Mk 1

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Advertising has often featured celebrities who claim to enjoy the product that is being advertised.

One recent TV commercial has the actor Matthew McConaughy driving a Lincoln and talking about his love for this brand of car. In one ad, he candidly remarks, “I drove Lincolns before they paid me to. I just like ‘em.”

Now Matthew McConaughy is a gifted actor. But his acting skill doesn’t make him an expert on luxury automobiles! Celebrity endorsements work because we consumers assume that famous people won’t attach their names and reputations to inferior products—even if they are paid large fees.

Today’s Gospel is a celebrity endorsement from 2000 years ago! But there’s no question that this endorsement means something.

John the Baptist was an important religious figure in his time. He believed that Jews needed to dedicate themselves more strongly to their religion, and so he organized a movement that aimed to reform Judaism.

John became famous for his ritual washing. Baptism symbolized the spiritual purity of those who were rededicating themselves to the Lord. John’s followers were numerous enough that the leader of Israel, King Herod, felt threatened. Herod eventually arrested John and had him beheaded.

But despite his personal fame, John the Baptist claimed that a religious leader was coming after him who would prove so powerful that John wouldn’t be “worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John’s endorsement later offered major support for Jesus as Christ began his own ministry. John baptized with water, his successor would be able to baptize “with the Holy Spirit.”

Now while Matthew McConaughy isn’t known to be an expert on cars, John the Baptist was definitely an expert in religion! So his endorsement meant something. It helped Jesus to begin his ministry. Christ must have been glad to have the support of a noted reformer.

But even though Jesus was endorsed by the celebrity John the Baptist, the endorsement that actually empowered his ministry came from God.

Now as it happens our extensive work of stone restoration on the tower of our church was scheduled to receive its own celebrity visit this week. The Suffragan Bishop of New York was to come to Incarnation to bless the Tower last Wednesday; weather kept him off the icy scaffold. However, he’s slated to come back this Wednesday.

As we receive this gesture of support, we, of course, recognize that we also want our ministry to be endorsed by God. We want to be sure that we’re serving as many people as we can in God’s name.

So we’re looking forward to seeing the recommendations of our strategic planning project, which we call “Incarnation 2020.” The members of the planning committee will release their report later this month, and I’m hopeful that we will be given several recommendations to work on that will lead to the growth of our parish.

And as we begin another year of work together in Christ’s name, this is a good time to ask if there are new programs Incarnation should try? Are there old programs whose usefulness has been exhausted and which could now be dropped? What staff and volunteers do we need to achieve our goals?

What about our worship? We have three very different services on Sunday, as well as three other services on weekdays. How could they be improved so that they could attract more people–while still nourishing those who already attend the services and who like them as they are?

There are questions to be answered and decisions to be made. We can welcome these questions and decisions as helpful challenges. We can look forward to discovering what God wants us at Incarnation to be doing.

One thing I love about the beginning of the year is getting a fresh calendar. I use a paper calendar instead of electronic because I like to mark it with pencil and different colors of ink that indicate various kinds of activities. I use a little vest-pocket book that has a couple of pages for every week of the year.

For me, it’s a joy to see those blank pages. They represent time God is giving me to fill with work and play, with family and friends, with city streets and parks—with sheer life.

So, too, they represent pages to be written by our Parish Family. The planning process isn’t over, so I can’t predict what Incarnation 2020 will conclude. But we can pray that God will endorse our work and guide it. We can pray that our work will be worthy of Christ, God’s “beloved Son.”

Another endorsement of our ministry at Incarnation over the years has been the high caliber of assistants who have chosen to serve our parish. One of the best of them will be leaving us at the end of the month.

Among the many reasons we have to be grateful for Ginger’s ministry is her willingness to try different things. She came to us with a fresh visions of ministry—particularly outreach ministry to those in need. Our computer classes for seniors have become a regular feature of our community outreach. The Christmas Pageant she organized last month was the first such production since 2008. Talented new parishioners have been introduced to Incarnation through the various groups that Ginger coordinates.

Beyond these program accomplishments, Ginger has poured herself into her work with individuals—visiting, listening, counseling. She has been the model of a patient and loving pastor. We are very fortunate she gave us 3 ½ years of her life.

At some point in 2015, we will likely hire a new assistant. Right now, we’re waiting to see what we will want to do to implement ideas proposed by the planning committee.

But we know that whatever our plans, we will still need caring priests like Ginger. Such ministers are a far better endorsement than any celebrity.

While you never know whether the famous person is using a product just to make money, you know that someone like Ginger, who gives her heart and soul to her work is doing this for the love of God and God’s people. As we carry on where she leaves off, may we be encouraged and inspired by her years with us.


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