Sunday, August 22, 2010

13 Pentecost

August 22, 2010
The Baptism of Beck Nathan Kost
Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo

Isaiah 58.9b-14; Hebrews 12.18-29

+ I am so happy to be here at Gethsemane Cathedral again this morning. It has been almost two years since I’ve been here. And a lot has happened in those two years. A lot of growing has happened, a lot of learning, a lot of change. To say that I am not the same person now that I was two years ago is quite the understatement.I am not. But then…none of us are. And in more ways than one, for me anyway, it’s a doubly true statement.I weigh 75 pounds less than I was two years ago.

But when I look back at the last two years, I realize that I have grown into my priesthood in ways I could never have imagined for myself. Being Priest-in-Charge at St. Stephen’s has been a growing experience for me—and one that I am truly thankful for. So, it is good for me to be back, to be with all of you and to be celebrating with you this morning.

And we have a lot to celebrate this morning. I have had the rare pleasure this week of presiding over two baptisms. On Thursday, I presided over the Baptism of Phil Stafne’s grand-niece, Sadie Paloma Bravo.And this morning, I get to preside over the baptism of Beck Nathan Kost, which is why I am here this morning.

Baptisms are one of those events in my life as a priest that I particularly rejoice in. I love baptisms. For me, the two things I love doing most as a priest is celebrating the Eucharist and celebrating baptisms. But what I always find so interesting is how Christians—even good Episcopalians—don’t quite understand what Baptism is. I still hear people—even good Episcopalians—call Baptism a “Christening.” They equate Baptism with something like christening a new ship.

But Baptism—at least for us Episcopalians—is much, much more than that. One thing I enjoy doing occasionally at St. Stephan’s is inviting people to explore other areas of the Book of Common Prayer. I think we take for granted this book we find in our pews every Sunday. We don’t realize that it’s more than just a worship book. It has a variety of resources for us to access any time we need them. And when we have those difficult questions we might not be able to ably articulate in some way, there’s a wonderful addition to the Prayer Book called the Catechism. In this Catechism, we get our questions answered.

Such as the question: “What is Holy Baptism?” If you look on page 858—I know many of you might not have even ventured this far back into the Prayer Book—there you will find the somewhat “official” answer. On page 858, we find this answer:

“Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and make us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.”

It’s a really great definition. Holy Baptism is not then just a sweet little service of sprinkling water on a baby’s head and dedicating them as we would a boat. It is a service in which we are essentially re-born. We have been washed in those waters and made new—specifically we have become Christians in being baptized.

So, this is a momentous day. But, the one point I really want to drive home this morning is that last part of the definition from the Catechism. In baptism we become “inheritors of the kingdom of God.” We are given a glimpse of this Kingdom of which we, the baptized, are inheritors in our readings from Isaiah and Hebrews today.

In Isaiah, we hear the prophet saying to us: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

Now, that’s some beautiful poetry, if you ask me.

“…your gloom [shall] be like the noonday.”

But more than that, it’s just so wonderfully practical. Our Baptismal Covenant, which, in a few moments, we will say together, renewing the vows made at our own baptisms, echoes these words perfectly. In a few moments, I will ask you, among others, these questions:

“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”

”Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

And, finally, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being?”

When we answer, “I will, with God’s help” to these questions, we are recommitting ourselves to being inheritors of the Kingdom of God. When we strive to live out these baptismal promises in our every day lives—which, as baptized people, we are called to do—we are truly saying, “Yes, we are inheritors of the Kingdom of God.”

But, what does it mean to be an “inheritor of the kingdom of God”? Being an inheritor of God’s kingdom does not allow us to sit smugly and complacently by. It does not mean that the battle is won and all we have to do now is sit around and wait for God to take us up to this mythical, magical Kingdom. Being inheritors of the kingdom means living out those promises we make in our baptismal covenant. It means proclaiming by word and example the Good News of Christ. It means seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving everyone as we desire to be loved. And it means striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of the every human being.

It’s not easy to do any of that. In fact, it’s downright hard. But it is what we are called to do as baptized Christians. And when we do it, we are brining God’s Kingdom into our very midst. And by doing so, we are truly being the inheritors of that kingdom. This is what it means to be a Christian.

It is not just saying, “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” as the televangelists on TV tell us we must do (and which really has no scriptural basis—Jesus is not anyone’s personal Lord and Savior) Being a Christian does not mean just coming to church on Sundays. It does not mean just being nice and thinking good thoughts all the time.

Being a Christian means both believing and acting like one. Being a Christian means that we understand fully that something truly wonderful and amazing happened to us when we were baptized. It wasn’t just some nice, sweet dedication ceremony. In that baptismal font in which we were baptized we were truly “buried with Christ in his death,” as we will hear in the Baptismal service later. In those waters, we shared “in his resurrection.” And through those waters we were “reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

This is not light and fluffy stuff we’re dealing with here in baptism. It is not all about clouds and flowers and sweet little lambs romping the meadow. It is not just “feel good” spirituality. It is a huge event in our lives. It is important. And it is life-changing.

And this God we encounter today and throughout all our lives as Christians, as inheritors of the God’s Kingdom is truly, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us today, “a consuming fire.” God doesn’t let us sit back and be complacent. God is like a gnawing fire in us. God shakes us up and pushes us out into the world to serve others and to be the conduits through which God’s kingdom comes into this world.

Baptism is a radical thing. It changes us and transforms us. And it doesn’t just end when the water is dried and we leave the church. It is something we live with for ever. In Baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. Forever. For all eternity. And nothing we can do can undo that. That’s why I love doing baptism so much.

One my personal heroes in the Church is the great (probably one of the GREATEST) Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. I love the story of how, when Ramsey, after he become a Bishop in the Church, visited Horbling church in England in which we was baptized. There, he asked to see the baptismal font. Standing there, he began to cry and was heard to murmur:

“O font, font, font, in which I was baptized!”

As Geoffrey Rowell wrote of that incident: “[Ramsey’s] deep sacramental sense and understanding of baptism as being plunged into the death and Resurrection of Christ, which was [and is] at the heart of the Church’s life, comes out in that moment of time.”

My hope is that , one day, Beck will look at this font here in the Cathedral with special appreciation and will be able to recognize, in some way, the beauty of the event hat happened here in his life on this day. I hope we can all look at that place in which we were baptized with deep appreciation of how, there, on the day of our baptism, we were changed and made “inheritors of the kingdom of God.”

We are inheritors of that unshakeable Kingdom of God. For that fact let us, as the author of Hebrews says to us today, “give thanks, by which we offer to God, an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”