Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Must Care--7B 2018

Scripture here (Track 2)

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Baptism comes first.

Of all of the rites of passage in the Book of Common Prayer, baptism comes first.  

It precedes the Holy Eucharist. It is set apart from those rites known as “pastoral offices”.

It comes first.

It is the entry point into the community and a way of life that surpasses the way of the world.

One of two principal sacraments in the church—the other being Holy Eucharist—baptism stands at the center of what it means to be a Christian. The requirement for baptism in our tradition is, quite simple, ask.

All that is required to be baptized is a request—because the church assumes that if the request has been made, then the Spirit is at work. There is scriptural precedence for this as we consider the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by the apostle Philip in the book of Acts. The eunuch, curious about the meaning of a passage of Isaiah, had been told the good news of Jesus by Philip and, upon hearing the good news, the eunuch exclaims, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?.”

Baptism is considered sufficient in and of itself for full membership into what we call the Body of Christ—and the liturgy itself is considered complete with a simple sprinkling of water and the stated, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, no other words or actions are required. The tradition of the church is clear that baptism happens once, we cannot be unbaptized, and we can never be separated from the body into which we’ve been baptized. The person who is baptized is part of us, no matter what, no matter where, no matter.

This does not mean that baptism does not ask anything of us, nor does it mean that we are not accountable to each other. Because, to be part of means to be accountable to, to be part of means to participate in something that is beyond ourselves, to be part of means that we live no longer for ourselves alone but for each other.

We live no longer for ourselves alone…we live for our families, our communities, our neighbors. We live, indeed, for ALL of God’s children. All of God’s created people regardless of who they are or where they come from.

This is why the baptismal covenant is so adamant in its affirmation of our collective unity.

Unity.

Unity is central to God’s vision for creation--as the psalmist writes,

God gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Gathered. Gathered together. And so, today, we say the creed that unites us to Christians around the world and throughout our history as a church. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to live as Christians within the context of a faith community. Together, we accept the truth that we will fall short and set our intention to make things right. Together, we proclaim the good news of God in Christ through our words and actions, words and actions informed by the teaching that Christ is present in all people and that in service to others we serve Christ.

Together. Who would have thought that this principal teaching, as it emerges out of scripture, our tradition and our reason, would ever prove to be so radical a statement within the political context of our country. Our tradition as we’ve inherited from the beginning of the church, from the beginning of creation, is adamant…

We belong together, our family the Church belongs together. The human family, we belong together.


Gathered together, from all directions, the people of the earth…

Which is why the prayer book offers us this prayer for the human family,

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, we have been arrogant and hateful—transform us.

Lord, we have built walls--destroy them.

Lord, we have been separated by hate—unite us in love.

Lord, we have forgotten that our principal calling is in service to your throne—open our hearts.

Open our hearts so that we may remember that your call to unity in love supplants any human authority’s call to division in fear.

Who would have thought that reaffirming our baptism would be an act of resistance!

An act of resistance to those forces of evil that sow division and fear in a world that God created and declared, at its heart and in its form, good.

The baptismal liturgy includes an examination, a series of questions that must be answered in the affirmative as we set our hopes on Christ and renounce evil in this world…evil being defined, in this context, as that which “corrupts and destroys the creatures of God”. In other words, God declared all of creation “good”—and evil is that which would subvert that creation by dehumanizing God’s people, or harming the earth that God has made.

In this, evil is that which seeks to destroy what God has created—which tries to break apart that which God has brought together, which seeks to instill fear where there should be faith in the goodness of God’s creation.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too far to find examples of evil at work in the world.

Pause…

In the face of the despair that threatens to overwhelm us, I cry out with the disciples…“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

Do you not care?

Do you not care that your children, your friends, your neighbors are perishing?

Yes, yes, he does care. In this moment, when the sea overwhelms, Jesus demonstrates his command over creation--but also his capacity for mercy.

Jesus’ mercy is a manifestation of his power. Where others would demonstrate their powers through destruction, he demonstrates his in compassion. It is up to us, as members of the body of Christ, to respond with the same kind of compassion to those who cry out to us in their fear. It is up to us to show that we do care about those caught in the storms of hatred, indifference, and despair.

In just a few moments we will reaffirm our baptisms and as we do so, I bid each of us to consider how we are called to persevere in resisting evil and to remember that our obedience is not to any human authority that would divide us but rather, to the God who would unite us.  Amen.


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