Sacred Soil

Welcome to New Life
August 12, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

August 12, 2012
Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 19

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Maggie, today is an extraordinary day. A blessed day. Today, we get to welcome your family as new members here, and we’re excited about that. But, even more so, we get to baptize you, to welcome you into the family of God. We get to claim you as our sister in Christ. And that is a truly extraordinary thing.

This is a lovely bunch of people, this family of God. Though, we want to be sure you know we’re not perfect. We here are just a small representative sample. There are lots more of us out there in the world. And just like family, some of us are a bit odd, some are a little overbearing, and some are unexpectedly kind.

And the truth is, we can’t wait to discover God’s gifts in you. To join with you on your journey, to walk with you, and have you walk with us, as we try to figure out what it really means to be like Christ in the world. We can’t wait to add your wisdom to the mix.

Our text from Ephesians today is actually quite lovely in this regard. Reminding us of a few things that are important about being followers of Christ—being part of this family.

First, this God family thing– it is not about being nice.

And that’s a good thing, because the truth is: some of us aren’t very nice. At least not nice in syrupy sweet, cover-up the messiness of life sort of way. Certainly, we’re mostly a kind bunch, but nice—well we’re not that into hiding the truth just to make people feel good. There are lots of stories we can tell you about this—like the time we all realized the truth that our three little churches couldn’t make it alone. We didn’t really want to hear it, because it was painful. But, facing that truth, we were able to come together and form Unity, this little church, which you get to call home. It was a messy truth. But God was there in the midst of it. We hope, that as you grow up, you’ll speak the truth to us too. That you’ll know this is a safe place to do that. And we promise, we’ll do our best to speak the truth to you too.

And second, well, there will be times you get angry. We can take it.

In fact, we need to take it. If you’re angry, let it out, let us know. Let it out. You matter to us, and we want to work with you to make things right. We hope you’ll stick with us in that too.
And the thing is, there are a lot of things that should make you angry. There are lots of things that make us angry—because there’s injustice everywhere. All over the place.

We’re angry that homelessness is an ever growing problem,
we’re angry that “religion” has been used to exclude folks,
we’re angry that there are folks that are hungry.

Part of this being a family thing, well, that means working together to figure out the things that make us angry, to right the injustices.

And third, the writer of Ephesians reminds us to keep it kind. We mess this one up all the time (but more on that later). But we know that at our best, we work together, to build each other up, because this Christ emulating thing, though it’s really an honor, it’s also hard work. And the temptation is to let our anger, our frustration, our need to speak the truth… well the temptation is to use that to tear each other apart, to look at the other with contempt. But, really, this work takes a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness.

But these folks, well, they’re pretty good at telling the truth, and getting angry without getting mean. They can tell you lots of stories about how, through the consolidation of the churches, there were times when they had to say pretty hard things. But they did their best, to do it kindly, honoring the other person.

Here’s the thing though—sometimes the going does get tough. Life, for all its joyous exuberant moments (like this one), also has its awful times. That’s just reality. There are a few of us here who know that reality too well. Way too well.

We mess up. Sometimes we forget that we’re part of this family. And sometimes, the way forward just seems too hard.

Elijah knew that well. Our Old Testament text actually comes just after an extraordinary moment, where God’s power overwhelmed everyone. You see, the prophets of Baal, a false God, attempted to build a fire and prepare a sacrifice to their God. And our God, not to be out done, has Elijah pour 12 jars of water over the wood and the bull and the altar. So much that water poured everywhere, filling the trench Elijah had dug around the altar. And then, Elijah calls to God to make God’s self known. And so God does—sending a fire from the heavens that obliterates the bull, the altar, the wood, and the water. It’s pretty astounding. After that, no one doubts that God is God, and Baal… well… nothing.

Anyway, this act displeases the King’s wife. A lot. And so she wants to have Elijah killed. And even though Elijah knows God is powerful, and good, and kind… well… the threat feels like too much. And he is too broken to go on.

We all have days like that.
Unfortunately, some of us more than others. That too is just part of being in this family. Some days are terrible. We get angry, and there’s no way to resolve things before sundown. We lack the courage to speak the truth. And we say things that are unkind. Some days, we are too afraid. Too tired.
You’ll have days like that too.

But here’s the thing we know—our God will always welcome us home. Will always lift us up. Will always claim us. Will always love us. No matter what.

For Elijah, that meant finding a solitary broom tree, a shrub, which provided shelter. And the touch of an angel, a messenger from God, who reminded him to eat, who brought him food. And through this he had the strength to carry on—to continue in the work God had called him to do.

It might be a bit corny to say it, but we’re here to be your broom tree. To be your shrub. To be a shelter and a place where angels can tap you on the shoulder and say: Get up. You can do it. And we know that you’ll be that for us too. Indeed, you already are.

But the thing is, this thing we do today, this baptism, isn’t something just to welcome you into the family. No. It’s something far larger than that. We could do that with a simple hand shake.

No, today, in this ordinary water, the power of death will be destroyed. And new life will grow inside you in unexpected ways. In this ordinary water, God’s gracious and unconditional love is poured out. The love that is more powerful than death. More powerful than all the evil in this world; more powerful than all our fear, our unkindness, our failures. In this ordinary water, Maggie, you will be claimed as God’s own beloved child.

And that, Maggie, why we’re celebrating today. Welcoming you as our sister. We’ve been through these waters too—and we know what it’s like to be loved by such an amazing God. We know what it’s like to fail miserably, and we know what it’s like to have an angel touch us on the shoulder and remind us, we can do it. And many of us know what it means to look squarely at death, and to know that our God is yet more powerful. We can’t wait to be family with you, and to learn of all the gifts God has given you.


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