Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


There are so many people have made the past year and example of what it means to have Jesus in the midst of us. Here is an extended contemporary version of this passage from Matthew 18.

Matthew 18:20 (The Message)

18-20"Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."

Chapter 18 begins with Jesus responding to his disciples’ question: “who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” To answer his disciples’ question, Jesus brings a little child into the middle of the circle of his disciples and tells them that to even get into the kingdom of heaven they must start all over again, like a child. They must and learn a new way of being human.

The kingdom of heaven is not a reward for good behavior or for being favored by God. Rather it is a way of being in relationship with others that creates God’s purpose for us on earth as it is in heaven where God in Trinity lives in harmony, peace, and nonviolent cooperation. The very meaning of the word, “love” is given being and meaning as we begin again like little children to live without envy, resentment, or strife.

Jesus’ answer assumes that his disciples’ desire to be great in the kingdom of heaven is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, desire is a powerful motivation that can get us to take action, even to change the way we behave. Without desire, there would be no hope.

Because we do desire as children to please our parents in the early stages of our life and our teachers, peers and bosses as we grow up, we’re formed by what we desire and what we desire is determined by what is valued by those around us whom we admire.

When Jesus is in the midst of us he becomes our role model and our desire as a community of faith is to become Jesus. Last year’s passage from the gospel according to Mark reminded us that in order to be great in the kingdom of heaven, we needed to be servants of one another and the whole creation. Our passage from the gospel according to Luke this year describes how God desires to be our servant.

He quotes from the Prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

God in Christ in service to every man, woman, and child is described in this passage he quotes from Isaiah. This is God’s passion. This is God’s purpose. This is what it looks like to be a servant in the kingdom of heaven. It is important to note that Jesus leaves out the last phrase following “the year of the lord’s favor” that is part of Isaiah. That final phrase says “and the day of vengeance of our God.”

By Jesus leaving this phrase out, he clarifies the purpose of God and he also makes clear our purpose as a Christian community and for leadership in those communities.

With Jesus in our midst and our eyes on him, we are being formed in the likeness and image of God. We have made a commitment to follow Jesus and to be servants of all God’s children without exception.

When Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” we are reminded that the kingdom of heaven which we desire is not some future place for which we wait, but is present in the very relationships we have with one another.

Christ Church is blessed and the Holy Spirit is upon us. In whatever we do, let our purpose be God’s purpose; let our reason for being continue to be based upon our vision of Christ in the midst of us. Amen.

And so, I give thanks for this whole parish family and a especially for those individuals who have found that in service to others, they are part of the kingdom of heaven. On behalf of the parish, I would like to thank some folks who have been very much a part of the glue that holds us together and the leadership that keeps us moving forward to do God’s will.

The Vestry

The vestry has the responsibility for maintaining the ongoing work of the parish through budget, planning, and support. 2009 was a very challenging year. In addition to the their leadership in this second year since the fire destroyed the parish hall in May of 2008, they have continued to undertake much needed repairs of our rental units (412 A,B, C and 416 Broadway) to guarantee that these units were safe and appropriate homes for those to whom we rent.

We have asked a great deal of our vestry and our wardens, treasurer, and clerk and they have delivered. Our vestry has labored in prayer, love, peace, and the Holy Spirit to move us along the path of service in the midst of crisis.

Helena Chan

This past year Helena brought her creative gifts to our vestry. Helena came to Christ Church rather recently, but quickly became involved in parish life. She was one of the members of the Wednesday morning prayer group that worships together at 6:30AM each week. She was also a regular at our adult education classes and was a member of the Education for Ministry cohort.

She accepted a call to serve on the vestry this past year and has provided wonderful leadership particularly in the area of strategic long term financial planning and she also took on the project of creating a new webpage for the parish ( Helena has taken a new position in San Diego so she is unable to complete her service with us.

Thank you, Helena.

Susan Mulledy-DeFrank

I want to thank Susan Mulledy-DeFrank for her devoted service as our Outreach chairperson. Her leadership and loving energy have resulted in getting Christ Church focused again on our vocation of service to those in need despite the issues of space and resources the year following the fire. If you recall any of our Outreach events at Christ Church, you will remember seeing Susan providing leadership and labor to make sure that all went well.

Susan is in her final year of Education for Ministry and is a regular member of the Wednesday morning prayer group that meets at 6:30AM each week. Prayer and study have nourished Susan’s already faithful commitment to God and to the work and worship of the church.

This parish is blessed by Susan’s life and ministry and we give thanks for her service on the vestry and on the board of the Casa De Los Amigos.

Thank you, Susan.

Vic Cooper

I want to thank Vic Cooper for his dedication and devotion to the work and ministry of Christ Church. Vic has faithfully and competently provided leadership that is both open to new possibilities and respectful of the Christ Church culture and history. His steadfast sense of humor and humble honesty have allowed us to deal with very difficult and complex issues in the most charitable ways.

Vic has served on the vestry more than once since I arrived as your rector. He has been a trusted source of information and wisdom to me and the entire vestry. As he concludes this term on vestry, I give thanks for his wonderful service.

Thank you, Vic.

Mark Hereford

I want to thank Mark Hereford for his service on the Vestry these past three years as well as his service as a board member of the Casa De Los Amigos. Mark brought his professional and personal experience, training, and wisdom to each and every task. His contributions to both the vestry and the Casa De Los Amigos during the difficult transitional period since the fire have been invaluable.

Mark has been a friend and a source of support and advice to me even before his service on these two boards began and I look forward to many more years of friendship and service with Mark. We have shared a past that goes all the way back to our days and high school and I am grateful that are paths have come together at Christ Church.

Thank you, Mark.

Gail Connolly

Gail Connolly is completing her final year on the vestry. This was Gail’s first time for serving on the vestry. She has served as our treasurer and this past year was our Senior Warden. She has also been part of a small group of women who pray together every Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM in the church.

Her path to service at Christ Church is remarkable. She came to worship at Christ Church shortly after recovering from breast cancer. From worship she discovered a deep and abiding sense of God’s presence and the Christ Church sanctuary reminded her of the little church in which she grew up. Gail’s mother joined her in worshipping at Christ Church until her death.

Gail began taking classes offered at the church which led to her becoming a member of EfM (Education for Ministry). She is in her final year of the four year course of study. And it has been during these past four years that she felt called to greater service in the church. It has been a blessing to have Gail serve, not only as my Senior Warden, but to also be part of our Parish Hall Restoration Committee.

Gail has called us to pray as a vestry and to ground our work in an understanding of scripture. She has been gracious and effective in leading our vestry meetings and in dealing with the many different complexities of our parish hall reconstruction. Gail is an example of servant leadership.

She never shies away from pitching in to set up tables, chairs, or anything else that is needed. She is also a member of our altar guild and has provided leadership and service in preparing for worship at Christ Church.

I give thanks to God for Gail’s ministry, heart, and servanthood to our Lord.

Thank you, Gail.

Continuing Vestry Members

I also want to acknowledge and thank on continuing vestry members who have contributed mightily to the governance and mission of Christ Church

Kathryn Bingham (Junior Warden)

Stephen Duke (Rental Property Management)

Sandie Nelson (Rector’s Special Projects Manager)

Kathy Van Orden (Treasurer)

Chuck Winn (Property and Financial Planning/Parish Survey/Christmas DVD)

Sylvia Allen (Children’s Ministry)

Dave Walbeck (Clerk of the Vestry)

Thanksgivings Continued…

I have some additional thanksgivings to offer for people in this church who serve here and who help deepen our life of faith and community.


In addition to our vestry, the parish has been blessed by the hard work, competence, good humor, and diligence in being the point person on the Fire Restoration project. Bob was our senior warden when the fire hit the parish hall and has been the "go to" person from the beginning maintaining incredible records of the correspondence between the various parties in this ongoing process, researching our situation, communicating with legal counsel, and presenting a well-documented statement of our proof of loss to the insurance company. Bob has also pursued our concerns with the California Insurance Commission and successfully presented our case to them which has led to a response to our insurance company.

If you see Bob on Sundays or during the week, give him a nod and a smile or a handshake of thanks for his ministry under very difficult circumstances.

Thank you, Robert.

The Casa De Los Amigos Board of Directors

Christ Church is blessed with dedicated and caring souls who serve on the Casa De Los Amigos Board of Directors. The Casa project is a ministry that spans over 30 years of service and has provided a home for many senior citizens during that period of time in the Redondo Beach complex. With the sale of the property at 123 South Catalina Avenue to the Episcopal Housing Alliance, affordable housing in that location has been insured for another 50 years.

The new mission of the Casa board has changed by virtue of the sale of this property. The board is now in a position to promote and help create new low income housing in the Diocese of Los Angeles and to consider ways of offering valued services to senior citizens in the Redondo Beach area. Thank you all for your service.

Rob Robertson Jean Prewitt Jack Hailwood Susan Mulledy-DeFrank
Michael Noland Patricia Terry Keith Watamanuk Sylvia Allen
Lynn Kious Kim Baily Father Bob Cornner
Administrative Assistant: Cathy Walbeck

Adult Christian Formation

Each Sunday and on Wednesday evenings, we offer opportunities for our adult members to learn more about the faith. Father Bob teaches the Wednesday night classes. Rob and Kevin are our Sunday leaders.

Rob Nelson: ACE on Sundays leader

Kevin Griswold: Education for Ministry mentor

Thank you, Rob and Kevin.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Our youngest members, ages 3 to 7 are blessed to have Ms. Sylvia and Cayla lead them learning about worship, prayer, and the stories of the Gospel that teach the love of God.

Sylvia Allen: Catechist

Cayla Hailwood: Assisting Catechist

Thank you, Sylvia and Cayla.

The Chapel

Our Chapel meets once a month during the Family service with Father Bob and Mother Cat to learn about the Bible, the seasons of the church year, and how to live as Christians in the daily lives. The Chapel also produces the annual Christmas Pageant DVD.

The Community: The kids of Christ Church

Support Team: The Parents of the Chapel Kids

Co-leader: Mother Cat

Christmas DVD Production Team: The Winn Family

Thank you, Chapel kids, Parents, Mother Cat and the Winn Family.

Our Counters

Our counters make sure that the money we give to the church is correctly counted and accounted for each week.

Muriel Schulz Jeanne Kipp Betty Steib Marjorie Marsden Ann Cooper

Thank you, Muriel, Betty, Ann, Jeanne, and Marjorie for your important service to Christ Church.

Altar Guild

I want to thank Cathy Walbeck (Altar Guild Director and Gail Connolly (Altar Guild Scheduler) and the entire Altar Guild membership who, with great devotion and love, keep us worshipping together in color, silver, bread, wine, oil, candles, and fair white linens. They set the Table with grace and faithfulness each and every Sunday. During the difficult times after the Pentecost Evening fire, the Altar Guild quickly took action to ensure that the ongoing worship needs of the community were being met.

Thank you Cathy, and the entire Altar Guild (see the Altar Guild Report for the names of these wonderful folks).

Service Worship Books

Each and every Sunday, we produce a service book designed to keep us all together in worship which is the genius of The Book of Common Prayer. Hymns are selected, readings and collects inserted according to our lectionary, and the various elements of the Liturgy of the Word and Table are placed before us, like a good meal.

The vestry and clergy of this parish value and give thanks to God for Anne Fay’s ministry in trying to standardize, improve upon, correct, and revise these service books so that they accurately reflect our worshipping tradition and style as Episcopalians in a format which is very user friendly. Anne is currently creating a cyber style format that will allow us to do this work more easily.

Thank you, Anne.

Servers on Sundays

Servers on Sundays are the flesh and bones of our Sunday morning worship. Our Ushers greet us at the door with a welcome word and smile and make sure receive what we need to worship; count us and our offering for the morning; help us know when to go forward for communion; and basically shepherd us through the morning.

Our Readers share the word of God with us and help lead us in prayer. Our Chalice bearers gently and lovingly offer us “the cup of salvation.” Our Acolytes lead our coming in and our going out and perform other very important functions around the altar.

Thank you, all who have found the perfect freedom of service to God and others.

The Christ Church Choir & Musicians

I want to thank David Bradfield and the fabulous parish choir and musicians who lead us in worship each week. David shares his honest, joyful, and talented soul with us each week, selecting music that expresses the Gospel for each Sunday and that is capable of lifting our spirits up to God’s presence as a community.
Thank you, David, musicians, and choir.
Dawn Switzer Gwen Fleischer Helen Beauchamp Beverly Metcalf Betty Garren
Teresa Foster Suzi Marshall Ana Maria Maresca Susan Mulledy-DeFrank
Duncan Macintosh Ron Kipp (cello) Kenny Brown (electric guitar)
Jan Moore (Posting of music and back up to David when he is on vacation)
David Bradfield (choir director, keyboardist, acoustic guitar, and accordion)
Anne Fay (Liturgical Dance during Advent)

Christmas Tree Gift Giving Ministry

I want to thank Terri Watamanuk and her whole family for continuing to run our Christmas Gift Giving ministry the past few years. Terri works with the organization that identifies families in need and then she collects the gifts provided by members of the parish and takes them to the family.

Thank you, Terri

Hospitality Supplies

I want to thank Jeanne Kipp for keeping us supplied with all of the essential paper goods and supplies that this parish uses week after week. Jeanne has a very demanding schedule and I really appreciate that she has dedicated her time and energies to this most important ministry of hospitality.

Thank you, Jeanne.

Parish House Fire Restoration Committee

In addition to our vestry members who serve on this committee, we are blest to have the good counsel of Bob Dennison and Paul Connolly. Bob has served as Senior Warden twice in the past 8 years and has provided us with legal wisdom as we have made our way through this process. Paul is a former Redondo Beach City Manager whose valued knowledge of the city codes and operations has been a major asset just after the fire and through the completion of the project.

Thank you, Bob and Paul.

Parish Administration

I want to thank Trudy Bush, our Parish Administrator. Trudy started in October 2008 as Sharon and her husband Ron moved to the upper desert. She stepped into a hugely busy and difficult time at Christ Church and has done a brilliant and loving job of quickly responding to the many demands of this position. I am looking forward to many more years of working with Trudy.

Thank you, Trudy.

Child Care

I want to thank our new childcare provider, Carmen Boyne, for her faithful presence and care for our children in the nursery. She is also the person who sets up the coffee and treats before the 8 AM service on Sundays and sometimes is here earlier than the rector.

Thank you, Carmen.

Rental Property Maintenance and Repair

I want to thank Sandy Pringle for his continued support and hands-on work on our rental property. Sandy is a get-it done and get-it-done right man and he and Stephen Duke have worked together to make sure that our rental property is properly maintained in safe, attractive, and cost-effective ways.

Thank you, Sandy.

Shared Bread

I want to thank Barbara Ramsey-Duke and Victor Dominguez for their shared leadership that provides meals for those in need in the South Bay. Christ Church is the lead during those months that have a fifth Wednesday.

Thank you, Barabara and Victor.

Movable Feasts

The loss of our parish hall due to fire led Barbara Ramsey-Duke to suggest that we meet for a group meal once in a while. She contacted local eateries and set up arrangements that allowed a percentage of our total dining bill to be refunded to the church for our Outreach fund. These gatherings have been tremendously successful and will continue until we are able to return to our parish hall for our meals together.

Thank you, Barbara.

Assisting Clergy

I want to thank Father Norm Ishizaki and Mother Catherine Keyser-Mary for their support, friendship, and continuing ministry here at Christ Church. I would especially like to thank Father Norm for the special relationship of shared ministry this past year. His advice and counsel have been of great support to me.
Thank you, Norm and Cat.

The Communion of Saints

Finally, I want to thank God for those whose lives and ministries were a vital part of this parish and who have died. I believe it is important to offer thanks for all of those whose ministries and lives in the past have made possible our life here together.

Dave Franz
Peggy Consani
Louis Elvyn Fay III
Winnie Fay
Steven Meisner
George Didion

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer. Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God’s Peace in Thanksgiving,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke 4:21

This passage from the Gospel of Luke will be our scripture for 2010. Each year I try to select a bit of scripture that contains a theme that I hope will run through our time together in the year ahead.

This passage appears at the end of this week's Gospel upon which Father Norm will preach and begins the Gospel reading for next week. It is important because it is Jesus' sermon on a passage from Isaiah that he chose to read in the synagogue where he grew up in Nazareth.

This one sentence sermon at once resulted in amazement that quickly turned to anger and a threat against Jesus' life by those who heard it.

Here is the passage from Isaiah on which his sermon was based.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

This passage summarizes Jesus' passionate purpose and desire in life and I would like us to consider how Jesus' purpose is our purpose too as a community of faith and as individuals.

Are lives are empowered by what we claim as our passionate purposes. If we decide we will be parents, we take on a huge array of commitments, joys, and heart aches that we could not have predicted when we decided to have our children. Very quickly that decision to bring a new life into the world became the purpose for finding or keeping a job or jobs; for ensuring that the child would be loved, cared for, and nurtured. In short, most of our lives revolved around being parents.

Love of another person whether in marriage, in parenting, or in friendship creates purpose in our lives. So, perhaps this is the best way for us to understand Jesus' claiming of this passage from Isaiah as his purpose in life. It is out of God's love for us that Jesus' life is given purpose because Jesus is God's love fully present in human flesh and blood. Isaiah expressed the heart and purpose of God in his words spoken well before Jesus was born.

But Jesus left out part of Isaiah's prophetic offering. Do you know what he left out?

At the end of the passage from Isaiah, where it says “to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,” the text continued “and the day of vengeance of our God.” But Jesus left this part of the passage out of his reading.

His mission was to create a just and loving world without threatening God’s vengeance. Can such a world be created without threat of God using violence to right the wrongs that create poverty and suffering and turn a blind eye to injustice? This seems to be God’s purpose expressed in Jesus’ one sentence sermon on his reading of Isaiah.

It is God’s love for each of us without exception that gives purpose to life. It is God’s love that directs and guides us and gives us purpose. We are called to follow Jesus and to follow him means to find our passionate purpose as we participate in God’s purpose for all creation.

How has this shown itself in our life as a parish family?

As the Episcopal Church in the diocese, the nation, and around the world?

How have we followed Jesus purpose in our responses to our brothers and sisters in Haiti?

How have we as individuals proclaimed by word and deed the loving purpose of God in Christ?

This will be our journey for this year of grace.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


I would imagine that most of us have been to weddings that really sent us home feeling somehow renewed and joyful Of course, we may have also attended weddings where we suspected that the couple’s future was grim and short-lived. Weddings are such public affairs even if they are set within the close confines of family and friends.

Such beginnings are times when we can all feel like there is hope for not only the couple getting married, but maybe for ourselves. Whether married for 60 years, as some of our Christ Church couples have been or just into the first five years, a wedding is a symbol of God working powerfully to bring two people together, but more powerfully to keep them together.

In the prayers prayed for marrying couples, we say: “Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.” The couple becomes part of a sacramental touch of God. Their wedding invites those who attend to consider again the life of relationship as a vocation of faith in a world where loving and sustainable relationships are greatly needed.

In our Gospel reading for Sunday from John’s Gospel (2:1-11), Jesus comes to a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee to which his mother, Mary had been invited. He comes to the party after having been proclaimed “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”by John the Baptist and extending an invitation to “come and you will see” to two of John’s disciples who ask where he is abiding or staying. Other disciples then join Jesus as he headed to the wedding feast at Cana.

As you read this story, you will notice that the bride and the groom are unnamed. We don’t even know who they were in relationship to Jesus. The whole story is about wine that runs out in the middle of a party, but John makes it clear that the story has a much deeper message and meaning. This story is really about a religious system that no longer worked. The Temple system of sacrifice as a way of atoning for certain sins and restoring people to community while still wildly popular and a cause for violent defense of the Temple was failing.

John the Baptist called people to repentance and amendment of life in the wilderness, not in the Temple. In a sense, the blood of sheep and other animals no longer seemed to convince us that we were really okay after all. The spilling of blood was supposed to be confined by the sacrificial system and I believe it was. The problem is that the sacrificial system no longer seems capable of containing our collective violence.

People today have a struggle understanding how Jesus’ death somehow created a new reality capable of transforming our world. As we have discovered recently from Maya Chamberlin’s search for a bone marrow donor, sometimes there is only a limited number of people whose genetics match up with someone in need of a donor. In many cases, finding that one person who matches is a matter of life and death. I find this model a good one for understanding the power of Jesus’ blood to restore us to the image of God.

What the church claims is that Jesus and Adam share the same DNA spiritually. As the scripture says: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Jesus is the one whose spiritual DNA is universal. Like the *blood type O which can be used for any of the blood types, Jesus blood is the only blood that is universally able to transform our world from injustice and violence to justice and peace. His death reveals to all who can candidly and completely acknowledge the historical reality of the crucifixion and the resurrection that we are in need of salvation and that God in Christ is the only one to whom we can turn.

Just so, in the story of the wedding feast, Jesus is said to have changed water into wine that was so remarkably superior to the wine that had run out that the stewards of the feast chastised the party giver for saving the best for last. It is the blood of Christ which is poured out for us on the cross that is able to change us. And we know we are being changed when our relationships with others begin to change.

Right relationships with others is hard work that requires humility, grace, and a willingness to change for the love of the other. Right relationships beyond the promises of marriage is called justice. John saw the world which included his religious brothers and sisters using religion to avoid the creation of such right and just relationships and he bristled at the sight of those who wanted to turn his baptism into another religious ritual instead of a moment of grace meeting human will surrendered.

In John’s Gospel this first sign of changing water into wine is designed to point us toward the power of God to save us. It is God whose life and blood can restore us. Without blood there is no life and without God, human culture violently cycles through time and space without hope. To taste the water turned to wine is to affirm a deep and abiding faith in the power and love of God and John brilliantly offers that the wine is the best saved for the last. The wedding of Heaven and Earth is at hand.

*From the Ohio Red Cross
• Almost 40% of the population has O+ blood
• Patients with Type O blood must receive Type O blood
• About half of all blood ordered by hospitals in our area is Type O
• Type O blood is the universal blood type and is the only blood type that can be transfused to patients with other blood types
• Only about 7% of all people have Type O negative blood
• Type O negative blood is the preferred type for accident victims and babies needing exchange transfusions
• There is always a need for Type O donors because their blood may be transfused to a person of any blood type in an emergency

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


When things are going badly in our personal and corporate world, we tend to look for solutions or problem solvers to save the day. We keep hoping for that one person who can inspire us, lead us, and provide for us a sense of things that can restore us to a better time however we might wish to define that expression.

If our Gospel for this first Sunday of Epiphany were to become a movie, it might open with a quick graphic showing how badly things were going for the Jews who turned to John the Baptist as the possible messiah who could restore them to better times. The problem with hunting for a messiah is that our personal or even group definition of what might constitute a “better time,” is usually restricted to the benefit of those who seek it.

Most of us, if we are honest, believe that what is good for us is good for everyone else. In the United States, it has been said that what is “good for business is good for the United States.” Of course, all such understandings of a “better time” seem to draw from our previous experiences rather than anticipate a “better time” that is without historical precedence.

The Christian sense of the future is not really about the re-creation of some “golden age,” but about anticipating an age that is like no other age in the history of humankind. So, when people came to John the Baptist in great anticipation that he might be the messiah, they came with an expectation that he would restore Israel to a pre-empire kingdom like the one that momentarily existed under King David.

The Gospel of Luke tells this story of Jesus’ baptism in such a way as to effectively turn our attention away from the “better time” being sought by the crowds who came to John. John’s response to those who came to him with anticipation of him being the messiah, hear John speak of another one who was coming.

Of this one to come John said: "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The messiah, in John’s estimation, would not be a restorer of things in the past. He would not return Israel to a Golden Age of Imperial power. In fact, the one to come would burn up all such ideas like the chaff and stubble. John clearly says that the messiah of God would break with any past sense of a “better time,” and create something the world had never seen before and could not guess.

I think it is true that we often get locked into fights about the future due to our fear of what is coming. We would rather substitute an old reality for what appears to be an unknowable and therefore scary future. John was a prophet and in prophetic style he does not allow us to continue our fights over “the way things should be.” Instead tells us that such arguments are simply the old protective husk that is no longer protective, but ready to be thrown into the fire. John will not allow those who come to him to take refuge in the past.

It was into this moment of prophetic speech that Jesus arrives at the Jordan to be baptized. He waited in line behind a great crowd seeking baptism. According to Luke, Jesus enters the water after John finished baptizing everyone else as if to say that John’s ministry ended with Jesus’ baptism. How many of us, as we get older, finally realize that we are not the main event, but like John, a prophet that will not allow ourselves to be turned into messiahs or to allow some past age to be viewed as the final hope and dream of God for us?

A final note about Jesus’ baptism is in order. Jesus prays immediately in response to his baptism. Throughout the writings of Luke, including the Acts of the Apostles, this is the expected action when one comes in expectation to a moment in history which is unlike any moment that has ever been before. Jesus prays and the history of the world is changed. Jesus prays and the whole identity of God and God’s messiah is changed. Jesus prays and the Holy Spirit comes down upon him, in a visible, history changing way and the prayer that invited the Holy Spirit is answered by this simple affirmation: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

There is no future that looks to the past for its consummation or for its plan. There is only the future that emerges in the light of the flames that burn up all such ambitions of a “better time” restored. Epiphany means the making obvious and clear that our future is God’s future and not some romanticized past of military or national supremacy. It is Jesus who is the messiah of God and the future he begins in history is like nothing that existed before. The messiah of God is the One whose life is the portrait of our future in God’s love and will.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."