Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's Know What We're Doing

Scripture readings for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost include I King 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Julien is about to be baptized.

He’s hoping that we know what we’re doing.

It’s too soon for him to be noticing the evidence pointing to him as being at the center of this first sacrament in his life; but at that moment when I approach him with the water of baptism and the oil of chrism, I believe then he’ll be hoping that we know what we’re doing.

That will be a moment when he may entrust himself into what’s happening. Or he may not. The sacrament will be no more or less effective, either way. He may look to the familiar faces of his Mom and his Dad to see what they’re expressing (are they pleased by what this fellow in a white robe is doing to him, or are they dismayed?), or he may depend on his own instincts, how it feels to be where he is at that moment, centering in on the turning wheel of this event whose hub is the font of new life in Jesus Christ.

And for sure it is Jesus who is the center of this first sacrament in Julien’s life. Not that the two of them have never met before (who knows what spiritual encounters purity of heart allows an infant to have, what play dates are possible with a redeemer whose promise is to be with us always?), but this is the sacrament whose inward and spiritual grace is the making of Julien a member of the Body of Christ, uniting him to Jesus’s life and death and resurrection, birthing him a second time into God’s family in Christ.

So it may be truer to say that God hopes we know what we’re doing today, as we baptize Julien.

I invite you to listen again as each of our readings guides and sharpens our purpose today.

Starting with the Collect we said together. There we learned the purpose of the universal Church into which Julien will be baptized. Here is what we prayed: “that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name…”

To know what we do today is to recognize our own calling to be Christians who manifest the power of God out and about in the world. By our example, we will show Julien what that power is, introduce him to the source of that power, encourage him to trust that power, and so help it become natural that he shows it in his life.

A gentle power. A thoughtful power. The power of grace which is God’s love for us, undeserved and unearned, freely moving, freely given. A power that results in respect, an open mind, a trusting heart, a reflective spirit, a bold and generous will. Listen closely, and you will hear all this language in the baptismal rite that we offer to God today.

How pure and personal and Godly this language is, by contrast to much that can be said about churchgoing, church meetings, church services, church personalities, church rules and obligations and controversies and hierarchies and church business as usual.

If that’s all we propose to introduce Julien to, then he has reason to worry. Instead, we want to approach him with the awareness of Solomon: that even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God, much less any house or doctrine or denominational traditions of our own making. All the containers of our religious life, all that deserves to be called Church, must show forth the power and presence and purpose and passion of God, and must move us to constantly welcome, says wise King Solomon, “the foreigner” who stretches our horizons, the unfamiliar that will keep our boundaries flexible.

And, the writer of our psalm today adds, our religion must also free us to rejoice in God, must open our hearts to find the waters of baptism in the driest and most desolate valleys, must train us to recognize how our belonging to one another in community for one day is a more dynamic gift than a thousand days in the isolation of our own thoughts and habits.

We hear what the apostle says today to the Christians at Ephesus. The power of God is the power of Spirit:

Truth, to wear like a belt that keeps your pants up...

Righteousness (or right relationships) like a kevlar vest around all that is vital...

Zeal for peace, giving you traction in a slippery world, like new running shoes...

Faith, to shield your thin skin like sunblock, screening out the UV rays of cynicism and despair...

Salvation, like a helmet protecting your identity with the knowledge of who and whose you are...

The Spirit of God, closer to you than breath itself, forming your words by the Word of God...

These make up what the apostle calls “the whole armor of God,” and to know what we do today is to take up these supplies of God for ourselves, and for Julien.

And when all is said and done, to know what we do today is to understand and keep practicing the calling Christians hear daily from the One who is at the very center: Abide in me, as I abide in you.