Baptism of Our Lord 8 January 2017
(Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17)
“The Hearts of God’s People Growing Stronger!”
I was with a good friend on Thursday on a day of retreat. She is a minister in the United Methodist Church and she shared about her church service from last Sunday, based on the John Wesley Covenant prayer. She talked how it has become a custom at the beginning of each calendar year her congregation to hold a renewal service of a person’s covenant with God.
Today’s Festival of the Baptism of Jesus is really our covenant renewal with God, initiated at Baptism and affirmed at Confirmation. We do this Renewal and Thanksgiving of our Baptism; we name those who have been baptized this past year; and we do all this in the midst of a society where it feels as if “normal” has become totally unhinged.
So let’s talk about how our Baptism Covenant informs our daily lives. Two things come to mind. 1.) There is more upheaval in our country as inauguration day gets closer; AND, 2.) today you have received a well-thought-out and constructed summary of the Holy Cow Assessment we took several months ago, which I really encourage you to spend some time with it, and digest what it is saying. Each of the areas listed is most important, but it is the “Conflict Management” area I mention simply because “conflict non-management” seems to be a driving force in our society today. I will quote from page 4 where it says: “Getting beyond differences requires application of an intentional faith understanding…” I would suggest that a big part of “intentional Faith understanding” is our understanding of the covenant made at Baptism.
When we are fractured and broken, the easy thing to do is find someone to blame and to lash out in anger. Blaming is the convenient way of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. To act in such a way is not the covenant we made at our Baptism.
The “blame the bad guys” narrative quickly degenerates into a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), and it also does violence to the truth. That is why, as we enter a new year, as we prepare for a new administration; as we move to build a stronger congregation, our actions must be born of the understanding that we are all in this together.
In many ways, we are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world, and way of the church, and our place in it. When we think of the church, I’ll name a few: how/where we do worship; how/when we educate our children; how we educate pastors; how we staff a church office; how/where we do mission work; how/who we evangelize…..that’s only a few of the uncertainties of the church as we move into 2017.
Maybe another way is to say that we are a people/nation/church entering the space between stories, in which so much that we have come to see as normal and right, real and permanent is now open for discussion.
What will it take for the new story to have foundational truth, to embody love, to demonstrate compassion? I want to suggest today that the responsibilities and promises of our Baptism become a guiding force in our political discourse, our church polity, our community decision-making and our neighborhood conversation.
A good friend of mine, a reiki instructor, tells me over and over again: hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people move beyond hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath what they feel they have lost.
Our Baptism covenant reminds us that we all are Beloved Children. But we are all victims of the same wound of separation. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. We are all in our uncertainty together.
To this, we bring the waters of Baptism! We bring the responsibilities, the promises, the covenant we profess and renew over and over again.
To live as “God’s Beloved,–it is time to up our game! It’s time to come in off the sidelines. It is time to stop feeding discord. Next time you post on line, check your words to see if they smuggle in some form of division: snarkiness, belittling, or derision, some invitation to “us versus them.” I know it feels kind of good to do that, almost like getting a “fix.” But also, notice what hurts underneath, and how it doesn’t feel good to demonize others, not really, at least not for a very long time. Let’s begin telling and living a new story!
This does not mean to withdraw from difficult conversations. But it means to rewrite our vocabulary. We do need to speak hard truth, but with love. We do need to offer acute analysis of today’s world, but not to carry the implicit message of “aren’t those people who disagree with me horrible people?”
As a congregation it is important to evangelize compassion before we can evangelize membership. As a Baptized community of faith, we need to make this place is a safe location to do difficult and creative conversation with those we disagree with on any issue.
Pastor Nadia Boltz-Weber says that “the best thing baptized people bring to the brokenness of our society is the strong heart of God’s people.”
What I think she means is this: history has proven (world history/church history) that in difficult times the heart of God’s people becomes stronger. What we discover in difficult times is this: people who place more hope in The Kingdom than in the Government. We find people who stand more upright with the vulnerable. We find people who love harder and deeper. We find people who become more generous with their time and their treasure. We find people who are swept up into the radical reconciliation and mercy of the Crucified and Risen God, people who will use this radical reconciliation of the crucified and risen Christ—and not the results of any election or contest or assessment tool–to determine what we believe, what is worth paying attention to, who we value, what matters, and in whom we place our trust. That’s our story to tell!
The Kingdom of God always grows stronger in challenging times. The Kingdom of God is among us. You, me, each and every one of us is God’s Beloved Child. This is our story! This must be our story! May it be so! Amen.