Sunday, August 25, 2013

14 Pentecost

 
August 25, 2013

Isaiah 58.9b-14; Hebrews 12.18-29

+I am, I have to say, sometimes a restless priest. On bad days, I’m a restless priest. On good days, the term probably would be “driven.” I’m a driven priest. I never like resting too long. There is always something that needs to be done. There needs to be a project. And, more importantly, there are always goals to set and to achieve. That actually sounds so much more better than the reality of the situation. More often than not, I just have to be doing something.

Well, my big goal recently has been something several us here are hoping is done. As you no doubt read in the announcement for the marriage James and William a few weeks, there is movement afoot here at St. Stephen’s to get the baptismal font in the narthex redone.  We actually discussed this last week at Vestry. And this past week, Sandy Kenz and I were discussing finding a potter to make a more appropriate bowl for the font. I’m actually having a lot of fun looking for that potter. If anyone knows of any potters who would be interested in it, please talk to me about it.

Now some people might find such things a frivolous. There’s that arty fartsy priest again.  The font is just a cosmetic piece of the church, some might argue.

But not so. I’m a big believer in the symbolism of things. And our font is as much of an important symbol to who we are and we are here at St. Stephen’s as our altar or the cross over the altar or the aumbry or the lectern from which the Word if proclaimed. Or even—at some point in the future after the font—maybe as important of a symbol as a bell????? The neighbors will LOVE that!

The baptismal font is a very important symbol for us, who live out our baptismal covenant on a daily basis.

As you all know, no doubt, one my personal heroes in the Church is one of the greatest  (no, I would say the GREATEST) Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey.  One of my favorite stories about Ramsey is how, when, after he had become a Bishop in the Church, visited St. Andrew’s church in Horbling in England in which we was baptized in 1904.  There, he asked to see the baptismal font. (I will post a photo of this font on my blog later today)  Standing there, he began to cry and was heard to murmur:

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

As Geoffrey Rowell, Ramsey’s biographer,  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.”


Last week in our Gospel reading, we heard Jesus talking about a baptism by fire.  In my sermon last week, I mentioned that when were baptized in those waters, we were also baptized in the fire of God’s spirit.

Today, in the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear another fire reference to God.  We hear, “indeed our God is a consuming fire.” In baptism, we realize how much of a consuming fire God is. We realize that in those waters, a fire was kindled in us. God’s fire was kindled in us. And, to be a Christian, to be follower of Jesus, means being aflame with the fires of our baptism. But if we left it there, we might still not understand the true ramifications of our baptism.

One thing you all know I enjoy doing here at St. Stephan’s is inviting people to explore other areas of the Book of Common Prayer, other than just our section concerning Holy Communion.  So, let’s do so again today. Let’s take a look at the Catechism again. If you look on page 858—there you will find the somewhat definitive answer to “What is Holy Baptism.”

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 alive in the fire of God’s love and made new—specifically we have become Christians in being baptized.

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 both 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. When we follow Jesus—when we love God and love our neighbors—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 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. And by doing those things, 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”  It does not mean just being nice and thinking good thoughts all the time. Being a Christian means both believing and then acting like one. Being a follower of Jesus means that we understand fully that something truly wonderful and amazing happened to us when we were baptized.

 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—and that fire of God’s love that was kindled in us in 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 the greatest event in our lives. It was a life-changing moment in our lives. 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, kindled in that holy moment, deep within 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—God’s very fire of love—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 forever.

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. My hope is that , one day, we will look at the font here at St. Stephen’s (whether we were baptized in it or not)  with special appreciation and will be able to recognize, in some way, the beauty of the event that happens here on a regular basis. My hope is that, when we dip our fingers into that bowl of water and bless ourselves with that blessed water, it will remind us of that incredible day in which we too were baptized.

I hope we can all look at that place in which baptism happens here at St. Stephen’s with a deep appreciation of how, we too, on the day of our baptism, were changed, how God’s consuming fire was kindled in us  and how we  became “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.”

 

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