Remembering Jesus’ Baptism

We remembered Jesus’ baptism on Sunday and this is how I set up the altar.

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I have to give my sweet friend Jon credit for this one.  I was looking through his past altar designs and saw one similar to this that got me thinking (he actually posted a tutorial here about it).  It’s neat how different both of our altars came out with similar ideas. 🙂

The pitcher is from Target, the bowl is from HomeGoods and the fabric is from the remnant bin either at JoAnns or Lorraines (I try to grab remnants any time I am out and about and they have it discounted more).

Healed By The Waters

It was a wonderful Sunday to reflect on Jesus’ baptism!  After church several women were telling me about a trip they had taken a few years back.  They were in Philippi and re-affirmed their baptismal vows.  How powerful!  I know we often think that baptism is a one-time thing, but I feel – like with other sacraments – it should be shared and re-affirmed throughout your faith journey.

Enjoy the sermon.  Blessings!

Isaiah 43:1-2
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Healed By The Waters

Alan Watts, British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, once said, “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

When I was doing my chaplaincy rotation in Atlanta, I used to do 24-hour on-call shifts at the hospital once a week. Only one chaplain would be on call at a time; we would be on the premises and responsible both for our hospital, Grady Memorial, and the children’s hospital across the street.

I have to be honest – I did not like being on call. I hated the feeling of being alone and not having the other chaplains around for support if I needed it. I never knew what was going to happen or what trauma might come through the doors of the Emergency Room or land on the helipad. The entire time I was on call I almost existed in a state of fear over the uncertainty of what might happen when my pager went off or a code blue rang.

There were times when I was called to two or three places at once and felt like I spent more time on elevators and running up and down the hallways of the hospital than giving pastoral care. There were heartbreaking, tragic and traumatic calls. There were long and sleepless nights. I often looked at my watch all night and counted down the hours until 8 a.m. when the other chaplains would arrive for the day and I could hand the pager off, go home and take a nap.

I lived about 20 minutes from the hospital. Some mornings I would be so exhausted that I struggled to keep my eyes open as I made the drive home. When I walked in the door to my apartment all I ever wanted to do was crawl on the couch, pull a blanket over my head and try to forget that I ever thought a chaplaincy rotation at a Level 1 trauma center would be a good idea.

That being said, it never mattered how tired I was, I never came home and immediately crashed on the couch. I always had to take a shower first.

My post-on-call shower was never really about washing away the physical reminder of the on-call off of me (although washing away the smell of the hospital was always fairly necessarily at that point). In a bizarre way, I needed to wash away the emotional, mental and spiritual reminders of the on-call.

I needed to wash away the tears that I had cried, the distraught family members that I had held and the words that I had prayed. I needed to wash away every call that I had hurried to and everything that I had seen once I got there. I had to wash away the sound of my pager, my inner grief and turmoil over why bad things happen to good people and the sad reality that there is real pain in the world.

In a strange way, like Watts said, I trusted myself to the waters that poured over me those mornings. They helped me feel refreshed and renewed; they allowed me to pause and clear my head; and they forced me to take a deep breath, relax and calm myself down.

I felt healed by those waters.

Have you ever felt like you needed to be healed?

This morning we are reminded of Jesus’ baptism through the Gospel of Luke. The Hebrew people were starting to wonder if John the Baptist, who had been preaching, baptizing and calling people into ministry among them, was the Messiah that had been prophesied to them. But John the Baptist said to them, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And here we are 2,000 years later, still practicing this ancient tradition in our churches and in our lives, still remembering those words, still using water to heal us.

What is baptism? Christian traditions and denominations each have their own interpretations, understandings and practices of baptism. Some baptize babies and young children and others practice believers’ baptism with youth and adults. Some baptize with water and others use oils. Some sprinkle water on their candidates and others completely dunk them in baptismal pools in the church. Some believe that the community should be present and others believe that baptism can happen privately. Some believe baptism can only happen within the walls of the church and other believe a baptism can occur anywhere.

Theologians, clergy and church leaders have spent a lot of time and energy debating the “truth” about baptism – what baptism means, what Jesus taught about baptism and how, where and when baptism should happen. Even at this church, the Board of Deacons and I have spent time discussing what baptism means to our community of faith. We have tried to, as a church, come to some sort of consensus regarding our baptismal beliefs and practices.

I have often wondered, however, if the sacrament and the practice of baptism is sort of like faith – unique and personal to everyone. Perhaps there is no consensus to come to. Maybe we do not need to agree on the mechanics of the baptism itself, but affirm the reality that – in a myriad of ways – God offers us grace and healing through these waters, not only through the baptism itself, but also each and every day of our lives.

I read something this week that caused me to pause and think about baptism in a new way. It was written by the Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, a pastor on staff at the national office of the United Church of Christ.

Today, in churches around the world, people are still being baptized, still being washed in the living waters, still thirsting for God’s grace and a word of forgiveness and life, still waiting to be included, to find their place in the story of healing and salvation, still longing for the chance to start their life over. {Sermon Seeds Year C: Inclusive Reflections for Preaching from the United Church of Christ, by Kathryn Matthews Huey}

Huey reminds us that baptism is not necessarily a practice, but a way of life. And I think she’s right. I am not sure we really need to understand what baptism is and how it should happen; rather we need to remind ourselves that – in one way or another and in ways that are very often unknown to us – we are all healed by the waters of baptism.

I think that we also need to remember that the act itself of baptism is truly only the beginning of the healing done by the waters of baptism. John the Baptist told the people that had gathered that Jesus was going to come and baptize not just with water, but also with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works within us always and allows us to be touched and healed by the waters of baptism every single day.

It is kind of ironic, actually – baptism is such a huge part of our journey of faith and because many of were baptized as infants and children we do not even remember them. But we do not have to remember our baptisms in order for them to have meaning in our lives and our journeys of faith. Martin Luther once said, “We must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church … [but] a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.” (The Large Catechism, by Martin Luther}

Sometimes the hardest part about living in the world is actually living in it. Life is not easy; bad things happen, tragedies occur and communities cry out in anguish. Over the past several years the media has inundated us with news of recession, natural disasters, violence, wars and illness. Lives have been lost, sometimes entirely too soon. People struggle in real ways, here in our community, in our country and throughout the world. Every single day we, as a people of faith, are forced to make difficult decisions based on our circumstances.

And we are thirsty for God’s grace. Our wells are dry; we are crying out to be flooded by the blessings and mercies of God.

Martin Luther was right, baptism does not just happen once. Walking a journey of faith allows us to be baptized daily, to be touched by the Holy Spirit and reminded of the power of the healing waters of baptism every single day of our lives.

I was thinking about the quote from Alan Watts, “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.” I think there is more to it than that; I think to have faith is to allow yourself to be healed by the waters.

I cannot make the world an easier place – but I can remind you that you do not have to live in it alone. Jesus brought healing to this world, not just through this life and ministry, but also through the holy and spirit-filled waters of baptism, waters that touch us all every single day.

God is with us always. The prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. {Isaiah 33:2, NRSV}

To have faith is to allow yourself to be healed by the waters. So let yourself be healed – today and every day.

Thanks be to God!

Walking By Faith

I hope everyone is having a great Sunday!

What a beautiful day for worship, for Father’s Day, to welcome the Masons to our worship service and for a baptism.

Here’s today’s sermon – enjoy!

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Walking By Faith

“From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

This morning’s scripture comes to us from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. He wrote this to remind the Corinthian people that, as human beings living in an earthly time and space, we still belong to God. And Paul urged the Corinthians to remember that their outward expressions of faith should be directly influenced by their inward relationships with God. Something new was happening, Paul pointed out. A Jewish faith that relied so heavily on tradition was being replaced by a new understanding of faith; one where the Gospel of Jesus Christ conquered mortal law, where love conquered evil and where resurrection conquered death.

It was scary for the people that Paul was writing to and spending time with to envision these changes. But Paul assure the community in Corinth that something incredible was happening and that the changes that they were seeing unfold around them were simply creating a path for something new, for something incredible; for a deeper relationship with the divine. “Everything old has passed away,” Paul said. “See, everything has become new!”

I am reading a book right now called, “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church And The Birth Of A New Spiritual Awakening.” It is by a woman named Diana Butler Bass, who describes herself on her website by saying the following:

I am an author who explores the dimensions of religion and spirituality in today’s world.

I am a teacher and speaker working to educate both people of faith and the general public about the importance, the depth, and the complexity of religion and spirituality in history, culture, and political life.

I am a person of faith, a Christian, who attempts to live the generative, inviting, inclusive, and transforming practices at the heart of Christianity that can heal the world.

This book talks about the fact that something new is happening within the Christian faith. In a way, I think that Diana Butler Bass is addressing a lot of the same issues and challenges today that Paul addressed throughout his first century travels. Change is scary; change is difficult; but sometimes – oftentimes, as she points out in “Christianity After Religion” – change is inevitable. A lot of people think that the church as we know it is changing. But Bass argues that it is not the church that is changing; it is the world that has already changed. And it is the church that really needs to adapt in order to survive – and to thrive – in the years to come.

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” This is the new mainstream catch phrase that people who sometimes shy away from the church are using to describe themselves. Some of them go to church on a regular basis; many of them do not.

Many mainline church leaders are critical of this particular description. Many of them think it is just a popular bandwagon that people are jumping on – and that they are using this phrase and description as a way to justify their lack of attendance on Sunday mornings, their lack of commitment to boards and committees and their lack of financial support to churches. And, to be fair, much of their criticism comes from a place of fear. To be “spiritual, but not religious” means that people do not necessarily need the institutional church to connect with God. Church pews may eventually be empty on Sunday mornings, Wednesday night Bible Studies will fizzle out and Saturday night suppers will be few and far between. If you start the think about the consequences of this catch phrase, of this movement of Christianity, the future begins to start to look grim.

But Bass argues in her book that the new changes that are happening around us are not something to fear – they are something to embrace, something to be excited about. We are simply opening new doors and laying down new paths so that we can walk by faith in this time and space. As a human race, we want to have a deeper connection with God. “To say that one is ‘spiritual but not religious’ or ‘spiritual and religious’ is often a way of saying, ‘I am dissatisfied with the way things are, and I want to find a new way of connecting with God, my neighbor and my own life.’” Bass says. She thinks that we want more than traditional church structures can give us. “The whole religion business is displaced by renewed attention to experiential Christian life,” Bass remarks. She is pointing out that the problem is not that people are less engaged in their faith – the problem is that they want to be more engaged and there is currently no space for people to do that.

I would argue that it is possible to be both spiritual and religious. In fact I think people have spiritual and religious needs that are separate and distinct from one another. People need to find a connection with and feel strengthened by the divine (spiritual), but they also need to feel a connection with and be strengthened by people, in communities, here on earth (religious). And I think if churches and church leaders focus on addressing both needs in people’s lives, the church will both survive and continue to thrive in the years to come.

So how do we do that? Interestingly enough, I think Paul addressed this very question 2,000 years ago when he wrote this letter to the Corinthian people.

“So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,” Paul said. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

This was an intentional statement. Paul did not say, “Walk by religious structures or institutions.” Paul said, “Walk by faith.”

What does it mean to walk by faith? I think the key to growing thriving Christian communities full of strong individuals who want to feed both their religious and their spiritual needs lies in this statement. I think the key to growing thriving Christian communities full of strong individuals who want to feed both their religious and their spiritual needs lies on this path of faith that we are all called to walk on.

Here are some of the ways I think that it means to walk by faith:

• To walk by faith means to engage in ministries that we feel called into. To walk by faith means to focus on mission activities that speak to us personally so that we are part of something that gives to meaning to our lives.

• To walk by faith means to see the church as more than just a religious structure. To walk by faith means to see the church as a safe place where we can worship, pray for others, be prayed for, learn and grow and feel strengthened by the community around us.

• To walk by faith means to think about our faith seven days a week, outside of the church walls and relevant to our day-to-day lives. To walk by faith means that faith does not have to look traditional and rigid – it can look however we want to make it look.

• To walk by faith means to see God in the ordinary – and watch it become extraordinary.

• To walk by faith means to think about the ways that God is still speaking in our lives, that God is still working in our lives and that God is still active in our lives.

• To walk by faith means to inspire and encourage the people we meet along our journeys – both old and young.

• To walk by faith means to love instead of hate, accept the people around us instead of rejecting them and to live out the Gospel instead of just quoting it.

• To walk by faith means to know that our faith will change as the path around us changes. And to walk by faith means to know that even though the scenery may change, God’s abiding love and grace will remain constant – always.

I believe walking by faith will give meaning to the lives of the people in our churches and church communities and feed their spiritual and their religious needs. I believe that if people have meaningful church and worship experiences, they will want to come back, again and again. I believe that walking by faith will save our churches from the decline that is happening around us. I believe that walking by faith will help this community continue to heal, to strengthen and to grow. I believe that walking by faith will help us see visions and move forward.

What does it mean to you to walk by faith?

“For we walk by faith, not by sight … there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Let us embrace the newness that are happening around us. Let us allow ourselves to be both spiritual and religious. And let us walk by faith – together.

Thanks be to God!