Sunday, January 13, 2013

Down by the Riverside: Our Baptismal Covenant and guns, mental health care and the culture of violence

Jordan River
Today's sermon is based on Isaiah 43:1-7Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

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The people were filled with expectations and they were blessed and they were the beloved. May you be filled with expectations, blessings and know you are the beloved. Amen.

Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

What must these people have seen and heard, standing in line at the river?

They had come from seemingly everywhere, traveling a long perilous journey across desert and mountains, to the lowest place on earth – the Jordan River Valley.

Now they stood in line, waiting to be washed in the river by a strange holy man, to be baptized into a new way of living.

Standing next to them in line was a young man from the north, from the region known as the Galilee.

Did they even notice him in line?

Or were they so consumed by their own worries, their own struggles, their own expectations, that they didn’t notice who stood with them.

He waited his turn. If he said anything to anyone, no one seems to have noticed enough to remember it or what he looked like.

Yet one man did notice. John, he was known, the one who they would call “the Baptist.”

John was an austere man of the desert, living off the land, and he attracted followers, lots of them. We can guess some of them were starving. Maybe all he could give them was insects and a little honey. It was all he ate, and it was enough.

Then there were these lines of people from all over the Judean countryside, waiting to see him.

Maybe some were fleeing from something, but I will bet most were not unlike us – searching for some sense that God is with them, that God has not deserted them in their troubles.

And there was this other man standing in line, this man from the north, and he came alone.

John, the one they called the Baptist, he noticed him. He knew exactly who he was, and he knew in an instant that the world would never – could never – be the same.

He washed this lone man in the river, baptized him like so many others. But this time it was different. This time it was the Baptist who felt like he had been washed, made new, made holy.

And he heard the voice, maybe only a whisper, saying that this man in the river is “my beloved. Listen to him.”

For countless centuries many have pondered this scene, debated its significance, wondered why on earth Jesus, the Son of God, would chose to stand in line with all these troubled people and chose to baptized.

To find the answer, maybe we need look no further than ourselves. By standing in line to be baptized, Jesus chose to be one of us, to share in the same troubles, to experience life as we experience it, and ultimately to bring the Godness within him to dwell with us, too.

He yearned to show us that we, too, are the beloved of God, that our very existence is God’s dream.

Today we are passing along this gift of God’s dream through baptism to three children: Charlotte, James, and Alice.

We will stand with them at the font in the center of our church, where so many have been baptized for decades and decades.

We will signify with the outward symbols of water and words, music and prayers, that these three beautiful children are the beloved of God.

And we will do more: We will promise to stand with them in whatever life brings them. We will declare that nothing – nothing – will separate them from the love of God. Down through the centuries, many have declared this reality in countless places, and in countless ways.

Indeed, today, by what we do, we are reaching back thousands of years to the ancient Hebrew prophets.

Listen again to the prophet Isaiah, who in a few short words proclaims the very essence of what we do today:

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

No one can be a bystander today. Baptism brings with it challenges for each one of us.

In a few moments, we will join together in renewing our baptismal covenant. We will make promises for how we will live our life in faith – promises not just for ourselves but for these three children and for every child in the entire world.

We will pledge to pray together and share in the breaking of the bread – regularly.

We will promise to love our neighbors as ourselves – regularly – and promise that when we fall into sin – as we will do regularly – that will return to the Lord, again and again.

And here is the hardest one. We will promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

By doing this, we are holding these promises in trust for these three children until they are old enough to hold these promises for themselves.

If we take seriously the promises of our baptism, that will have consequences and will change the world.

Our baptism commissions us to be servants for each other, servants of our community and servants of every nation. The only privilege of our baptism – the only privilege – is the privilege to be servants.

We can start by proclaiming in word and example that we stand for an end to the way of violence, warfare, poverty, and ignorance – and an end to the idol of guns.

I want you to know that, with 27 others from our diocese, I have co-sponsored a resolution at our upcoming Diocesan Council to join with other religious communities in calling for laws restricting the sale high-powered military weapons; strengthening our mental health system; and calling on all of us to take a critical look at our culture that glorifies violence.

My baptismal promises compel me to do no less.

People of faith can differ on the details, yet we must not shrink from doing what we can to make our world safer.

Yet know this too: Wherever we go in life, whatever good we do, or the mistakes we make, Christ Jesus stands in this line with us – joins us in the water of baptism – telling us over and over that each one of us is the beloved, each of us is God’s dream.

“Do not fear,” Isaiah proclaims, “for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

These are the promises that never, never, never end. AMEN

James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snowing in Jerusalem

A rare day: Snowing in Jerusalem today. Notice the kids making snow angels near the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Pray for that peace in the Holy Land will come and not on a rare day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A new year reflection from Sister Simone Campbell

Dear friends,

May your new year be filled with many blessings, and I promise to get back into the swing here on Fiat Lux. Last fall we were treated to my friend Sister Simone Campbell preaching and teaching at St. Paul's. She is the leader of the "Nuns on the bus," a group of women religious who have been drawing attention to how our politics is hurting poor people.

This morning Sister Simone shared with Odyssey Networks a short (two minutes) reflection on what she hopes for the new year. I share it with you: