Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Global Positioning in Baptism

Jack is about to take a mighty step.

Will it take him anywhere new? No, and yes. He knows every square foot of this place already, especially his lair back there in the outfield, and his square foot or so of space on the chancel steps where he has helped many a children’s sermon happen, and all those nooks and crannies in our church school building. Most important of all, he already knows he has a place at our Lord’s table, another square foot of landing space at that altar rail where he has belonged for much of his young life.

So today in his baptism he’ll get up close and personal to the font, a piece of antique furniture he has walked by countless times and seen in use along the way. Those few square feet are like a launching pad, sending one person after another into an orbit that belongs to Jesus Christ, drawing each person into a parallel track with Jesus.

Given to every person in his or her baptism is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, implanted within the person, or, if you prefer, raised up within the person. To be given that Spirit is like being given a compass to guide you, or a telecommunication system to receive and send—I mean receive from Jesus and send to Jesus. To have the Spirit of God inside you, as we believe will be raised up in Jack through his baptism, is like connecting to a global positioning system that helps you locate God and lets God signal you.

Well, I said like… make sure you hear that like, because what baptism doesn’t do is make anything automatic. Or mechanical.

What baptism has done for each of us who has stood where Jack will soon stand, is the one thing we could not do for ourselves: in baptism God joins us to Jesus and makes us members of the living Body of Jesus, each of us an equally loved, equally valuable, equally crucial member, just like an organ or a limb in a human body. Each unique, all equally essential. And once we are joined to Jesus, it is his love, and his courage, and his peace that flow through our veins and animate our imagination and form our loving.

What does baptism not do? It does not take away our responsibility for our own journey. It unites us to the journeying of a whole community. It unites us to a long history of journeyers like those we hear about in our Bible readings today, Elijah and Paul and, very specially, Jesus—whose stories inspire (and sometimes puzzle) us. Best of all, Baptism unites us to Jesus himself and his Spirit, the very best navigational team there is in the universe—but it’s up to each baptized person to position herself/himself daily in order to see Jesus wherever he shows himself and hear God however God may speak to the heart, sing to the ear, or whisper to the mind.

We position ourselves by praying. Both the kind that asks and the kind that keeps quiet to listen.

We position ourselves by reading the Bible. Not just here in church, but alone at home, at the kitchen table together at home, and in groups of friends who help one another listen for Jesus the Word by saying how the Word becomes flesh and makes sense to them.

We position ourselves by worshiping and learning together, and by serving together—cooking and delivering meals to elderly people, running bingo nights for nursing home residents, going on a medical mission trip, setting aside time and money and other resources to share with people who need us to, and because we need to, and because we need them.

So, Jack: will the mighty step you’re going to take set you on a new journey? That’s up to you. But from what I know of you, I think your answer will be Yes, that you will be open to knowing Jesus and loving God and serving in the world in new ways. Our job is to show you what “open” looks like, how open minds and hearts behave.

Where will your journey in faith take you? How new will life become because of your faith in God and God’s faith in you? When Christians ask big questions like that, they need their positioning devices, and one of them is the Bible. The stories we’ve heard today tell us about the faith journeys of the prophet Elijah, the apostle Paul, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his travels to do what God asked of him, Elijah met a very generous and very poor woman, a widow, and her son. They are important enough that they stand in one of our windows, the one nearest the font—while Elijah isn’t with them in the big part of the window, he’s there in the little roundel at the bottom. This mother and son had so little to live on that they were actually preparing to die—but they freely shared what they had, that jar of meal and jug of olive oil. What they thought might be enough to feed just the two of them in fact fed Elijah too and still did not run out. Jack, we pray that your life journey, like Elijah’s, will show you how abundant life is, and can be made, by the power of sharing.

St. Paul was launched into orbit when one day, on a dusty desert trade route, Jesus Christ appeared to him in a blinding light. Paul had been doing everything he could to make life miserable for Jesus’s disciples. He was certain that their new religion was phony and dangerous, and that Jesus’s death on Good Friday simply proved how right his judgment was. But now this same Jesus was speaking to him. He could feel his life turn around. From then on, he would become walking proof of the truth and power of Jesus’s love. Paul was so persuasive that he won the hearts of people who just didn’t matter to the other apostles—those leaders of the Church didn’t approve of the type of people who became Christians because of Paul’s message. But Paul’s mind was made up, that all are equal in God’s sight and in God’s love. Jack, may you have St. Paul’s courage and conviction, his open heart, and become walking proof of Jesus’s love.

And Jesus himself is shown on his journey, his great three-year pilgrimage of healing, on foot through the villages and fishing ports and on into the great city, Jerusalem. Today, he encounters a funeral procession. The only son of a widow had died, and Jesus will not let them pass to the cemetery. He touches the casket and, with the same voice that would one day reach Paul, he calls the young man to life. Jack, we pray that you will be strong with Jesus’s compassion to reach out and help even the person everyone would swear was beyond hope.

Enough talk about other people’s steps. Jack is about to take his. Remember your role. It isn’t just to say today “We will!” when I ask, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in his life in Christ?” Your role is to do that, to show Jack how faith works, to model openness, to share the journey, and to learn from him as well.