Mark 1. 4-11 ‘You are my Son, my beloved, I am well-pleased in you.’

Fr Alec
Sunday, January 11, 2015 - 9:30am

I was reading recently the fascinating story of a man named William Stetson Kennedy, who was one of the staunchest opponents of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s.  America was a very different country then, and it is salutary to bear in mind that the same country that went to war with Hitler in the name of liberty still widely practised segregation at home. Kennedy became well known when he infiltrated the hierarchy of the racist Klan, and made its secrets widely known.


His method for doing this was ingenious. In 1946 he provided details of the workings of the Ku Klux Klan to the writers of the Superman radio programme, at that time a massive hit in the USA, particularly with younger listeners. With the war at an end, Superman, whose efforts had been directed against the Nazis in the preceding years, now turned his powers against the Klan. Members of the organisation were forced to watch their sons and daughters cheering on their hero as he fought what was very recognisably a body to which they themselves belonged, while the arcane rituals and practices which had leant it such mystique were now held up as sinister, and even ridiculous.


Predictably, membership plummeted. It is almost impossible to continue in anything while you endure the disapproval of those whom you love most. Kennedy coined the expression Frown Power. He encouraged everyone simply to show their disapproval by frowning whenever they heard racist or bigoted speech. He rightly recognised that such things are only able to flourish where people turn a blind eye or feign approval for the sake of a quiet life.


Indeed, if disapproval can have such a profound effect, then approval seems to be at the heart of a great deal in the way human beings relate to one another. Those Klan members ironically derived a sense of status and belonging from denying it to others. When it was removed from them, when they were scorned and ridiculed themselves, what value was there in remaining?


To a greater or lesser extent, psychologists would say we learn self-esteem, self-approval, at our parents’ knee. In so far as they tell us and show us we are valuable, we learn an inner sense of our own value. I can love myself because I can see that I am lovable.


At his baptism, the spirit descends like a dove and Jesus receives Love and approval from his Heavenly Father.

‘You are my Son, my beloved, I am well-pleased in you.’


This is an act which is both intimate and public. Intimate because it reflects the internal life of God the Holy Trinity, bound together by an unbreakable bond of infinite Love. Public because it is announced for all to see. And not only for all to see, but for all to share. Christ’s baptism inaugurates a new relationship between humanity and its creator whereby we can all receive the same affirmation of God’s love and approval. But what must we do to earn it? What price is expected?


Nothing. God demands nothing of us save that we want His love, and accept His love. The sacrifice of Christ’s death, and the power of His resurrection has made good whatever distance may have separated us from God’s grace, his willingness to share his life with us.

When we receive the sacrament of baptism we receive the unconditional love of God like a torrent into our lives. Like Noah and his family aboard the ark, the dove is a sign that land is near, and that God has marked us out for life and abundance and flourishing.


Moreover, we can nevermore doubt ourselves, or hold ourselves in low esteem, because what God has made holy, no-one can call profane. Our task now is to live up to our calling, to grow together as a body, encouraging one another to reveal that light of Christ that God has planted within us.


Today as we christen Lealand and Dylan, we know that they have parents who love them, and rejoice in them, and that that this love and acceptance is a reflection of the love that God bears for us when he adopts us as his own, and shares with us the Life which was won for us by Jesus Christ.