Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wet with Our Tears

Scripture for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost includes Job 38:1-11; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

One day last week, I met with Asher and his Dad. That was because I thought it might be good if Asher and I had a little face time together before today. Not long ago, either Bill or Alix asked me a question about their son’s baptism: I think it was, “How do you baptize a four-year-old?” And I answered, “With a squirt gun.” It didn’t take long to realize that this was a bit flippant, and their question really was an invitation to me to think it through. What better way than to spend some time together?

So Asher helped me water the palm tree that we’ve had recently at the font. Then we replenished the water in the bowl of the prayer nook, where people float the candles they’ve lit in prayer. By then, we’d begun naming many ways that water is part of our lives. We wash dishes. We wash cars. We sweat. We take baths. And, of course, we drink water. Without it, we would shrivel up and blow away.

We didn’t think of rain falling on thirsty gardens and lawns.

Nor did we get as far as sailing boats on it. Or surviving great windstorms when waves beat into the boat. But if the object is to appreciate why water is used in holy baptism, navigation and survival deserve to be named.

And tears. We got sweat, but we didn’t think of tears. Yet the broken hearts of our nation this past week surely make tears such an important part of the significance of water. As we cry, we grieve, we heal. And we wonder how many tears will it take to cleanse this nation of racial hatred.

When the water of baptism is poured and blessed at the font in a few minutes, we will be reminded of yet more meanings of the gift of water.

“Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.” And today’s reading from the Book of Job insists that God’s claim upon the earth, the stars, and the sea puts us in our place not as owners but as stewards of life.”

“Through water, God led the children of Israel out of their bondage… into the land of promise.” In its own way, this reminds us how obscene racial hatred is, lacking compassion for fellow human beings whose journeys across hazardous oceans brought them into bondage, not freedom—economic bondage which still, despite the oceans of tears shed in our Civil War, and the flood of tears shed throughout generations of Jim Crow, economic bondage still claims a vise grip on so many.

“In water, Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.” Asher and Bill and I saw that story drawn in glass above the altar, at the top of that second window. And right below, Jesus is seated with children in his lap and at his feet, showing clearly how he gives to each of us, from as early in life as can be, the very same love that God has given him.

That love, God’s love for us, each of us, one at a time, is what we celebrate in every baptism. And as one person comes to the font today to set his sights on learning that love, practicing that love, growing that love, in the same moments of his baptism, each one of us is invited to renew the baptismal agreement (for which “covenant” is a fancier word), the agreement God wants from us.

Still wet from the tears of these past few days, we renew today our agreement to persevere in resisting evil… to seek and serve Christ in all persons… to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Wednesday night, in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, eleven people offered this very kind of love, God’s love, to Dylann Roof, but he had no room, no use, no respect, no desire for such love as came to him in that circle of generosity created by Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, The Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, DePayne Middleton- Doctor, Felecia Sanders, Cynthia Taylor, and Sharonda Coleman- Singleton.

He broke that circle with his hatred, and with the gun he carried he broke the life and the family circle of nine of those people who had made a place for him among them.

Still wet in the blood of Roof’s gun violence, our nation must again choose either to reform or to keep condoning the appalling ease with which guns are obtained and carried and used.

Still wet in the water of baptism today, we will make good on our promises to practice the love that will prove stronger than death, the love that will be the antidote to what poisons the well of this nation.

This is also the love that knows how to answer the question Jesus asks of each of us: “Why are you afraid?”

We are in the same boat as those disciples. We have ample reason to be afraid. Bad enough when brutal senseless mind-numbing violence occurs half a globe and two or three oceans away; but when it swamps our own boat—and I expect you’ll agree that this attempted desecration of one house of prayer is an invasion of all spaces, both sacred and civic—when this hatred worms its way into spaces we have pledged to make safe for all, then it is natural to fear.

But Jesus will not let us get away with locking the doors of this house of prayer which have been open at least daytimes for all its 121 years. The answer is not to circle our wagons. Nor is it to issue IDs for admission to bible study. Jesus will teach us precisely what he taught his disciples in that boat: that to be human is to be vulnerable, and to know ourselves to be vulnerable creatures is how we will face both reality and eternity honestly and openly.

Jesus calls us to trust him. To trust his presence not to protect us from vulnerability, but to equip us for the reality of the present moment that is fully known to him, and to equip us for eternal life which, we rejoice to affirm today, is given to us as sheer gift, amazing grace.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they ask him. And so do we.

Yet it will never be otherwise with this precious gift of life. The religion opened to Asher today through his baptism does not pretend otherwise. As St. Paul puts it, in the language of our second reading, “What part of afflictions, hardships, and calamities do you not understand? If these happened to me, they will happen to you. Be ready for them. When they come, keep trusting the one who knows the next step.”

Jesus hears his disciples ask whether he cares that they are perishing. What else can he be thinking but, “And so am I.” And it’s right then that what he demonstrates to them is courageous leadership facing into the windstorm and a deep marshaling of the ability to bestow peace and still chaos. His vulnerability does not limit his powers. His vulnerability inspires countless generations to believe that they—we—are the hands and feet, the body, the eyes of Jesus in our day. We are practitioners of his powers.

How the nation and the world need those powers now. How we need the baptismal agreement to renew in us the conviction that these powers are given, planted in baptism, cultivated by parents and siblings, Godparents and community. How fortunate we are, in the shadow and aftermath of these days of our tears, to get wet today with Asher in his baptism.