Sermon preached by Rev. Steve at the 9am service on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 on Facebook.
This sermon text produced by audio transcription software so please read generously in light of errors.
Show me your ways. Oh Lord. And teach me your paths.
This past week, we received at St. Stephen’s through the contact form on our website, an inquiry into baptism. It’s been a while since we received any inquiries into baptism, because it’s been awhile since we’ve been able to offer baptism baptism, which is properly offered as part of our public gatherings in the main body of the assembled congregation in worship on a Sunday morning. And as I don’t need to remind anybody, we’re coming up on an entire year of being prohibited from living out our faith and our tradition in that way. So as you might imagine, it was kind of exciting and a piece of good news, a bright spot in the week to receive this inquiry about the sacrament of baptism. It was as is most often the case, a question about baptism for an infant in any event, I always enjoy talking to people about getting ready for baptism, but it’s different when you’re talking to an adult who is making the choice to be baptized as a member of the body of Christ. Then when you’re talking to parents who are considering baptizing their infant children, the difference is this properly understood. Baptism is a significant commitment to a life of discipleship to Jesus. And the language of the baptismal right, is really heavy duty. If you haven’t looked at it in a while, I encourage you to check it out in your copy of the prayer book, which you have at home.
The language of the Rite of baptism is about life and death and Satan and Jesus and obedience and commitment. It’s big stuff. I have sometimes compare being baptized to making the same kinds of vows and promises that adults make in marriage, but making them with the whole rest of the human race to be baptized is to commit yourself to love in the way that Jesus loved and at the same cost. So it’s sometimes challenging trying to put those terms in relationship to all the other things that we do to celebrate the birth of a new human being. It’s tricky to think about asking your new parent to consider that the covenant that they are engaging in for the sake of their infant child is a covenant to the death because at the beginning of our lives, when are infants, it’s not customary or pleasing to be thinking about.
But life includes the prospect of deaths and our religion challenges us to be mindful of that on a regular basis, but not so that we can be morbid, not so that we can just feel bad about that or live in fear of that. On the contrary, our religion invites and challenges us, even in the initiating sacrament of baptism, to be Frank about those things, to tell the truth about those things so that we can grow in our trust in the power of God to be bigger than those things. The story of Jesus’s baptism includes the detail of him being baptized identified as the son of God, and then immediately driven out into the wilderness where he spends 40 days fasting alone in the desert and where the devil himself comes and tempts him.
This period of lent, which excluding Sundays is 40 days long. Isn’t homage a recognition of a reference to that period of 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. In Jesus’ case, the period of 40 days was spent in the wilderness. After his baptism, in the traditions of the church, we spend 40 days of lent preparing for the baptisms that take place at the vigil of Easter. Nevertheless, there is a relationship and the 40 days are a reminder of the story of Jesus. And that our commitment to baptism is a commitment to pattern our own lives after the example of Jesus. And so in this season of lent, it has been our tradition in the church since a thousand years ago, to spend some time putting aside the things that give us material bodily pleasure, so that we can consider. In what way do we enjoy life?
Trust God, celebrate life, find victory in life without the evidence of those things without being wealthy, without being powerful, without being healthy or hail or Hardy, all the things that Jesus is tempted with by the devil and without which he still finds reason to trust in the goodness of God. Since we have inherited these practices from a thousand ago or more, we have tended to associate them with feelings of guilt or small mindedness or with practices by which we think that if we make ourselves feel bad, we’ll be acting more piously towards God. In some ways, in this respect, we are still working ourselves out of the long shadow of medieval piety, which associated suffering with holiness. But I want to offer as others have that in this year, we have had our fill. We have had our share of suffering and we don’t need any more to be pious in this last year. We have done without a lot in this last year, we have set aside a lot in this last year, we have endured with patients a lot. And so as we enter this season of lent, I’m committed to preserving the liturgical traditions of our church because they have endured for so many generations they’re worth preserving and considering what they may still provide for us by means of hope for a better day. After all lent is preparing us for Easter,
But also because As I’ve heard many other preachers say, this might be a year for us to finally take lent really seriously, as much as we’ve been doing without and enduring with patients and laying aside and waiting, and perhaps living in a little bit of mortal terror. Let me ask whether or not we have actually been investing in hope whether or not we have actually been imagining the rainbow of God’s promise to us whether or not we have been enlarging the capacity of our hearts to be joyful as a rebuke to the devil this past week, a friend of mine on Facebook, who’s an artist whose work I much admire said in my life, I’ve gotten into more trouble by thinking too little of myself than I have thinking too much of myself.
I want us to consider that that might be a good lodestar, a good guiding principle for our Lenten discipline. This year, we have gotten into more trouble thinking too little of ourselves. Then we have thinking too much of ourselves. The hair shirt might not be what we need, but rather to remember that we were made in the image of God, granted the same power that with which Christ endured his fasting and temptation in the wilderness, the same joy and love and faith with, with which Christ rebuked the devil and said, take a hike. I put my trust in God and in God’s goodness, which is reflected in my own body. We get into more trouble thinking too little of ourselves than we do thinking too much of ourselves. What if rather than being a time to put aside whatever worldly pleasures or sensory delights we normally take for granted so that we can just feel bad about ourselves?
Because we think in our medieval way, that that’s what makes us Holy or what if we thought that lent was a reflection of what people’s actual lives were like at the end of winter, the stores of food are running out people’s patience with one another. Having spent months in doors in one another’s company has worn thin. There may be thieves about taking what precious little left you have for yourself and your family. It’s perilous. It’s possible that somebody in your household died during the dark cold winter months, hope is coming spring is near, but it might be the hardest period and the most demanding period for us, when, what is required of us is to trust God the most. What if lent was really just a reflection of the way people’s lives were actually lived and an invitation for them to tell the truth about what they really needed not to succumb to the darkness.
So maybe this year has been an extended lent for us, but maybe this, the surgical season of lent, maybe our remembrance of God’s promises to us, maybe our commitment to baptism, the themes of which are all over this morning’s readings and hymns. Maybe our commitment to these things can this year, more than in other years, really reveal the purpose of what it means to have a Lenten discipline, to really dig deep for trust, to really dig deep for hope, to really dig deep, to remember that our lives and the lives we share with others are one life in Christ.
In addition to my friends, the artists observation that we get into to more trouble by thinking too little of ourselves, then we do thinking too much of ourselves. I want to offer one other observation. As we keep in mind, our own lives, the lives of those. We love the lives that we share a community with at St. Stephens in Lamorinda in California, in the nation, pray for the people of Texas and in the world. We’re all in that ark together. The seas have not yet subsided, but we have not been abandoned by God in the generation before Jesus, there lived a rabbi called Hillel the head of a school wherein he taught his followers how to be faithful. And he offers for us what I think, maybe another watch word, another guide post for us as we commit ourselves to a Lenten discipline. Hillel said, if I am not for myself, who will be for me, if I am only for myself, what am I, if not now, when.