(Feast of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
We find ourselves in chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel. Much has happened in Jesus’ public life between Nazareth and this exchange: soaring sermon, multiple miracles, calling and commissioning and confession, predictions of Passion, Transfiguration and teaching on the need for complete surrender for a disciple.
And now: an intriguing question, a question that makes one wonder if the disciples are truly paying attention: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
To help answer the question, Jesus “calls a child, whom he puts among them”.
Jesus has a huge soft spot for children. Why? Children typically have open hearts.
And Jesus gravitates towards open hearts; it brings Him joy to indwell them. Indeed, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58)--save the human heart. Our hearts are Jesus’ pillow, if you will. Children’s hearts are really Jesus’ pillow.
The child also serves as a living metaphor. Jesus chooses, as St. Jerome (+420) says, “one whose tender age should express to them (disciples) the innocence which they should have.” Indeed, Jesus says: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is the fitting internal disposition before a great God, in Whose life we participate. And there are, of course, great benefits to being genuinely humble: we learn to be sensitive and to be grateful, to admire and to welcome...
But, this is more than a lesson in humility. This is really about divine love. The kingdom of heaven is one of love and only love can enter Love.
The same St. Jerome articulates a few qualities of a child, which speak to divine love and reveal what happens in a disciple of Jesus when transformed by divine love.
If any of you put a stumbling block
before one of these little ones who believe in me,
it would be better for you
if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Today, we celebrate our very special child-like sister in faith: Saint Agnes, our patroness, our friend. She was no better equipped than us to do what Jesus asks. But she said “yes” and, by virtue of divine love, she lived and loved heroically, and, by virtue of divine love, she journeys with us.
In the ancient Roman calendar of the feasts of the martyrs dating from 354, her feast is assigned to January 21. We moved it to today, so that, together, we be able to celebrate! She was martyred in 304 at the age of twelve for resisting sexual assault. She is, understandably, patron saint of young girls and girl scouts, and of those seeking chastity and purity. According to an account by St. Ambrose, born in what today is Belgium, Bishop of Milan, Doctor of the Church, died in 397, Agnes told the judges during her trial, “He who chose me first shall be the only one to have me.” Hername is derived from a Greek adjective meaning “pure, sacred”. All accounts unanimously point to her heroism under torture so to preserve her virginity in the name of her faith and her Lord.
The accounts vary regarding what exactly took place. In one account, the Roman Prefect Sempronius condemned Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. In another account, a fellow lusting after her during her trial was struck blind.
In another account, she was tied to a stake but the flames parted. Many agree that she died by the sword. What is certain is that the One who chose her first was the only one to have her. Let us, with her, with humility and forgiving and pure hearts, approach the Eucharistic table, in person or by desire if viewing livestream, and enter the kingdom of heaven.
(THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY)
Molly Jane Layton
Come and see! the young girl says to her mother, impatient to display her fingerpainting.
Come and see! the teenage skateboarder says to his crush, eager to show off his newest trick.
Come and see! the research assistant says to her stern supervisor, hopeful to gain approval.
Come and see. Three words full of invitation and hope in the speaker. And three words which
can spark everything from wonder to skepticism in the hearer.
What will that mother find at the fingerpainting table? A masterpiece or a mess?
Is that crush open to being impressed? Or annoyed at being called away from her girlfriends?
Will the discovery be enough to crack through the supervisor’s hard outer shell?
Regardless, the invitation still stands.
You could perhaps make “Come and see” the slogan of the whole season of Epiphany, which we are in right now. Epiphany comes from the Greek word that means “a coming to light” or “an appearing.” 1 At Christmas, Jesus, the Son of God, appeared as the Savior of the world. And now, in Epiphany, our gospel texts center around important moments in Jesus’s ministry where aspects of his identity are revealed to us, such as his baptism last week. We are invited, along with the disciples, the crowds, and the religious leaders, to come and who this Messiah is. Our gospel reading today describes the calling of Philip and Nathanael, two of Jesus’s disciples. Philip is so excited about who Jesus is that when Jesus asks him to follow him, he immediately runs off to find Nathanael to get him to join, too. Nathanael, however, is a bit more skeptical. “Wait – you said he came from Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth was a small, backwater town in Galilee, an out of the way region not particularly
known for anything besides its fishermen and its tendency to produce revolutionaries. This is
why Nathanael doubts that the one written about by Moses and the prophets could possibly come from there. Certainly he would come from somewhere a bit closer to Jerusalem, right? Actually, no. Jesus came from Nazareth. And the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth reveals to us something important about God’s love for the world: God does not send his Son into the circles of power, into the places where it looks like everyone has their act together, into the places where he can make the right connections and get ahead. God sends his Son to minister to the people at the margins, to the places where people struggle to make ends meet, to the places where people are more likely to spend all night fishing than to loudly drop lots of coins into the temple collection plate.
When Nathanael meets Jesus, his response to him shifts from skepticism to wonder. Although
they have never met before, Jesus displays intimate knowledge of Nathanael’s character and his actions. This blows Nathanael’s mind. His skepticism now completely gone, he acknowledges 1 Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
Jesus as both the Son of God and the King of Israel, which is a pretty amazing declaration for an Israelite to make. But instead of patting Nathanael on the back, Jesus gently chides him. “That’s all it took for you to believe? You will see far greater things than that! Even angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man!”
Although a bit more cryptic, this revelation is just as important as the previous one. Jesus alludes to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, where Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth. Thus, Jesus identifies himself with the ladder, as the locus of contact between heaven and earth, the place where earthly humans find the connection to their heavenly Father. Furthermore, New Testament scholar Raymond Brown points out that the phrase “greater things” in other places in the Gospel of John refers to Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. 2 Thus, Jesus is obliquely telling Nathanael to “hold his horses” because the best is yet to come. It’s too much for the disciples to handle right now, so Jesus doesn’t spell it out clearly. But Jesus knows what is coming and is already preparing them to understand the climax of his ministry. Through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the very way to God. This, truly, is worthy of our wonder.
Friends, these revelations about Jesus are good news for us today. Our skepticism may sound
different than Nathanael’s, but it is still just as real. Can anything good come out of a global
pandemic? Can anything good come out of political violence? Can anything good come out of a country with a brutally racist past? We need to know that Jesus, by being our way to God, can heal and redeem our lives and our world.
And so, the invitation stands.
Come and see, that Jesus does not shy away from the hard places in our lives. Come and see that he does not abandon us for the circles of power or leave us for people who look like they have it all together. Come and see that he is present with us in our struggles and in our pain and in our fear. Come and see how he is our pathway to God’s love and affection. Come and see how his death, resurrection, and ascension are our hope and our light in the midst of the darkness. Come and see. Amen.
(The Baptism of the Lord)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Four churches in a small Ohio town:
Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal.
All four, oddly, overrun with pesky squirrels.
The Presbyterians, after much prayer and consideration, determined
that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they shouldn't interfere
with God's divine will.
The Methodists had to deal with the squirrels having taken up
habitation in the Baptismal font. They opted for a very practical approach:
secure a cover on the font. The squirrels, however, somehow managed to
move it and there were twice as many squirrels the next week, having a
The Catholics decided that they were in no position to harm any of
God's creation. So, humanely, they trapped the squirrels and set them free
a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.
The Episcopalians came up with the most effective solution: they
baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the parish. Now
they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
In his Catechism, published in 1538, John Calvin asks,
“How do you know yourself to be a child of God in fact as well as in
Answer: “Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of
and of the Holy Ghost.”
Baptism, as we Episcopalian Christians know and experience it, that is to
as a guaranteed encounter with the Triune God, finds its source in the
of the Lord, the author of Baptism because the “author of our salvation”.
It is odd that Jesus be baptized, however, for He has no need for Baptism.
Jesus had no need for Baptism, for He is “full of grace” (John 1:14),
and grace is what we believe Baptism confers.
If Jesus has no need for Baptism, then why was He baptized?
To make John the Baptist feel that his ministerial labor is worthwhile?
Because He couldn’t resist the cool waters on a hot day?
Jesus can only be baptized if He is to make use of John’s Baptism,
the Baptism that stands at the threshold of the New Covenant.
Jesus does make use of John’s Baptism to institute a Baptism
which confers grace, the Baptism.
As St. Ambrose, 4 th century Bishop of Milan, says:
Our Lord was baptized because He wished, not to be cleansed,
but to cleanse the waters, that,
being purified by the flesh of Christ that knew no sin,
they might have the virtue of baptism.
In being baptized, Jesus makes a promise:
to use the simple element of water to communicate divine life in a special
A guaranteed encounter with the Triune God.
So guaranteed, that it led Saint Isidore, ancient Christian philosopher,
Bishop of Seville, Spain, who died in 636—and who, by the way,
invented the period, the comma and the colon—to say that
“Baptism is not the work of man but of Christ, and this sacrament is
that it would not be defiled, even if the minister were a
Those Baptismal waters…
Those Baptismal waters led Lutheran pastor Nadia-Bolz Weber,
whom I quoted last Sunday, to say,
“Many of us would pray not to die in a car crash before we were
like other people pray not to get sick before their employee benefits
Those Baptismal waters led contemporary theologian Carrie Underwood to
I followed that preacher man down to the river.
And now I'm changed,
And now I'm stronger.
There must've been something in the water.
Those Baptismal waters led another singer of another generation
of another musical genre, Nina Simone, to sing
Take me to the water
To be, to be baptized
I'm going back home, going back home
Gonna stay here no longer
I'm going back home, going back home
Baptism confers grace to us, and grace grants us a share in God’s life,
Indeed, the Baptism of Jesus reveals this.
Jesus comes to be Baptized in the Jordan,
through which the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
By grace, and thus through Baptism, we enter the “Promised Land”.
The “Promised Land”, for us, is nothing less than God’s life.
Finally, the Baptism of Jesus reveals the mystery of God, “the heavens
The Holy Spirit, like a dove, that is to say, full of gentle love, descends,
confirming the divine origin of Jesus.
Then, “a voice came from heaven”, expressing divine delight: the Father.
Son, Holy Spirit, Father.
This epiphany is not only of Jesus but of the Trinity.
It is the first explicit New Testament revelation of the Trinity.
Today, we celebrate
Jesus as God
God as Trinity
ourselves as beloved children of God
Jesus is the Beloved, in whom, we are the beloved.
Each of us is a beloved child of God.
God has given us everything, so that we be born again and live His very life
—which means: a happiness deep in the heart that no one/nothing can
We must, of course, cooperate with grace.
We do so by seeking God and letting ourselves be found by God
and by stepping out in faith to love our neighbor.
Loving neighbor is intrinsic to our relationship with Christ.
Worry not, however. Christ makes this possible: grace upon grace… (John
(FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
The feast of the Epiphany.
Early on, the Church had a sense in faith that this merited a special celebration. Saint Clement of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia!), prominent theologian, who died in 215, mentions it. There is written
and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, in 361.
“Epiphany” means manifestation. We celebrate God incarnate, the Word made
flesh, made manifest to the Gentiles (i.e., to the rest of the world, beyond the Jewish community), in the persons ofthe Magi. The first to visit the Christ-child were the shepherds, simple and lowly, who were Jews. The second to visit the Christ-child were the Magi, these other mysterious figures, who represent the learned pagan world. The first reading (Isaiah 60:3) speaks prophetically of them:
“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
This passage from Isaiah has led many to conclude that the Magi were, in fact, kings. It is unclear who they are. The term Magi comes from a Persian term, “mag” for “priest”. Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says,
reference to this feast
by Roman soldier
“Three kings from the Orient bringing gifts to Jesus in a manger is a charming
story, but it’s not actually the one we find in the Bible. A closer reading ofMatthew
shows that we have no idea how many people were there, and we don’t know how
far east they came from. Was it the Orient? Was it New Jersey?... And most
importantly, they were definitely not kings.....They were Magi, as in magicians,
and not the cute kind you hire for your kid’s birthday party. Yet history made them
out to be kings, maybe because the reality that they were magicians is too distasteful,
since no one really wants the weird fortune-teller lady from the circus with her
scarves and crystal balls to be the first to discover the birth of our Lord. So, the
story has been nicened up into an idealized picture ofmulticultural diplomacy. But
the Epiphany story ofHerod and his infanticide reveals a God who has entered our
world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be.”
The exact identity ofthe Magi is indeed difficult to specify.
Whatever the case may be--pagan priests or magicians, both astrologers, three or more, named or
unnamed, they are traditionally portrayed as coming in full regalia, with gifts. They come with all their learnedness, rather moved in their minds. Theirs is an attraction of which we may not often think.
The simplicity of the shepherds, moved in their hearts, seems more accessible. The Magi, sometimes called the wise men (not wise guys!), are mysteriously moved in their minds. They come reading the stars: in this case, a star, indicating the birth of a king. Given what they say, we may presume that they came expecting divinity: a king from above.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star at its rising.”
We can perhaps say that they come because they have been given a gift from
Christ, before even seeing Him: faith. This they are given, not because of privilege, but because they are seekers. God likes seekers. God extends Himself to
those who seek.
Faith is a gift, freely given, which entails a very subtle attraction to God, enabling us to discern mystery from above. It is interesting and important to note, also, that faith does not eliminate the use of the mind. Indeed, the Magi come moved
by faith, all the while reading the star...
St. John Chrysostom (+ 407), in a commentary on this, says,
“Since they sought a heavenly King,
though they found Him in no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of a star alone,
Saint Augustine and
Saint Jerome support the understanding of magician.
No Church Father holds the
Magi to have been kings.
Additionally, the Gospel narrative fails to mention the
number of the Magi.
Some Church Fathers speak of three Magi, likely influenced
by the number of gifts.
The Gospel narrative also fails to mention the names of the Magi.
In the Western part of the Church, from the seventh century, we find slight
variants of the names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
With the eyes of the body , they see a fragile infant. With the eyes of faith, they “see” God. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between child and God. It is
very much like our situation regarding the Eucharist. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between bread and God.
The Magi come and find. They find what they were seeking in faith, and they are
filled with joy. The first thing that they do upon seeing the child is to adore. They “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (verse 11) Adoration is always the first, fundamental act in the presence of God. They also offer gifts, gifts in keeping with the reality of this child. The gifts are revealing for us:
“gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal, and incense,
as to a God.”
More things will later be revealed about the Christ. But this is the initial revelation to the world, through the Magi. Revelation is not a shop window display. It is sharing that invites experience.
Let us adore and experience Jesus, our King of Kings, our God, the Lamb, Who comes to us now in a special way in the Eucharist.