Soiled Community

* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on July 16, 2017 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Texts for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost:
Romans 8:1-11 + Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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Please pray with me:

Nurturing God,
We come to you this morning covered in dirt.
Dirty from our week, our expectations, our hurts, and our pains.
Things we’ve done, and things we’ve failed to do.
Plant in us this morning the truth of your immense love for us.
Water that truth with the nourishing waters of baptism,
And care for it, that it might take deep root in our lives.
Amen.

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There’s a common conversational method called the “Three Sieves” or “Three Filters”. Many people attribute it to Socrates or some other influential thinker, but the truth is, we don’t really know where it comes from. The premise is largely universal though.
Before one speaks, they should allow the thought or speech to pass through 3 filters: is it true, is it kind, and is it useful. The method has to do with how we create information or transmit information to one another.
The Quakers utilize a similar method at their meetings, whether in worship or in conversation with each other. The barometer they use centers around the question, “Will what I am about to say add something helpful to this discussion and move it forward?”

I think both of these methods try to get at the heart of what it means to be in relationship with one another in a community. And I think there are a few truths being expressed:
That in speaking kindly and truthfully, we do so out of love and a commitment to building up the community.
That it reflects a baseline of at least a desire to be in community together.
And there are certainly more truths to be uncovered, but the point is this: being in community with one another is difficult business. Simply because being in community with other people involves…other people…so communities are messy, multifaceted, nuanced, and complicated.

Quite a bit like parables in a lot of ways. Parables are stories with many different entry points and many different exits. There’s no one way to hear or receive a parable. They’re complex, layered stories with many truths existing within them.
But parables take a well-known action or lifestyle and approximate it to an abstract concept that’s difficult to understand. Like the kingdom of heaven…or the reign of God…or a life of discipleship…
Parables use the familiar to say something true or needful about the seemingly incomprehensible.
And it’s probably why Jesus uses them as a frequent method of teaching.

For years, sermons about this parable of the sower have been all about the ground, right? Like, “What kind of soil are you? Don’t be rocky or shallow soil, be good soil so that God’s word takes root in you and produces a bunch of stuff.”
Which is interesting because if the parable were all about the dirt, you’d think that it would be called the Parable of the Soil…

seedsBut if we consider the sower in the Parable of the Sower, we see someone who, honestly, I think is a little extravagant with her seeds. The parable doesn’t tell us that the sower goes out and carefully tills the soil so that when she does plant seed, it has the best possible chance of taking root and growing. No, the sower just goes out and starts throwing seed. Everywhere.
Doesn’t seem to take any special care with where the seeds are landing.

Which I think tells us something really significant about the heart of God. Because if God is the sower in the parable, then God is throwing out seeds—tossing out handfuls of God’s word of love and mercy and peace and compassion—like it’s going out of style.
Friends, the character of God is one of extravagance. Abundant and overflowing and generous measures of unconditional love, unmerited grace, and unrelenting compassion.
And if that’s the character of God, then it’s the character that we who call ourselves disciples and followers of this God are called to show as well.
That we communicate and demonstrate that same extravagant love and grace in the places where we find ourselves, charged with sowing those same seeds in our lives and in the lives of those we encounter.

And remember what I said about parables…that there are many entrances, many exits, and many truths. So our parable this morning isn’t just about the sower, right? I think the Parable of the Sower invites us to ask a lot of different questions.
In addition to the character of the sower, we might also wonder about the type of seed we’re sowing.
What kinds of handfuls of seeds are you throwing out? Is it good seed? Useful? Truthful? Kind?
If the seeds of the sower are the words of God, what words are you sowing?

What about where you’re sowing? Are you waiting for the perfect soil conditions to tell someone your story about how God’s love has impacted your life? Or is your testimony so compelling that, like the extravagant sower, you find yourself sharing handfuls of the ways and places you’ve experienced the life-changing and transformative love of God?

And finally, I do think it’s important to talk about the dirt, about the soil we find ourselves in, but maybe in a little bit different way. I wonder, what kind of soil do you think you are? What kind of soil do you think this place is?

To be completely honest, the question I’ve been wrestling with this week is, “How do you help people see that they really are very good soil?”
So much of our history with this parable is of trying to just be better dirt, to be a more worthy place for the word of God to take root and flourish. And that may be true of some communities.

I just don’t think it’s true of us right now at this moment.
Church, you are good soil. New Hope is very good soil.
I hope you can start to truly believe and internalize this.

This morning, we’re rejoicing with Lynnea and Alyssia as they celebrate their First Communion. These little ones are so, so hungry and eager for the love and goodness of Christ given for them in this magnificent meal, and they are so excited to share that with you.
This week we’ll welcome our siblings from El Buen Pastor in El Salvador and we’ll throw open our doors and our arms and shower them with the same warmth and hospitality that they show us every time we visit them.
Last week and in the weeks to come that Community Center over there is filled to the rafters with the shouts and squeals of young people who are learning and laughing and singing about a God who loves them beyond their wildest imaginations.

My goodness…
Keep planting, church. Keep cultivating this soil.
Keep speaking words that are true, kind, and useful.
Keep extravagantly planting the gracious, loving, compassionate words of God.
The fruits that are beginning to show are so, so good and abundant.

One Spirit, One Community

* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on Pentecost, June 4, 2017 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Texts for the Festival of Pentecost:
Acts 2:1-21 + Psalm 104:24-34, 35b + 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 + John 20:19-23

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This was a jointly preached sermon between one of our youth and myself.

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When I was young, well younger than I am now, I was taught the head, shoulders, knees, and toes song. You know, “head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes,” you get the gist. And the preschool teachers began the long process of teaching us kids all the parts of the body and their roles. The hands were for touching, the mouth was for eating, the feet were for walking. And then years later the health and science teachers expanded on that, going into excruciating detail on organ and body systems, and how they interact with each other. My entire seventh grade science class was devoted to biology and the study of what makes creatures stay alive, while also adapting and evolving to continue thriving through homeostasis. We thoroughly explored how each part contributes to a whole, and that that is precisely what keeps us breathing in and out, among other things.

In the second reading, today we hear again the familiar idea that “all the members of the body, though many, are one body.” Reinforcing everything I had learned, a reminder even in faith. It doesn’t have the same meaning though. This liturgical version runs deeper as it applies to much more than just the scientific aspect of the body. If English class has taught me anything, it’s that to learn the true meaning, unwrap the layers of the text and focus in on the word choice. Paul chooses the word “member”, rather than piece or part. Now why is that? Paul uses the word member to represent living individuals coming together to become one, just as he uses the word body to symbolize not only the literal human body, but larger communities and societies. The dissolving of the differences that separate us brings us together, speaking the same language, listening to the same words, singing the same songs.

These days in the media you hear the way people treat each other. As if they have nothing in common. You see the inequality. The discrimination. How somehow people think it is acceptable to treat people differently than they deserve, based solely on things that make us people. Things like, “race, gender, sex, pregnancy, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth, etc.” If this all exists then how can we also be simultaneously members of one body, all whole as one? The other day I was sitting at the lunch table with my friends stressing over finals, how we were going to miss each other in high school, plans for the summer, etc. And the topic of Ariana Grande’s concert came up. Immediately we expressed our sadness for those who were injured and those who lost their life. But then my best friend in the world, who happens to be Sudanese and proud of it, looked at me, straight in the eye and said, “I hate those attacks because whenever people die or get injured everyone assumes that all Muslim people are bad and not every Muslim is a bad person.”

Therefore, how, in the midst of all this, can we be one whole society?
Paul tells us. “In one Spirit” For in one spirit. We are all connected. Today’s reading stresses that the Holy Spirit is truly what brings us together and creates that bond of members we have under the church of Christ. When I was growing up out of the three and one, the Father and the Son were most talked about. But now as I mature I start to realize that the Spirit might be one of the most important of all. The Holy Spirit not only unites us, but marks us as children of God during baptism. It is during that time when the Spirit washes over us, cleansing our mind, body, and conscience of differences, so that we can be our own selves, but joined under the entire umbrella of the church, sheltering us from the harsh rains of separation.

Furthering this train of thought, Paul grasps at something bigger for he touches the theme of identity, and defining who you are in relation to others. For not only does this reading ask “how can we be united when we are so different?” but also “how can we be different if we are so united?” The Holy Spirit guides us to help find that perfect middle, so that all those pieces of the puzzle are distinctive, but whole, and all irreplaceable.

Today we honor the Spirit and all that it entails, shaping our lives so that we can be who we are. Who we were created to be. Today we remember not only the stories when the Spirit comes as fire, or water, or wind, but especially the present stories of ways the Spirit shines through people now. In my now old middle school we had the most diverse classrooms I have ever seen. I must’ve had friends from countless countries teaching me about their traditions and lifestyles. I personally hung out with many Indian friends, so much that they have accepted me into their culture and called me an honorary Indian. I participated in doing an Indian dance in PE when we had to choreograph one together, and I’m pretty sure right now I could name at least 10 Indian songs that are popular even though I don’t understand the language at all. The purpose of this now lengthy example is that this is how I see the Holy Spirit. When I walked into school every day and saw all those friendly but widely varied faces it evidenced the power the Spirit has, forever bringing us together, no matter what.

NHLC Pentecost

Like Abby said, Paul writes “In the one Spirit we were baptized into one body, and so it is with Christ.” Friends, in our baptism we are brought together as one, joined to Christ, joined to one another, through the Spirit. And “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”.

I think that’s a really important verse for us. As Abby notes, we’re much more ready to identify those things that divide us than those things that unite us. And how on earth could we possibly work together for good if our starting point is one of division?

God’s not looking for mindless drone robots. That’s why I think Paul’s language of members of the body is so beautiful. Each member of the body retains their own identity. A finger is different than a toe, a shoulder different than a nose, but all of these members are dependent on one another to accomplish that which a body is used for. Our task, dear people, is to come together, bringing our individualities and identities, yet asking the prayerful and discerning question, “What is that God would have us do together?”

It’s part of the reason that today, during this celebration of Pentecost, that we’re recommitting and rededicating ourselves to the mission and ministry of New Hope Lutheran Church. On a day when we celebrate the birthday of the Church, the day when the message of the Gospel was heard in new ways by new groups of people and set loose in the world by the Holy Spirit, we’re also celebrating the ways in which we, as a church, as New Hope, are hearing and experiencing and living out the Gospel in new ways and being moved out from our pews by that same Holy Spirit.

Recommitting ourselves to the mission and ministry of New Hope means recommitting ourselves to prayerfully asking that question about what God is calling us to. It means moving forward into a new future, a new mission, a new path… It’s not closing the book, at all, it’s committing to beginning a new chapter, one that remembers and is informed by but is not beholden by our past.

There are many ways in which the church we are now has been incredibly blessed by the church we once were, and we are thankful for that. And, we are and we can be so much more than the church we once were.
Recommitting and rededicating ourselves to the mission and ministry of New Hope is recommitting and rededicating ourselves to listening for and following that Spirit of God that was set loose at Pentecost and is still moving mightily in our world and in this place.

And if you’re wondering if that’s true, if you’re still not convinced, just take a look at our worship this morning. Everything we’re doing this morning has been planned and led by this group of faithful Christians, who want nothing more than for you to recognize what they’ve known this whole time: that the Spirit is here and the Spirit is moving through this place like fire.

 

So in your everyday life, if you haven’t already, start noticing the little ways the Holy Spirit contributes in your life. Notice how the Spirit sparkles and flows through members you see, for all of them are surely becoming one body.

Festival of Incarnation

Christmas.
The Festival of the Incarnation.
A celebration of God’s enfleshment and embodiment.

As I’m reflecting on Christmas and preparing myself to lead my community in the celebration of the birth of Christ, I’m considering the connections between the festival of Christmas and the community of faith.
The church, as the body of Christ, is an embodied thing. We bring our selves to worship. We join in community with one another. We exist in relationship together. I sincerely hope we come together over certain common beliefs, even if peripherally, we disagree about many other things.

That last point is what I’m considering in particular today. Because it’s deeply consequential that we say that God became human. It means that God reveals Godself most completely as a human. And not just a human, but God entered this world as an infant—the very embodiment of vulnerability and dependency. To an unwed teenage mother—another vulnerable person. To a family who became refugees in Egypt—yet another marginalized group—to escape Herod’s terror being visited upon the infant boys in Bethlehem.
To me, this makes God’s connection and concern for the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and the furthest outcast from our society undeniable. When we say that God entered into our existence as a baby, that means something.

manger-light

I believe this is one of those certain common beliefs that I hope we come together around as a community of faith.
If the church is the body of Christ; and we assert, as St. Paul does in 1 Corinthians that, “If one member of the body suffers, all members of the body suffer with it;” then I believe we have a scriptural mandate to hold particular concern for and show explicit care to vulnerable, outcast, and marginalized groups, as God does, particularly children, the homeless, unwed parents, refugees, and all others seeking relief from their suffering.

 

My prayer this Christmas season is that we strive to more fully comprehend the consequence of the Incarnation. As a body made up of human members, the body of Christ is far from perfect, nor is it able to be fully immune to basic human fallibility. However, we can try to live better together. We can commit to disagreeing well together and seeking to build bridges across our peripheral differences from our places of shared convictions.

Being in community together is a noisy, messy, and wild thing.
So it is also with babies, born among livestock, resting their heads on beds of hay.

A Word of Hope…and an Invitation

A little over a month ago, I preached a sermon talking about the difficulty of being in community together and how being in community together can also be messy. In that sermon I asked for forgiveness for the inevitable ways that we, as a faith community, would let you down and disappoint you. This blog is not an apology, but rather a reminder of what it means to be committed to being in relationship and community with each other.

“We will let you down” is an idea adapted from an excellent Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber in her book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. In her book, Pastor Nadia writes,

[A]t our quarterly “Welcome to House For All Sinners and Saints” events, we ask the question, What drew you to HFASS? They love the singing, people often say, and the community, and the lack of praise bands, and the fact that they feel like they can comfortably be themselves. They love that we laugh a lot and have drag queens and that it’s a place where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other.
I am always the last to speak at these events. I tell them that I love hearing all of that and that I, too, love being in a spiritual community where I don’t have to add to or take away from my own story to be accepted. But I have learned something by belonging to two polar-opposite communities—Albion Babylon and the Church of Christ—and I wanted them to hear me: This community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss.

The reality of being in community together, like I said on Sunday, is that we bring our full selves to this relationship. We don’t ask anyone to leave who they are at they door. We invite, we hope, and we expect that you bring your complete self to this relationship because by being honest and genuine with one another, we can begin and continue to build trust.
Trust is the foundation of any healthy and fruitful relationship, and it’s what allows us to disagree about certain things but to disagree well and struggle well together. Trust is what allows us to work out in our community that which God is calling us to. And it is from that foundation of trust that we can further build up our community, begin to move forward together, and do the work of the Gospel that God calls us to: transforming our selves and our world into God’s reign of peace and justice that God envisions for God’s world.

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Sometimes when we bring our fullest selves to a relationship we find that we don’t always think alike, or that we don’t all view the world the same way. But I really believe that those differences in perspective don’t preclude or prevent us from finding where we do share common ground and working together from those places.
My hope and my prayer is that if you’ve recently found yourself surprised or disappointed or let down by this community, that you will also be committed to trusting that God is at work in the midst of that disappointment and that God is actively filling in the spaces left by our community with God’s love and mercy and grace.

Transformation and healing are beautiful and miraculous things if we allow ourselves to be open to seeing and receiving them.
I hope that we all leave room in our lives for God to do God’s work of transforming.

This upcoming Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday. We’ll hear stories of how the power and authority of God sits above and apart from our conceptions about what power and authority looks like. The second reading, from Colossians, reminds us that Christ is the head of the body, which is Christ’s church. And like I said on Sunday, the body of Christ is a celebration of diversity within the unity of the body. By reminding ourselves that Christ is the head of this body, we can trust that we can have diverse thoughts and perspectives and still work to love and care for the world and the people and the creation that God so loves.

Finally church, I invite your thoughts and reflections. The building of relationship doesn’t happen without dialogue and interaction, and so I sincerely invite you into that space of dialogue. Please email me at pastor@newhopelc.org and let’s set a time to meet together and have conversation. I’m serious about this. I can’t know you and you can’t know me fully apart from dialogue and interaction. I’m eager for your thoughts, your conversation, and your reflection.

Peace be yours,
Pastor Chris

Hurricane Winds of Change

* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on October 9, 2016 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Texts for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost:
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c + Psalm 111 + 2 Timothy 2:8-15 + Luke 17:11-19

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Please pray with me this morning:

Healing God,
Be here among us.
Turn our eyes, our hearts, our selves to you.
Root us in you.
So that we might be made whole in you.
Amen.

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As we sit here this morning, I’m keenly aware that just about 1,000 miles to our east, the worst storm to hit the Caribbean and the southeastern United States in many years has just turned away from the coast. Scrolling through photos on NPR, the devastation is striking. Hundreds of people lost their lives in Haiti. Over a million people have been impacted in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Bahamas, and the US.

There were photos of people boarding up their homes in preparation for Matthew, photos of massive trees brought down, people digging out of the rubble, entire cities leveled, photos of neighbors helping each other, providing aid and rescue, carrying each other through flooded streets… There’s a kind of community that seems to come together almost organically around disastrous events.

We know about the before and after around devastating storms, don’t we, church? We know about the boarding up, the stocking up, the packing up, and the cleaning up. We know about extending our hands out to help because we’re all in this together. We know about that kind of community.

Some communities form around tragedy, others around shared values or ideals, some communities come together around a shared love of brunch, or a common interest in the outdoors…but not all communities self-select.

In our Gospel today, we hear of Jesus and his followers walking into a town and encountering a group of lepers. The thing about leprosy in the ancient world was that not only did any skin abnormality qualify you as a leper, but you were also sent away, outside of the city, to live and be with others who had any manner of skin irregularity. You were ostracized from whatever community you used to identify with and forced to be part of this new community of undesirables, untouchables… Seen as unclean…
Not the kind of community one self-selects to be a part of.

And it’s important to understand that to grasp the weight of what Jesus actually did in this story. See if lepers, deemed unclean and unworthy, were some the most ostracized and vulnerable in that society, then by curing someone of their leprosy, Jesus wasn’t just restoring physical health, Jesus was restoring these 10 people to their community. The point really isn’t the physical healing, but rather the restoration—the making whole—of broken and severed relationships to something complete and life-giving.

 

Church, I want to challenge you a little bit this morning.
Yes, of course we should be reaching out to alleviate whatever suffering we can. Our Christian vocation should absolutely be that of healing, mercy, compassion, of repairing brokenness.
But I want to suggest to you that we, in fact, are the lepers in this story.

We are the ones longing to be restored into community. And if you’re wondering if that’s true, think about the last time you felt sad or disappointed or angry or dissatisfied or distant from this community, from New Hope Lutheran Church.
Think deeply. Was it in the last month? The last 6 months? The past year?

I know I have, and I just got here…

And here’s where Pastor Chris is going to be a little bit vulnerable with you. Change is hard. It’s difficult and it can be messy and despite our attempts for smoothness, things rarely go exactly according to plan. I know, because those feelings that I’ve heard from many of you about newness and difference and anxiousness, are some of the same feelings that I have. It’s scary for me too. I wake up at night wondering if the sermon hit just the way I intended, or if something I’ve said or done caused undue stress on an already stressed system.

I feel it, church. I do.

It feels like it could all come down at any moment. Like we’re standing in the midst of 120 mile per hour winds, buffeted by rain and debris, that the storm is ripping the roof off, knocking walls down.
It can feel like a hurricane. I feel it.

storm

Because here’s the thing about communities, and specifically about churches: we’re made up of people. People who are imperfect and broken and sinful and rough around the edges and scarred… Your pastor, is imperfect, and broken, and sinful, and rough around the edges, and scarred.

And church, we will let you down.
We won’t do it on purpose, but we are human, so we’ll mess up. We sin, despite all our attempts not to, we separate ourselves from God and each other, and we fall short. And for that, for inevitably letting you down, I ask your forgiveness.

 

But here’s the other thing about churches: we trust that even in the midst of our mess ups—especially in the midst of our mess ups—that God is there.
We trust that we can cling to the strong and sure faithfulness of God, and hang on for dear life, and that by trusting God’s promises, God restores us to community, to relationship with one another and with God.
We trust that God comes among our imperfection and roughness as an infant, and in the broken, scarred, and crucified Christ takes our sin upon himself. And through Christ’s resurrection, God redeems and restores us.
Scars and ugly parts and all, God call us redeemed…beloved…saved…child…

In Jesus, God speaks a word of love to a world that shouts hate.

 

It’s a love that I felt viscerally on Wednesday night. As I was leaving the church after Confirmation, I swung through the sanctuary to listen to the choir practicing. And they were practicing an anthem that they’ll be performing at my Installation. (Which, by the way, is next Sunday, October 16th, at 2pm right here in this very sanctuary…) And it wasn’t so much the text of the piece, which is beautiful, but for maybe the first time in 3 weeks, I allowed myself to settle and reflect. And as I listened, goosebumps ran up and down both of my arms, and I thought, “These are my people. These are the people that God has called me to. You are the people that God has entrusted me to care for. You are my people. We are the people that God has called to be in relationship together.”

 

And when understood that way, how can my response to God be anything but exultant praise and thanksgiving? What words do I have other than thanks to God for forming us into community?
Like the Samaritan leper, how can I help but give thanks to God for this gift?

 

As unlikely as it might seem.
Just like the Samaritan leper, the double-outsider, not only ostracized for his physical appearance, but also not part of the Jewish believers that the author of Luke was writing to, healing and restoration and thanksgiving come from the most unlikely of places.

 

Church, our worship is an act of gratitude. Worship is not for us, but is an offering of thanksgiving to God for everything God has done for us.
And in worship, we are re-centered and re-focused to God. The God who is steadfast, and sure, and gracious, and faithful. Who is our refuge and our strength. Which is consolation when it feels like hurricane-force winds might blow us over.

 

Here is refuge. Here is a safe place from the storm.
In these waters of baptism and in this meal are promises you can trust.

 

 

All In The Family

* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on January 11, 2015 *

Text: Matthew 3:1-17

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Please pray with me:

Please pray with me.

Living God,
We are often forgetful people.
Remind us and keep us mindful
of who we are and whose we are
in the waters of our baptism.
In your most holy name, we pray.
Amen.

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“There’s always one in every family…” We’ve heard this before, haven’t we? Maybe you’ve said this yourself. This phrase gets tossed out to explain why Uncle Fred insists on wearing his hawaiian shirts during the holidays when there’s snow on the ground. Or used to reason away why your 24-year-old second-cousin Paulette has 14 cats but hasn’t signed up for eHarmony yet.

Or…at worst…we use this phrase to excuse, and even condone bad and destructive behavior…

Maybe you are the “one in every family…”

You know, I was privileged to spend my holidays here with y’all at LMC, which meant I wasn’t blessed with the warmth of a Texas Christmas. But it also meant that Tiffany and I got to host our families up here this year. Let me tell you, 9 Texans navigating a Chicago winter is quite a hilarious sight to witness.

But we got to spend the holidays with our families, which was wonderful, but I’ve got to tell you…I think I’m the “one” in my family… But that’s just speculation at this point.

I suspect that John was probably the “one” in his family, too. Seriously. I mean, camel’s hair? Locusts? Honey? Yeah. “Cousin” John was definitely the one drawing the sideways glances at the dinner table…

And yet…Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Not the other way around. Curious…

It was suggested to me this week that I take a look at the pronouncements of the births of John and Jesus by the angel Gabriel, and so I did. They’re in Luke 1, by the way, if you want to check them out for yourself. Most of you are pretty familiar with the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth, I think. Gabriel, Mary, “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” You’ve got it.

But the foretelling of John’s birth, probably not so much. Instead of appearing to John’s mother, Elizabeth, Gabriel comes to John’s father, Zechariah, in the temple. The content of this pronouncement is what’s interesting to me. Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear a son, and his name will be John. He will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn the hearts of the people back to their God, and he will prepare the way of the Lord. And there’s also this strange tidbit: He must never drink wine or strong drink.

Hmmm. It’s interesting to me that no such conditions are placed on Jesus by Gabriel. Apparently we want our prophets to be focused on prophesying, and not preoccupied with such frivolous things as wine or strong drink. The Messiah? Yeah sure, go ahead, whatever you want. But God forbid that the one preparing the way enjoy a nice Pinot or 2 fingers of the dark stuff…

We laugh, but this understanding is important to the story. See, John didn’t drink, he lived simply, he ate simply. John was an ascetic. From the Greek word askesis, which means ‘exercise’ or ‘training,’ ascetics abstain from so called “worldly pleasures” in the interest of pursuing spiritual goals. John was baptizing people into this simple, ascetic way of living, this spiritual discipline. For John, baptism was a ritual cleansing, replete with repentance of sins and a commitment to this self-denying way of living.

And then along comes Jesus. Interesting to note that Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Was Jesus seeking to be baptized into this way of living simply too? Maybe. Certainly if we take what we think we know about how Jesus lived, we might say he lived quite simply. He traveled, he didn’t own a home, he didn’t have a career, he taught, he ate what people offered to him. This…is our Messiah? This is the one through whom God will redeem the world? Homeless? Jobless? Eating what he was given by others? Doesn’t sound like much of a savior…

John recognizes this, and tries to stop Jesus saying that Jesus should baptize him. But Jesus prevents him, and is baptized by John in the Jordan. It’s counter-intuitive; it doesn’t make any sense. And this is the kind of subversive, flipped-on-its-head thinking that we get from Jesus. Jesus’ baptism is subversive; just like his birth, life, ministry, death, and ultimate resurrection. It defies our conventional ways of thinking and challenges our expectations. We expect a king; we got an infant in a feed trough. We expect a warrior; we got a teacher. We expect our enemies to be vanquished; we got a crucified rabbi. We expect that death is final; we get resurrection. Life from death.

And it’s this life that we are baptized into as well. And not just the life that destroys death, but also the alternative way of living and being in the world that Jesus was baptized by John into. Through our baptism, not only do we affirm the grace, mercy, and love of God that continually washes over us from the very moment of our existence, but we are called into a life, into a way of being in the world, that bears witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. In our baptism, we are charged to let our light so shine, so that the world sees Christ shining through us, reflected through our lives.

Finally, we baptize into a family, into a community, just like Jesus was baptized into a community. At his baptism, a voice from the heavens declares of Jesus, “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus is affirmed as God’s child. In our baptism, we too are affirmed as daughters and sons of the living God. We affirm our place in God’s family. And we are also baptized into the family of a faith community.

And just like our families of origin, we’ve got all types, don’t we. I suspect that we have a few Uncle Freds with a hawaiian shirt among us… Joking aside, just like our families of origin, we take the good with the bad, but this doesn’t mean that we allow destructive or harmful behavior to go unchecked. We hold each other accountable to the promises we make to each other in baptism.

I was privileged to see this family on full display as we laid our brother to rest this week. On Tuesday, I saw and heard this community say, “Charlie is part of our family too.” This family doesn’t supplant or stand-in for our biological families, and yet, sometimes this family might be the only family any of us has when we’re ostracized or forced out of our families of origin. You are welcome in this family.

All are welcomed, and affirmed, and respected, and so deeply loved in God’s family…

Last thing; in the Small Catechism, Blessed Martin Luther tells us that we should remind ourselves of our baptism every single day. Legend has it that Luther once said, “Every morning, when you wash your face, you should remember your baptism.” That’s beautiful imagery, I think. That my first thought every single morning isn’t about how freezing cold it is outside, or any of the million and two things that are on my to-do list; but the very first thought I have every single morning is, “Christian, blessed child of God, remember that God’s grace and mercy are new every morning, and you are so loved, more than you could possibly imagine…”

It’s one of the reasons that every time I walk in this sacred space, I stick my hand in the font, play in the water a little bit, and retrace the sign of the cross on my forehead.

We’re going to be blessed by the waters of baptism now, so if you’ll stand and face the font, and in a minute, when you feel the cool, refreshing water fall on your face, remind yourself: “Blessed child of God, know that God’s grace and mercy are new every morning, and that you are so loved, more than you could possibly imagine.”

Welcome to the family.