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Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The First Sunday after Epiphany – January 9, 2011

This has been a season of invitations for me. Invitations to grand holiday parties, invitations to quiet evenings with just a few friends, invitations to one-day-only sales events at local retail establishments and invitations to the glorious hoopla of ordinations. But there’s one
invitation that I can’t quite seem to ignore – one invitation that keeps appearing in my email inbox. I’ve come to expect it, even look forward to it – but it’s one I haven’t responded to – yet.

Before moving here to Norwalk, I lived in New York City. I didn’t have a car and I was two long blocks and three short blocks from the nearest subway station. I quickly found that my bike, in good weather, was the easiest and fastest way to get almost anywhere I needed to be in Manhattan. When the weather wasn’t so good, I simply walked. Twenty minutes to the grocery store, twenty- three minutes to the farmers’ market, twenty-five minutes to the church where I worked.

I did a lot of biking and a lot of walking – and I lived on the third floor of a very old building – which meant going down and up 47 steps every time I went anywhere – books, groceries and bike in hand. I stayed in pretty good shape just doing my normal activities. Then I moved here to Connecticut. The 47 steps into my apartment became only 13; the traffic scared me away from riding my bike; and I found that the easiest way to the grocery involves I95 – a road not amenable to foot traffic. My active life-style became very sedentary – and I realized I needed to do something about it. So I joined a gym – and went – four times over the course of a year. I discontinued my membership.

Now, every few days I get the invitation I mentioned earlier…. the one that keeps coming… the one that I haven’t yet responded to, but always hope will be extended to me again… an invitation to return to the gym – an invitation to look forward, an invitation to start taking my physical fitness seriously. The subject line says simply, “We want you back.”

The deal with invitations, however, is that they’re only meaningful if we respond to them. Sure, it’s nice to get the shiny “40% off” advertisements in the mail – or the invitation to a holiday celebration, but the invitation itself is not the real deal. The real deal depends on my response to the invitations I receive.

Today, as we observe the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, we are privileged to receive another invitation. This invitation comes four times a year – All Saints Day, Pentecost, the Great Vigil of Easter and on this feast day. The invitation is to take another look at the Baptismal Covenant and to renew our own baptismal vows.

It’s important to remember that the invitation begins with and is based entirely on God’s desire to be in relationship with us. That’s the bottom line. We were created to be in relationship with the Creator and baptism itself is a joining together of God’s life and our lives – a joining of Creator and creation. Baptism is a dance of divine commitment and love to which we are invited.

When we pay attention to the words of this covenant of grace, we hear that God wants us back. But simply hearing that God wants us back doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Just like the invitation I’ve received to return to the gym, I’m not going to get back in shape unless I go there, get on the treadmill, swim some laps and perhaps attend some organized classes. If we’re honest, the same kind of thing happens regarding our relationship with God. God keeps showing up – and sometimes must wonder where we are.

Today, as we hear the words of the Covenant, it occurs to me that we might be a bit overwhelmed. It asks a lot of us. We’ll talk about being faithful in worship, about doing the right thing and being sorry when we don’t. We’ll promise to share the good news of God’s love in both our words and our actions – serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of every human being. It’s a tall order. Perhaps God’s invitation seems too demanding.

It will be important for us to remember that none of us can even attempt this kind of life without God’s help – and we will ask for that today – and maybe it’s okay for us to make a plan to start simply – perhaps just a little stretching.

God’s invitation is always there. Responding to it in whatever way we can today is way better than not responding at all. May God give us the grace to respond – to come back – again and again and again until our spiritual muscles are toned and our lives reflect more clearly who we are – beloved children of God. Amen.

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