Sermons

Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

“Gracious God, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”

“Those whom God has joined, let no one put asunder.”

Today’s Gospel is a difficult one. It is one of those texts I wish the folks who put together the lectionary would leave out, as it requires careful unpacking and it is used to shame and condemn.

Let me just say this. Given the cultural context of Jesus’ day, the fact that he adds that women might divorce their husbands and that he immediately calls the little children to him, I am convinced that this teaching of Jesus is not about marriage and divorce, so much as it is about living in covenanted relationships and what that requires of us.

This teaching is about not being able to cut someone off and leave them without voice, without agency. Women who were divorced by their husbands, and the little children who gathered around Jesus at the disciples’ dismay -- they were the marginalized, the voiceless, the powerless.

And Jesus puts them front and center. He lifts them up. They are not to be ignored, cast off, disregarded. They are to be heard. Dare I say they are to be believed.

I read an interesting take on this passage of scripture. The commentator suggested that “those whom God has joined together, no one can separate” might not be prescriptive, but descriptive. That is, if God has truly joined in covenanted relationship, that relationship cannot be severed. And if it can be severed, it might just mean that God is no longer joining it together.

Living into covenanted relationships that are of God, that has the God of love active and involved in it, that is the teaching of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel.

And that is the teaching of baptism.

My son was scheduled to be baptized on September 16th, 2001. As the events of September 11th unfolded and the world seemed to turn upside down in an instant, we questioned whether holding such a celebration the following Sunday made sense, or if we needed space for something else.

I called our rector and asked her what she thought. She said, “A baptism is exactly what we need right now.” We knew she was right, and so we did. The first time we gathered as a faith community following the horrific events of 9/11, we gathered to baptize a defenseless nine month old baby into the household of God.

At the time, I thought going ahead with the baptism was a good idea because it would remind us of new life. It would give us a reason to rejoice in the midst of our grief; to hope in the face of our fear and anxiety.

And all of that was true. If you look at the pictures of the baptism, there would be no evidence of the world events that were unfolding outside. That sanctuary was filled with rejoicing and hope.

And, while holding onto joy and hope was critical, the Baptism served another, more profound and longer lasting role in our lives.

Standing together, hearing promises made on an infants behalf and re-affirming our own, it reoriented the entire gathered community. As the world was awash in a 24 hour news cycle, still a relatively new phenomenon at the time, gathered as a community in Christ we were reminded of who we were, who God called us to be, who God needed us to be every day of our lives and particularly on that day and the days that were to follow.

That Baptism reminded us that we gathered at the table together not just for solace but for strength, not just for pardon, but for renewal.

Gathered at the font, we were held in God’s grace AND we were ushered into an unsettling transformation that would never be complete this side of the grave.

In our uncertainty would we turn, over and over again, to God?

In our impulse to blame, would we repent of the ways in which we contribute to pain in the world?

In our anger, would we seek God in all persons?

In our hopelessness, would we continue to strive for justice and peace?

In our despair, would we continue to grow into the full stature of Christ?

We thought we were gathering for a break from the events in the world. In reality, we had gathered for challenge, for transformation, for our marching orders that told us how we were to respond to the world around us.

And here we are this morning. And while the events of the past weeks may not feel on par with those of 9/11, many of us came here this morning for comfort. Many came here for a break from the chaos in the world. We came here to experience some joy and hope in the glorious celebration of James’ and Mackenzie’s baptisms. And what a glorious celebration it is!

But do not be deceived. We are also here for transformation. We are also here for re-orientation. We are here to be reminded who it is God calls us to be, who God needs us to be in this moment. And we are here to be transformed into that version of ourselves, growing more fully into the full stature of Christ; each and every one of us.

I often joke that when a baby cries during their baptism, it is because they know what they are getting into. It usually gets a laugh and lessens the stress of the parents who are trying desperately to quiet the child who is just being fully themselves in that moment.

This morning, we will baptize Mackenzie. The adults in her life will make profound promises on her behalf, and we will dream of how she will grow and what effect she might have in this world.

And we will also baptize James. James, as an adult candidate for baptism, we make those promises for himself, aware of the implications of those promises in a way Mackenze is currently spared.

Before we do anything, I will ask James, “Do you desire to be baptized?” And, unless I have scared him off, he will answer “I do.”

As anyone who has uttered the words “I do” knows, that is not a once and for all “I do.” Each day requires us to say “I do” over and over again. That is true for any covenant we make. Each day we must say “I do” if we desire to stay in that covenant.

And so James will say “I do” this morning, I hope. But he will need to say it over and over again if he has any hope of the ongoing transformation that is required for him to live into the promises he will make.

And Mackenzie will need to do the same. Her life will be filled with opportunities to say “I do” and become more of who God needs her to be.

And so do we. I hope you will leave here this morning inspired by James’ witness to the courage and vulnerability of an adult seeking baptism. And I pray you leave this morning filled with hope at the future that Mackenzie represents for all of us.

But I also hope you will leave here transformed. I pray you will leave re-oriented. Most of all, I hope you will leave here committed to responding to the events of the world, and the events of your everday life, honoring the promises you will renew and reaffirm this morning.

To do that, to say “I do”, you are invited to come to this table not for solace only, but also for strength. Not for pardon only, but for renewal.

And you need to know you are not alone in the work. In baptism you are bound in a relationship with all those who have been baptised before you and those who will be baptized after you. It is a covenanted relationship with God at the center of it, binding us together.

And those whom God binds, no one can separate.

These baptisms are precisely what we need this morning; Mackenzie’s, James’, and yours.

Do you desire to be baptized?

AMEN.

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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