Sunday, February 9, 2014

5 Epiphany

February 9, 2014

Matthew 5.13-20

+ So, for all my talk about vacation, I do have to admit: Vacation is actually a very difficult thing for me. I know. I’m weird.

If I didn’t force myself to take a vacation (and also if I didn’t hate winter in North Dakota as much as I do), I’m not certain I would even take vacation. If we were all living together in Florida—if St. Stephens’ could be transported to Florida or anyplace sunny and warm— I wouldn’t even see a reason to go on vacation.

But, I do it because I know it’s important, for my own health and for all of you as well. Let’s face it, you definitely need a vacation from all of this…

A few month ago, as I was thinking about vacation and trying to figure out who I could cover that second Sunday I’m gone, I stopped at Bethlehem Lutheran Church here in Fargo to ask a pastor friend of mine the if she could cover for me. She wasn’t in, so I decided to ask the secretary where the old baptismal font was—the one from about 1970.

She kind of gave me this weird look. Why would an Episcopal priest be asking where the old baptismal font is?

Well, I explained, I’d like to see it because in that font, I was baptized 44 years ago. Actually it was 44 years ago yesterday, on February 8, 1970.

She relaxed and smiled and said, if you go rise across the hallway from the office, there’s a small chapel. In there is the old font.

So, I went in and there it was. As I stood there looking at it, I remembered a story that I have shared with you often. It is the story of one of my heroes, Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

One day, after he became the Archbishop of Canterbury, he visited St. Michael’s in Horbling in England.  There, in 1904, he was baptized. When he saw the font in which he was baptized, he exclaimed,

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

I’ve always the poetry of that story! I, on gazing at my own baptismal font, did repeat those words (quietly to myself) on that day. I do so not out of piety or drama. I did so, because I realized: I have thought about that event often in my life.

In that font, my life changed. I didn’t know it. I wasn’t aware of it. But it did. Something wonderful and incredible happened there. Of course, that wonderfulness and the incredibleness wasn’t unique. It was there for all of us on that each of were baptized, whether we knew it or not.  We were formed in those waters. We were made who we are today in those waters. And in those waters, we found love. A love that we didn’t ask for. A love we certainly never anticipated. But it was love.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus talks about salt and light. You are the salt of the earth, Jesus
says. But our usefulness as “salt” is only good enough until we still have “taste.” He then goes on to say, “You are the light of the world” but then proceeds to say that the only effective light is one that is uncovered. In that baptismal moment in our lives, we essentially became salt with taste and unhindered light.

When we live out our Baptismal Covenant, when we act as baptized people in this world, we are the effective salt of the earth. When we live our baptism, we are a light set on a lampstand.

Now I don’t know to tell anyone here this morning that being baptized people is not easy. Remaining tasty salt is not easy. Being a light on a lampstand leaves us exposed and open to every wind that blows through.

In our lives as followers of Jesus, there will be moments when it hard. Hard to be a Christian. Hard to believe as a Christian.  And, often times, hard to live with other Christians.

Other people—oftentimes other Christians—irritate us or intimidate us or threaten us, either intentionally and unintentionally. But these are just the realities of what it means to be a light on a lampstand. This is what it means to live in community with one another. And the only response we can have to all of that is love.

We must love. Our love, formed in those waters of baptism, must shine brightly. Those spirit-infused waters must be the fuel for the light within us.

And loving people who hurt us, or intimidate us or make us uncomfortable is incredibly hard. Let me tell you! I have been there. I know.

But we don’t have any other options as Christians, as followers of Jesus. The only option we have is the love that was infused in us as our baptism.  There are times when I wish I didn’t have the deal with these things. There are times when I wish everyone just liked me and I liked them. Life would be so much easier.   But, sadly, that’s not the reality.

Some people, as hard as it is to believe, don’t like me. I remember being shocked one time when a fellow clergy person told me that I intimidated them. Me! Intimidating anybody. I didn’t get it and I still don’t get it. But this person resented me and, sadly, I think still does, no matter what I’ve done to right that situation. I obviously did something in which, for that person anyway, I was tasteless salt. I was a light under a bushel.

But that’s the way it is sometimes. We will fail. We will falter. We will make mistakes. Those waters of baptism never guaranteed us that we would never trip up or fail. But those waters do guarantee that we can pick ourselves up and continue on, broken and wounded as we are sometimes.

My life as a follower of Jesus has never been easy. That day, 44 years ago yesterday, started me out on a road of twists and turns and thorny, sometimes ugly bypasses.  I’ve fallen on that path. I’ve tripped up majorly at times. There were moments when I wasn’t even certain I wanted to go any further.

But I have. We all have. All of here this morning have pressed on, going forward, striving and failing and striving again.  And it’s all good. Even the trip-ups are good.

Yes, our Christian life is hard at times. Loving each other is hard at times. Loving ourselves as God loves us is sometimes the hardest of all. But when we do this, we truly do become the salt of the earth. We truly do become a light set on a lampstand.

And when we are—when we are a light unhindered, a Christ-infused light shining brightly for all the world to see, sharing the light of Christ with others—we are doing what are meant to do as Christians, as followers of Jesus.

So let us not put our light under a bushel. Let us not grow frustrated. Let us not the tiredness and fatigue that sometimes comes upon win out.

But let us be infused. Let us be rejuvenated. And let us shine! Shine brightly! Shine without apprehension or fear!

Let us shine! And when we do, others will, as Jesus tells us, see our good works, and we will truly be giving glory to our God in heaven.




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