Sunday, August 15, 2021

12th Pentecost & Baptism, 2021-B: Baptized into a Eucharistic life

 Lectionary: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.

How blessed am I to be able to preach Baptism on my final Sunday as Interim Rector at Calvary?! It’s a priest’s dream come true to welcome new disciples into the fold and we are blessed to welcome two babies and an adult at our Rite II service today.

Starting with Jesus’ own baptism, we believe that each Baptism marks a new reality of divine-human co-existence - the Spirit of God dwelling within our human bodies.

As Episcopalians, we don't use Baptism as a form of ecclesiastical fire insurance (that is, keeping ourselves out of hell). We don't use it to avoid the pain and suffering of life. We don't even use it to avoid death.

In fact, when we baptize, we are intentionally entering into death – the death of Jesus - so that we might live in the power of his resurrection. (BCP, 306) Baptism, you see, is about how we live, not what happens when we die.

As the author of the letter to the Ephesians reminds us: “Be careful… about how you live…” Be aware, be intentional, for in Baptism, we choose to live resurrection lives, lives in which we are united with the author of all life; lives of hope, forgiveness, and transformation, In Baptism we choose to live in community, dedicating ourselves and our gifts to serving all people and all creation, in the name of Christ.

Baptism is full initiation into the body of Christ. As a parish, we pledge to support and love these new Christians as they grow into their full stature in Christ. That means creating opportunities, programs, and means by which we are all continually formed in our faith.

Theologian Paul Tillich says that in Baptism, we are “struck by the grace of God.” In that moment, he says, we know - in a way that is beyond human understanding - that God loves us with an “incomprehensible love.” Being struck by grace transforms us, all our relationships, and, therefore, how we live in the world.

It’s important to remember that our Christian journey doesn’t lead us beyond our human propensity to sin. At some point we will all lose our focus and make mistakes. To his credit, King David modeled how faithful believers respond when confronted with our sin: by owning it and trusting in the mercy and love of God to reconcile us back into the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.

The system of thought that underlies my interim ministry is Appreciative Inquiry, which teaches that what we focus on becomes our reality. We can choose to focus on what we don’t have or what we wish were true, or… we can look deeply at what we do have, without judgment, and find the gifts present – because there are always gifts to be found. Such is the grace of God.

Living in the truth of our reality enables us to see and move forward on the path of grace God is setting before us. So, here is our reality: Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven… it is my own flesh I give and my flesh gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

This co-abiding, this co-existence is continually accomplished and strengthened through our other sacrament: Holy Communion. As Episcopalians believe in the real presence of Christ in this sacrament. Real. Presence. It’s astounding when we think about it.

Theologian Henri Nouwen, says, “the Eucharist is the most ordinary and the most divine gesture imaginable. That is the truth of Jesus [he says]. So human, yet so divine; so familiar, yet so mysterious…” (Source, p. 82-83)

If you ever doubt that, watch a young child receive communion. They come up with hands and eyes raised, a big smile on their face, ready to receive whatever is being given out. They may not know what it is, but they know they want it!

I’ve watched parents pull their children’s hands down and the resulting disappointment on the child’s face. One time a parent came up to me, with their child still loudly protesting their exclusion from Communion. I asked the parent why they didn’t want the child to have Communion and they said, “they don’t know what’s going on in the sacrament.” I responded, “Neither do I, do you?”

In Communion, the realms of earth and heaven become one for a moment that is real, tangible, and repeatable. Using the simplest of events (a shared meal) and the most common food (bread and wine), Jesus gave us a way to re-member, to come together and be reconnected to and refueled by his Spirit.

In a Eucharistic Prayer I wrote, which we have used in the Rite Place service, we pray: “you gathered your friends together, as you’d done so many times before. The meal was simple: bread and wine. In your hands and by your prayers, however, this simple food became holy food, the food of life.”

Eating the food of life, which is the real presence of Christ, transforms us into the current locations of the co-existence of the human-divine reality instituted in Jesus. Recognizing this and living accordingly is how we live a Eucharistic life.

Like King David, we’ll sin along the way. We’ll make mistakes, break communion, even manipulate to get our way. But our comfort lies in being part of a community that is bound together by the love of Christ who is always with us. 

(Note: for Rite I and online guests): Now, as a community, we will renew our own Baptismal vows in solidarity with those we are welcoming into the fold later on at our Rite II service. The Renewal of our Baptism is found in the service booklet on page 6 or in the Book of Common Prayer on page 304.

(Note: for Rite II): Now, as a community, let’s welcome our new family through the sacrament of Baptism, on page 6 in the full-service bulletin or on page 301 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

10th Pentecost, 21-B: The next born of a new reality

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12, 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; Ephesians 4: 1-16; John 6:24-35

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad an unidad. Amen. 

I love the Collect we prayed at the start of our worship today. It reminds us that we are the church, the body of Christ in the world. Yes, we are individually members of this body, but the wholeness of the truth of who we are and why we exist is beyond any single person. 

The reading from 2nd Samuel reflects the truth of this by reminding us that what one of us does affects all of us, and the consequences are long-term - for good or for ill. God isn’t orchestrating these outcomes. We are. We set into motion events that lead to other events and the circle of those affected grows over time.

When we sin, and we all will, our humble repentance, like David’s, is important. “Acknowledging our manifold sins” as the ’28 Prayer Book says, reminds us of our humanity, which while beautiful and beloved, is imperfect and prone to seek our own wills rather than God’s. Repentance also helps us remember our utter dependence on the goodness of God.

Our Psalm today is a great example of how it feels when we realize we have fallen into sin again. It feels awful. We know that we have disrupted not only our relationship with God, which really matters, but also our relationship with others, and their relationships with others, and on and on. We have set off a disruptive wave and we know we have no power to stop the momentum or undo the damage.

So we ask for cleansing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” A clean heart is one that is completely in line with God’s will, which is the only path of life for us.

We must be careful not to hear this only as a personal prayer, but also as a corporate one. As Bp. Tom Wright says, there are no individual Christians. By definition, a Christian is a member of a body: the body of Christ.

We all begin our Christian journey in Baptism, drenched in the love of a church community that helps us learn to live the truth that the glory of God dwells within each of us, and within all of us as a church, and does so for a purpose. As Bp. Wright says, “The church exists primarily… to worship God and to work for [God’s] kingdom in the world…The church [he adds] also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform.”  (Source)

Then, in our Confirmation, we affirm our commitment to live with “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” as our epistle writer says. We know that living in that way can be challenging because the world teaches and encourages a very different message: to look out for number one, to exert power, even violence, to achieve our own interests, our own goals.

In the body of Christ, the church, however, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.” The diverse gifts within the church community are nourished and formed to maturity so that God can use them – all of them - to accomplish God’s purpose which is the generation of love, the very essence of God, so that all things are drawn by that love into communion with God.

One of the most important and effective ways we build ourselves up in love is by gathering in community to be nourished by Word and Sacrament – joining our humanity to Christ’s divinity through the holy food of Communion. This is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel lesson from John.

Having just fed the 5000, the people find Jesus again, and they are still hungry. Knowing their stomachs are full, Jesus targets their true hunger: spiritual alienation. Referencing a story they all know – the story from Exodus where God sends manna from heaven, Jesus claims himself to be that manna in his stunning concluding statement: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus, who is, as our Creed says, fully human and fully divine, is the firstborn of this new reality: a human body that is the dwelling place of God. Jesus is the ultimate antidote to spiritual alienation.

If we believe that, and if we eat and drink of his nature, then he abides in us and we in him, making us the next born of this new reality. We aren’t born this way, as Lady Gaga would say. We are re-born into it through our Baptism and continually nourished in it by the holy food of Communion. Each time we take that spiritual nourishment, Christ’s divinity is manifestly joined to our humanity, and he literally dwells within us.

We are not the living bread. We are where he dwells. Each time we eat and drink in the nature of our Savior in this holy meal we strengthen our union with him and with one another. This is what prepares us as a church, and individually as members of it, to go into the world with strength and courage carrying God’s love to all with gladness and singleness of heart. (BCP, 365) 

Poet Marianne Williamson says, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” (from the poem: Our Greatest Fear) I remembered this poem while visiting my daughter in Atlanta this week. I made a quick trip to help her and her family pack to move to a new house and job in south GA. Being with my grandsons, one of whom is three and the other who is three months, I was reminded of how evident the glory of God is in the miracle of their new lives and the potential their lives promise.

That reminded me that each one of us, and all of us who are created of God, are truly miracles bearing unimagined potential. Then, of course, I remembered what a blessing it is to be part of the body of Christ known as Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, MO, where we are very diverse, each of us uniquely gifted to live the life to which we have been collectively called.

All of our gifts are necessary which is why we work continually and intentionally to lead our lives in a way that is worthy of our calling: in “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” As messy as it sometimes gets having such a variety of perspectives and gifts in one body, the truth is we are, as a whole, greater than the sum of our parts because the wholeness in which we dwell is Christ himself.

I close with a prayer from the Church of England, brought to my attention by one of our wonderful vestry members who served as chaplain at our last meeting. Let us pray: 
Gracious God: Grant that your people may have in them the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, and guide us into harmony of relationship through loving-kindness and the wise use of all that you have given; for you are drawing all things into communion with you and with each other by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   (Source)