a relative  of Jesus' in this story--a cousin of His, who plays a central role in this important event, and while I was sitting in that School Committee meeting, it felt like this relative of Jesus & Mary's was tapping me on my shoulder urging me to bring the notion of faith into the conversation with the School Committee.

His name is John the Baptist--humble, selfless, a man of great faith.  The Christian Church regards John the Baptist as the greatest saint, second only to St. Mary, the Mother of God.  We have all heard of John the Baptist, but very few of us know much about him other than the fact that he baptized Jesus and many others.  John the Baptist is one of the most distinctive characters in the New Testament.  

  • He was different than most people.
  • He wore clothing made of camel hair and a leather belt holding it all together--considered primitive for even his day.
  • He lived in the desert wilderness.
  • He ate locust and wild honey to survive.
  • He preached a message that seemed strange to some but drew the attention of many others.
His role was to prepare and announce to the world of the arrival of the Son of God because he knew that with Jesus' arrival into this world, a "new" relationship was about to begin between God and His people.  St. John held no power of influence during his time on earth, but he was popular and his message was spoken with great authority.  His time in this world was short-lived.  He died when he was barely thirty years old, but his actions live on even today and will for generations to come.

The Armenian Church venerates this man because of the value of his message.  John the Baptist called on people to live morally-upright lives.  He called on people to correct the wrongs of the world around them, and he called on them to bring God's voice into all areas of life.  John the Baptist did far more than baptize people.  He lifted them up and built them up to go out and better their local society, and he offered people a charge in life to take their faith into the world where it was so badly needed.  And he calls on the Church and everyone in the Church to do what he did--to look at and raise up the moral issues of our time.  

The Church has always tried to be straightforward about the world around us--like the value of all human life.  But there are other areas such as health care concern and civil concerns, governmental concerns and security concerns, our care for the homeless, our priorities when setting our budgets and how we treat and respect one another and so many other important issues that deeply affect people and families.  

St. John encourages us as "The Church" to speak out not only on issues of private morality, but on issues of public morality as well.  If the Church and its members are to live out their faith, then we need to concern ourselves with not only what is talked about in our living rooms and dining rooms, but also in our classrooms and boardrooms and courtrooms and our school committee rooms.  That is why I went to the School Committee meeting.

John the Baptist recognized that many people, who call themselves people of faith, hesitate to stand up for morality in the world around them.  He says that it is faith that brings the conversation of right and wrong to the table and it is faith that draws the line in the sand around the issues of morality and justice and fairness in the public square.  Because without the presence of faith and the church, the world and life itself becomes nasty and harsh.

If John the Baptist's message was acted upon today, think about how different our world would be.  John the Baptist is more than a "top-row" saint.  He is the model of what the church's mission should be.  Today, we remember him and in remembering this great saint, may we all wake up every morning with an attitude that says: "I am aware that I can make my corner of the world better today.  I am going to bring my faith into my home and my school and my work and I am going to experience my faith in a whole new way."

John the Baptist went through life building up the world around him and he encourages us to do no less.  May we all follow his example and be a 21st century "top-row" saint.   Something for all of us to think about.




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