Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sermon: January 10

Lord, open unto me - light for my darkness - courage for my fear - hope for my despair - peace for my turmoil - joy for my sorrow - strength for my weakness - wisdom for my confession - forgiveness for my sins - love for my hates - thy Self for my self. Lord, Lord, open unto me! Amen. (Howard Thurman)

Who are the ministers of the Church? (BCP p. 855 – Outline of the Faith)
The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

For too long, we have thought of the ministers solely as the clergy. But the BCP gets it right, for lay persons, the baptized, the people of God are much more numerous than us clergy types and our calling to ministry happens at baptism for everyone! (That is why they are first in the list.)

The sacrament of baptism is the unifying action of God that makes us all ministers.

As William Stringfellow wrote, “Baptism is the sacrament of the extraordinary unity among humanity wrought by God in overcoming the power and reign of death; in overcoming all that alienates, segregates, divides and destroys men in their relationships to each other, within their own persons, and in their relationship with the rest of creation.”

Baptism is about life and our relationship with God, each other and all of creation. Through Baptism it is God who restores us and calls to each of us.

Consider what all of us say at the end of the baptism service as the congregation welcomes the newly baptized – young or old, the words are the same – “we receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

“Confess, Proclaim, Share” – We, the people of God, are all called to do that through our lives.

Now we might feel that we are not a Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, but each in our own way, we are to confess and proclaim our faith through our words and actions. Jesus' eternal priesthood, is something we share because of our baptism. It is from his priesthood that we are called to follow where Jesus had led us and to minister to others in his name.

For the story of Jesus baptism, is the story of our baptism, the story of God calling and connecting with each one of us in God’s beautiful and grand creation.

We remember that Jesus was baptized like we were…

As we imagine the scene with John the Baptist standing near the river, wearing camel’s hair, people are flocking to him, to confess their sins and yet John knows that what he does, his proclamations, his baptisms, are just a beginning, they anticipate the one who is to come, the messiah. His baptism by water for repentance will become the baptism by the Spirit.

John prepares the way of the Lord much like his ancestors did from Abraham and Sarah to Moses and Miriam to David and Jeremiah to now, John the Baptist.

It all comes to fruition when his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth comes and all that John had anticipated happens; Jesus is baptized 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."

“The most important thing about Jesus' baptism is that by it his mission is set.” (Verna Dozier)

His baptism, like our own, sets our mission. For his story is our story, and it is God’s Spirit who descends on the day of baptism, anoints all for the mission and ministry that God has set before us, and it is the spirit of God that will be with us in every step that we make. It was true for Jesus. It is true for us. – Beloved of God.

Years ago at a small country hospital, a baby was born - a rare event in the little thirty-bed facility. The extended family had gathered to welcome little Elizabeth into the world.

The chaplain on duty came to congratulate the father, a young man of few words. "Beautiful baby, "the chaplain remarked, as they looked through the nursery window. Little Elizabeth was squirming - you couldn't hear it through the glass - but she was squirming, and red-faced, and screaming. The chaplain thought the young father might be concerned.

"Now, she's not sick," the chaplain explained. "It's good for babies to scream and do all that. It clears out the lungs and gets their voices going. It's all right."

"Oh, I know, that she's not sick," the father responded. “But she's mad as hell." Then he caught himself, "Pardon me, Reverend."

"That's all right," the chaplain said. "Tell me, why's she mad?"

"Well, wouldn't you be mad? One minute you're with God in heaven and the next minute you're in Georgia."

The chaplain thought, Wow, what has this guy been reading? The chaplain asked, "You believe she was with God before she came here?" "Oh, yeah." - "You think she'll remember?" asked the chaplain.

The young father replied, "Well, that's up to her mother and me. It's up to the church. We've got to see that she remembers, 'cause if she forgets, she's a goner." [From Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock.]

This young father understands that her little Elizabeth is part of the story of God and that it is her mom and dad's job (and the church’s too!) to make sure she understands that story and her place in it. In baptism, we become part of the household of God that has come together to re-tell that story: the story of a God who created us and our world out of love and who re-creates that world again in the gift of his Son.

In his own baptism, Jesus begins the second part of that story: into the mission for which he was created & called. In our own baptisms, we take our place in that story and are entrusted by God with the task of re-telling the story of God's love "so we don't forget." Because if we fail to remember, we're all "goners."

That calling into the baptized ministry, reminds me of the words of a great lay leader in our church, Verna Dozier:

"The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is the commitment that all of God’s creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment, and God has called us to have a role in its restoration." Amen.

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