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Timing

This past Palm Sunday, I preached the sermon below.  It wasn’t based on anything, really, in particular–just  my distaste of most atonement theories, reading Susannah Heschel, listening to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, and talking on Twitter about the annual rise in casual anti-Semitic preaching due to Holy Week.

And then, after church,  in a break from routine, a group of young adults from St. Paul’s and I decided that we’d like to try this great Mexican place for brunch, so let’s brave the suburbs, and head to Overland Park.

So we sat there, eating tacos, and talking, and the food was fantastic.  We tried to convince the waitress that they really needed to open a branch closer to the heart of town.

I swung by Target, and as I stood in line to check out, I pulled out my phone, and checked Twitter out of habit.

Only to discover that half an hour earlier, a man had opened fire in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, then driven a few blocks to the Village Shalom retirement community, and opened fire there, before being caught by police.  Three people were dead.  He shouted Nazi slogans as he was loaded into the police car.

I drove home, mind racing.  Parishioners, faculty, staff, students at St. Paul’s–fortunately all were safe, but the Kansas City community is a close-knit one.  Everyone knows someone who knows someone.

It’s hard to say anything profound about hate crimes.  What can you say about hatred so blind and all-consuming that it would lead you to shoot into a crowd of people?

Just this:  hate, hate isn’t insanity.  It’s a sickness, but it’s different.  And so, to stop this from happening again, we can’t just pass this guy off as one bad actor.

We have to take seriously our role as leaders in how what we say and preach is taken.  Words have power.  How we tell stories have power.  We need to use our power for love.

Oh, and here’s that sermon.

April 13, 2014
Palm Sunday, Year A
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Palm Sunday is a day on which we tell a story.

A true story, and an old story.

This is an old, and this is a familiar story.

There’s the friend who gets disillusioned, panicks and goes to the powerful to save
himself. There’s the trial, for show. There are the buzzword accusations that are so
vague as to be meaningless.

There’s the mob that cries for vengeance, the politicians who insist there’s only one way
to restore security to society, the powerful who can’t see anything beyond the risk to their
own status.

All of it adding up to the death of Jesus, murdered publicly and shamefully on a cross.
In that time and place, crucifixion wasn’t unique and it wasn’t special. It was how the
Roman government dealt with political criminals—people it wanted to make an example
of. If you dared threaten the power and control of the empire, then you were hung on a
cross, along with your entire family, as a warning to anyone else who would think of
rising against the might of Rome.

And so, in our story, it happened to Jesus. Jesus, who threatened the Roman Empire quite
a lot, actually, what with his becoming popular, drawing a crowd, and claiming titles
reserved for Caesar Augustus like “Son of God”, and messing with the temple hierarchy
which supported Rome financially with their taxes. Oh yes, Jesus bothered Rome quite a
bit.

Pilate’s nonchalance is a bit of an act here. This guy was known in his time for
ordering the most crucifixions of any other Roman governor to date. He was notorious,
he wasn’t known for being nice, and his sole job was to preserve the security of the
empire. So while the The Temple authorities didn’t like Jesus, but you can bet Rome and
Pilate hated him too.

Really, the surprise is not that he died, not that he was killed, but that he lasted as long as
he did.

And that’s the way this story goes, this familiar story.

And it’s not just familiar, Not just because we hear it every year,

but because we see it repeated all the time. All.

The. Time.  We see it repeated all around us.
We see it all the time, the dynamic that reveals itself here.

The powerful are threatened,
the power structure is threatened, society starts to feel insecure, and so to save itself,
society searches for a scapegoat, and convinces itself that all of its problems, all its
insecurity must stem from this! Let’s blame this person, let’s blame this group of people.
All of this must be their fault, because we, of course, are blameless! And so, the
scapegoat must die. One man must die for the people.

We see this everywhere.
In the pages of history books. We see it in the images of genocides throughout history.
From our own past, we see it reflected in the faces of those who were lynched in this
country.

We see it today, as leaders casually attribute all sorts of problems we face to different
minorities without blinking an eye. Remember, famously, Jerry Falwell claiming that
9/11 had been caused by the confluence of gay rights, feminists, and the availability of
abortion. And whichever politician it was, I forget now, who blamed one of the school
shootings on single mothers.

We see it all the time, all around us.

This is a familiar story.

But what God does with this story, on Palm Sunday is not familiar, because what God
does with this story is enter into it in a new way. God flips it, God changes it.

In the person of Jesus, God enters into this familiar narrative, and God tells us to stop.

God tells us that this way of coping with the world does not work. We can scapegoat all
we want, we can kill each other all we want–that won’t solve the problems of this world.
The only thing that will is everything that Jesus spent his life teaching– living a life of
justice and peace, and building the world to reflect that. In the person of Jesus, God enters this story, to get us to stop once and for all. But not as
the powerful, not as the one in charge, but as the one who is cast out, as the one who
suffers, and dies.

And yet, God raises him up. Because God’s love is not defeated by our injustice. God’s
love is not defeated by our violence, or our blindness, or our need to blame someone.

God’s love for us is not defeated by anything. Not by our sin, not even by death.

So remember that, as we enter the darkness of this coming week. Remember that, when
you contemplate the violence of this world, We have a God who experienced this all for
love of us.

And that divine love triumphs in the end.
Amen.

Hope in a handful of ashes

Just as I returned from my SCCC meeting in Baltimore, I fell prey to a lingering sinus infection.

Every teacher at the school had warned me that the first year around small children is a recipe for ongoing illness, but I thought I had been doing pretty well, between Airborne, Zicam, and preemptively spraying down the toddlers with Purell.  But the adorable little germ machines outwitted me.

Services were cancelled here on Sunday, due to what we all thought was an impending Snowpocalyptic-type event., which helped somewhat, but when I couldn’t get out of bed on Monday, I figured this was a sign to give in, and go see a doctor.

Which meant that the day prior to Ash Wednesday saw me home sick, on antibiotics, trying to write a coherent sermon.

I think most Episcopal clergy enjoy Ash Wednesday, as I do.  Both for visceral reasons (I get to play with dirt!) and more profound reasons (It’s about death!)  Though, it’s somewhat discordant tonally to stand in the pulpit and exult that “THIS IS THE COOLEST LITURGY EVER!!” while jumping up and down.

It is supposed to be a fairly somber occasion, after all.  Memento mori, and all that.

Here’s what I ended up saying.

Ash Wednesday 2014

I had to take the GREs to go to seminary. Multiple choice math and verbal sections went  fine.  I filled in my little Scantron bubbles with gusto.  Then I got to the essay section.
The essay question had to do with whether the proliferation of multiple sources of news online had
been a positive or negative in our society. I thought about it, then wrote a lengthy essay saying that the
decentralization of authority in the postmodern era was a nuanced issue that had many effects,
including polarization, and greater access to information and possibly even an increase in democratization around the globe, but you really couldn’t say if these were net positives or negatives, because really, it had been a little of both. (Please forgive me, I was in undergrad at the time.)

I failed that section.

When I got the essay back, the reader had written that my assignment had been to pick yes or no and give reasons–not to deal with nuance.

Luckily, seminary is pretty forgiving on GRE scores, and it didn’t much matter.

But it would appear we like things to have answers. Shiny, bright, filled in answers. The same
impulse that leads us to do that thing I always do, and to flip to the end of mystery books.
We need this resolved.

It is an illusion of the modern world that everything can be fixed, everything can have one
perfect answer, that every problem has a solution. If we just try hard enough, if we just work
long enough, we can fix any problem, solve any mystery. As that Cadillac commercial that is on
right now suggests, this is America, and if we work through enough vacations, then we can
achieve anything! Even a shiny new Cadillac.
And yet, despite this relentless cheeriness, the world keeps on presenting us with intractable
problems that don’t go away.
The illnesses that don’t get better.
The poverty that doesn’t let up.
The inbred hatreds that fester and emerge, and never seem to die out completely.
Relationships that never seem to get better.
And behind all of these, that one problem we never can solve or escape—the reality that no
matter what we do, we’re all going to die (just like Olympia Dukakis pronounces so finally in
Moonstruck)
No matter what, we come back to mortality, to ashes.
No matter who we are, no matter how many problems we can solve, or how many answers we
know, there’s one that still confronts us all, Cadillacs or not.

Lent presents to us no answers at all. Lent actually does something very different. It offers us
the graphic, physical reminder on this day that we are not required to have the answers, all the
solutions, starting with the One Great Unfixable Human Problem that is Mortality,
and Lent offers us the space to offer to God all those things that press on us that we cannot fix
at all.
Lent lets us name those things, all those places where we struggle and we fall short, and we
don’t know what to do, and Lent lets us declare them Unsolvable, and Lent allows us the grace
to offer them to God.
Because this is the season of grace. This is the season where we can sit with these intractable
problems that the world shies away from, that the world declares hopeless, and we can offer
them wholeheartedly to God .

We can take these wounded places in our lives, in the world, and turn them over to God, and let
God live there with us in them. We can take them, not as signs of failures, but as marks of
hope.

Because we know that God can bring new life even out of the worst of our mistakes, and our
dead ends. God can bring resurrection from the worst of these un fixable problems. And on
Easter, God comes into our very ashes, and brings resurrection and hope.

So this Lent, consider these ashy places in your life.  Consider those problems you can’t fix, the
questions without answers, and ask God to come dwell there with you.
And then wait together for what Easter may bring.

Amen.

 

PS:  One more thing:  It was suggested to me by wise people (::cough:: Meredith Gould ::cough::) that putting out a podcast of my sermons would be a valuable addition to this here blog.  What do you think?  I’m considering taking that on as my “Megan tries something new” Lenten discipline.  Do you listen to sermon podcasts?

Sitting on the floor of the airport

Several of my Acts 8 compatriots have written about the Church and what that means in the past few days, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

At present, I am sitting on the floor of the Cleveland airport.

This is not a euphemism for anything. My flight back to Kansas City is delayed and the shoeshine stand guy won’t let me sit in in his empty booth and I need to charge up my iDevice, and so, here I sit, on the floor, underneath the laptop work station, returning from a meeting where I rewrote the disciplinary canons of the Episcopal Church.

So, naturally, my thoughts turn to the status of the Body of Christ in a post-Christendom age. (I imagine this happens to all of us when our flights get delayed, right?)

And in this sense, writing this from the airport floor seems like a rather good posture.
(NOW it’s a metaphor.)

At one point, the Episcopal Church rated shoeshines, and seats at the bar, and free drinks in the first class lounge. And probably, at one point in our living memory, we can even remember when we had plentiful chairs to sit in.

Those were heady days.

But we aren’t there anymore. Right now, there’s a feeling in the church that we are firmly planted on the airport floor. With lots of closing churches, a rapidly aging population, and none of the social caché we used to command.

None of that feels great. The floor is not a fun place to be if you’re used to sitting in a comfy chair at a plush bar.

But here’s the interesting thing:

For all of our nostalgia about the good old days, as I look around this airport–
—there’s no one at the shoe shine stand
—there’s no one in the lounge

During this delay, everyone has ended down here on the floor with me, charging their devices. Or clustered around wall outlets, with their phones plugged in.

We may long for the olden days, but that’s not where anyone else is. Even if we could go back, there’s no ministry to be done there.

So while we’re down here, what if we stopped longing after the things that aren’t coming back, and started figuring out what we can do with where we are?

What if we gave up on our safe places where we had become comfortable, and moved out to where we saw the greatest need?
What if we started doing ministry, not just where we thought we could make lots of Episcopalians, but in any place where people needed food, clothing, justice, empowerment and encouragement?

What if we put ourselves out there, to spread tangible signs of the reign of God (all of us–everyone who got sprinkled at baptism) and went out to be salt, light, yeast in the world–little oases in the desert where people can experience Christ?

What if we saw our job as the church as to get down on the floor with people, so we could be where the Spirit is, instead of up where the privilege is?

Becoming a missionary society church will require many things, but mostly, it will require us to embrace where we are.

The new world down here on the floor.


This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on “What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?”

Other BLOGFORCE member posts on this topic

The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to “Proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.”

In which Megan attacks cute animals, avoids an angry mob

I made a promise to myself when I started preaching that I would never preach about my dog.

This was partially prompted by a really traumatic sermon-experience in college, when a bishop expounded at length about his dog, Amos, whom he felt we should all emulate, and come to adore him more.

And partially it was inspired by a sense that, while I might love my dog, not everyone has met my dog, so not everyone is as enchanted with my dog and his Omega-Dog ways as I am. There’s bound to be something more interesting to talk about.

But this week, I broke that rule. And in the process, I explained the overwhelming, and sometimes problematic, allure of cute animals.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 21-22, 2014
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
Matthew 5:38-48

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, then you might have heard about one of the more tangential ways NBC has been filling its time: the dogs of Sochi.
And the situation is this. It seems that Sochi has a lot of stray dogs right now, and not a lot of dog shelters to put them in. So, this being Russia, the government’s solution is to round up the dogs and do away with them.

This has sparked an international outcry. A huge international outcry. As well it should—killing dogs is bad. And people have responded accordingly. Olympians have spoken out, and one athlete has even rescued four or five dogs while he’s been in Sochi competing. A rescue agency has been set up. People are on fire about the dogs. They are mobilized.

Which is great.

What is slightly curious, however, is the slightly-less-level-of-mobilized people seem to be about how the dogs got to Sochi. Namely, the humans of Russia. According to an article on Slate.com, the dogs are there in such large numbers not because they’re strays, but because they were abandoned when their owners were forcibly evicted by the Russian government, and their houses demolished, to make way for all the sporting arenas needed for the Olympics. With almost a city full of poor people displaced, the dogs stayed behind.

But the people don’t make the headlines—the dogs do. Add that to everything else that is currently happening in Russia, human rights-wise—all of it not really making the daily news reports, and why is it really that our sympathy is so readily stirred by dogs, over people?

I mean, I have some theories. And, in full disclosure, my dog is from Ecuador, oddly, so I have some experience in this. Animals are adorable. They are open, they are trusting. You know what you’re going to get when you pet a dog, because, with some exceptions, they’re the epitome of powerlessness. They don’t even have opposable thumbs!

Animals are simple.

People, on the other hand.

People are complicated. People are demanding. Even people you like, people often show up with needs, wants, and desires of their own, that sometimes conflict with yours. People can think for themselves, and that can be a whole mess of complicated, and so our empathy doesn’t get triggered as easily,

People do such a good job of thinking on their own, of acting on their own, of being their own differentiated selves, that we have a hard time of feeling immediate empathy.

And so there develops this empathy gap, where we run the risk of getting selective with what gets our empathy. Cute animals over suffering people. Cuter, younger, more photogenic suffering people over the less photogenic suffering people!

Some living things just end up getting more empathy from us than others, in this media age.

But Jesus has some things to say about that this morning. Jesus reminds us that when we approach our relationships with other people, those relationships are built, not on what we each deserve, but how God sees us. God, who makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. And the sun shine on everyone, good and bad alike.

This loving our enemies command isn’t a tricky plot to guilt our enemies into befriending us. Jesus isn’t preaching passive-aggression here. This is about echoing the relationship God has with us, so that we can stay in right relationship with God. This isn’t about us–it’s about God.

And so, we are to treat each other as God treats us. We are to love each other as God loves us.

And in God’s love, there is no empathy gap. God doesn’t care more for certain people than for others. God doesn’t love people who follow certain rules than for those who don’t. God doesn’t love people who look a certain way, act a certain way, pray a certain way or believe a certain way more than everybody else.

Turns out, God loves everybody just the same. God has mercy on everybody just the same. God wants justice, and dignity and freedom from suffering for everyone, just the same.

And so we are called to do the same. We are called to be hands and feet and hearts of God in the world, so we have to erase that empathy gap, and learn to see with God’s eyes, so that every life becomes equally worth caring about. Not just the lives that we find relatable.

We need to learn to look at children so that each child–the cute toddler who looks like your kids at that age, and the one who looks totally different than you–becomes someone to invest in.

We need to see our neighbors in such a way so that everyone shows forth the image of God–the fine upstanding young man you assume is in college somewhere, and the one you think is dressed inappropriately and is blasting his music too loud. Both are children of God. Everyone is a child of God.

We need to see every person–near and far, friendly and not, just like us, and not at all like us–becomes a reflection of God, so that the light of Christ is shining out of their face.

And until we can see people like that, until we can see the world like that, we haven’t truly achieved the call Jesus sets before us,

Amen.

Uncle Sugar is Bad Theology, as well as creepy.

Last week, I was at a meeting for about 2 hours.  When I wandered back to my computer, the Interwebz were spinning themselves into a tizzy.  A politician of a certain stripe had said this in a speech:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee argued that Democrats “think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication.”

“The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Huckabee said.

(Emphasis mine.)

source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/huckabee-dems-tell-women-they-can-t-control-their-libido


And this is how he defended his comments later:

My whole point was that the women I know are intelligent, thoughtful, educated, capable of running things, capable of making big decisions – and they didn’t need the government to hold their hands. They were not victims of their gender. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/25/huckabee-defends-comments-as-miley-cyrus-cosmo-weigh-in/)

Ah.

Well, then.

Let’s agree, shall we, that there are a few problems with his line of thought (birth control doesn’t work like that, Uncle Sugar sounds like a nightmarish cartoon villain, that’s not how apologies work, biology was taught in his school district, yes?, etc) the one that really caught me was the last line.

‘To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.

That, right there.  That’s the real kicker.

Because this implies a worldview where my gender, by virtue of it being a girly one, might attack me.  Might sneak up and bludgeon me with a candlestick, smother me with a pillow while I sleep, make me snuggle a kitten, do all manner of unspeakable things to me.

But it definitely renders me less-than, second-class, vulnerable, somehow.  I must fight my gender, lest I become a victim of it.*

In Mike Huckabee’s world, if you weren’t born a man (or white, or straight, or rich, or any number of things), then you’re already a step behind, you’re already a problem, and you better fight like hell not to fall entirely victim to your unfortunate lot in life.

And the minute you say it out loud, you should hear the problem here.  (If you’re not Mike Huckabee, whom I’ve decided was wearing earplugs during this speech.)

If women all might fall victim to their gender in your mind, then there’s no way women are created equal in your mind.  Especially when compared to men, who, curiously, are not described as needing to corral their gender.

Women are then just imperfect, incomplete men–It’s Thomas of Aquinas’ theory, back from its medieval casket–and as such, they can’t be trusted or treated as equals.

Why, oh why, oh why, does this nonsense get trotted out by modern-day Christians?  Mike Huckabee is a Baptist pastor.  He should know better, in at least 17 different ways.**

I understand that Thomas “T-Bone” Aquinas is amazing, and well-loved.  He was very smart.  But a.) He was one guy. b.) He lived in the Middle Ages.  Picture what he would have done with an iPhone. c.) Even he was aware that he was frequently wrong.

Which brings me to my final point.

God created male and female in the image and likeness of God.  All genders. Everybody.  God wasn’t working through some issues, or working out some kinks in the system.  God is God, and doesn’t make trash.  (And I’m surprised I have to point that out to folks who rely on that EXACT POINT when it comes to evolution, but irony is fun for us all, I suppose.)

If you’re convinced that 51% of the world’s population is made faulty in some way that they must be on guard against, then that’s a really awful slander against their Creator.  I mean, yikes. Either God is really bad at his job in your mind, or God is just getting a bit sadistic with a whole lot of people.

No God I know would do that.  No God I read about in the gospel does that.  No God whom Jesus describes would do that.

The God I know made me as I am on purpose: an opinionated, sarcastic woman who is very fond of shoes and waves her hands around too much.   The God I know makes each of us, like a different fingerprint, on purpose, because this God is tickled by variety.  Each different person, a new facet of God’s image.  Like a new side of a prism, shining in the light.   And each side, a gift.

I wrote last week that nothing convinced me more of an all-powerful Creator than being reminded of the diversity of people.

To flatten this variety into ‘better-than’ vs ‘less-than’ is to flatten God out, too.

So, while Gov. Huckabee is worried about women being ‘victims of their gender‘, he should be worrying about God falling victim to his poor theology.

*I’m not sure what this entails in Mike Huckabee’s mind.  Buy a switchblade?  Stop wearing heels?  Take up kickboxing?  He doesn’t elaborate. HOW SHOULD I DEFEAT MY GENDER, GOV. HUCKABEE?!

**and that’s not counting the fact that in any local church, women have kept everything running since Jesus learned to walk.  Seriously, Mike Huckabee.  Cross the Altar Guild or the ECW one day and see what happens.

They are the ones who knock, Governor.  Mark my words.

Christmas with South Sudan

St. Paul’s hosts a Sudanese mission congregation every Sunday at 1pm.  Their priest, John,  comes in, and leads worship for them every week, after most of us have left.  I pass them in the halls as they enter, and we say hello.  But normally, for the congregations, the most contact we have with each other is to wonder idly how an Arabic Bible ended up in our pew.
But in the last months, the world has watched as the newly formed nation of South Sudan has been ripped apart by violence, in what feels like a bad replay of the Sudanese civil war of the 1990s.  For our Sudanese congregation here, the violence was happening to brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors.  Everyone they’d left behind in South Sudan to come here.  Pastor John would call the office, with accounts of late-night phone calls from South Sudan: people heard from, and people still missing.
It’s been our practice to unite the two congregations for the late Christmas Eve service.  This year it seemed to me to be especially appropriate, as we traded song verses and prayers, back and forth, English and Dinka.  Fr. Stan, Pastor John, and I stood side by side behind the altar at the consecration, singing the sanctus and the Lord’s Prayer in our own varied languages, as we asked the Holy Spirit to come among us.
The vastness of nature as a barometer of God’s transcendence I’ve always thought was overrated.  Nature is lovely, very big, but also impersonal.  Nature doesn’t convince me of God.
What always impresses me with God’s vastness is people.
In our complexity, and our infinite diversity, and all the myriad ways we come up with to damage ourselves and creation.
And all the myriad ways we come up with to do better, and be utterly amazing.
So here we all of us were, on Christmas, all together in all our variedness, praying for Kansas City, and Bor, for those killed and those missing, and those doing the fighting.  For the refugees, and the politicians.  For everyone here and everyone there.  Such a rising chorus of prayer.
And at the heart of all of those prayers–a little helpless Divine Infant, who came to share in our vast, marvelous human diversity.

Wade in the Water

I’m working backwards here.

I do solemnly promise to post my Christmas sermon, and this thought I’ve had for weeks now about our Christmas Eve service.  But in the rush of Christmas, and post-Christmas vacation, and polar vortexes (vortices?) and bourbon tours, and returns to school, and the start of news blogging, I got distracted.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “There is too much.  Let me sum up.”

I have determined the following:

1. -30 degrees F is entirely too cold.  I have my limits.

2. Small children opining on Christmas and Advent are the best. (On Mary’s probable reaction to the Angel Gabriel: “her face is like ‘whaaaaaat?’)

3. The baptism of Jesus is not fun to preach on.  By virtue of being modern-day Episcopalians, who take baptism super-seriously, most of us preach on baptism all the time. So by the time I get to an actual textual reason to talk about baptism, I’m scrounging for new things to say.

That issue nonwithstanding, I preached away on Sunday, and came up with the following.

 

 

January 11-12, 2014

First Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Matthew 3:13-17

Growing up in Tidewater Virginia, my best friend as a kid was Southern Baptist.  And since we were best friends, we’d go to each other’s church events, like well-raised kids did.

It didn’t matter what was going on, I remember, at her church.  Every event ended the same: potluck dinner, Easter musical, Wednesday night Bible study.  The choir would sing a hymn, the pastor would head for the front, and someone would stand and give their testimony for the power of Jesus.
And the stories were always great.  Some dramatic moment when they had hit rock bottom, or been near death, or had a deep conversation with a loved one.  And they had seen the light, and been saved, in one shining moment–and the high point!  They got baptized.

At this point, the choir would swell, the pastor would pray, and everyone would head down front to get saved, or saved again, or saved some more.

I really loved the stories!  I always wanted to know when that moment was!  Was it a near death experience?  An addiction?  Did the whole family get saved, or just one person?  It was like a soap opera!

Til the day I realized that I had a problem.  I didn’t have a story.

As a cradle Episcopalian, I didn’t have A story.  I had been baptized as a baby, –I didn’t have a ‘come to Jesus’ ‘get saved’ story.  My experience of growing up in church, going to Sunday School, being a part of a community that loved me, seemed like I had done everything backwards. There wasn’t one single moment I was convicted of anything, so much as a series of moments that composed a story that was still happening.

 

So I would listen in silence to everyone’s stories and it wasn’t until I got older that I began to take pride in my odd-duck faith story.   Maybe baptism didn’t have to be the end of a story.  Maybe baptism could be the beginning, too.

 

Because, after all, that’s pretty much what we see happening to Jesus at the Jordan River.  At this point in the story, not much has happened in the life of Jesus, or at least, not much that we know about from the text.  He was born, he grew up into adulthood, there was that unfortunate incident where he ran away from his parents in the Temple, but other than that, not much has happened to him.

 

And now, he’s shown up at the Jordan River, where John the Baptist has gathered quite the large following doing preaching and baptizing work, and he wants to be baptized.  And this is essentially the first public act Jesus undertakes.  John does not want to do it, John pleads incompetence, but Jesus insists—to fulfill all righteousness, he says– which is another way of saying that it was important to do it in order to maintain good relationships.  (if you were righteous, in the Jewish worldview, then you had just and loving relationships with those around you: God, your spouse, your neighbors, your children, etc.)

 

So Jesus gets baptized.  For the sake of righteous relationship.  And no sooner does that happen, than the spirit descends and a voice cries out, “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Now, it’s not like Jesus’ relationship with God starts at his baptism.  Jesus has always been the Son of God—God Incarnate—baptism doesn’t change that.

 

What baptism does do, however, is commit Jesus to being a conscious participant in that relationship with God.  God had always been there, talking.  Now Jesus was promising to show up too.

Baptism isn’t the end of a story, not the culmination of a relationship—it’s the beginning.

 

Because, from here, Jesus’s story is just beginning.  The beginning of this new phase in Jesus’ relationship with God will morph into a lifelong ministry where that relationship grows and deepens.  This carries Jesus into all the work he does, the preaching, the teaching, the healing, the minstry–and all because this relationship with God is ongoing, not just a one-time shot.

 

And so it is with us.  Our baptism, the way we approach it in the Episcopal Church, our baptism inaugurates a new phase in our relationship with God.  God has always been with us, but in our baptism, we agree to approach our relationship with God in a new and particularly intentional way.

 

We agree to take on our role as beloved children of God, to live into what that means, with our eyes open.  We agree (or someone agrees to raise us like this) to live as agents of God’s love in the world, spreading God’s mercy and peace through the way we live our lives. We agree to take our part in God’s resurrection of this creation.  Baptism, and the promises we make there–outline what that looks like.  We promise to follow the apostles example, we promise to keep fellowship, and continue in the breaking of bread, and the prayers, we promise to work for justice and peace, and respect everyone’s dignity, and seek Christ in all people.

 

And as our lives go on, what exactly this looks like, the specifics, will change.  Our relationship with God will change, and will deepen and shift.  Because we will change.  You are not the same person now you were when you were a baby, and you don’t have the same relationship with God you had then.  This is a lifelong process, this being saved.

Because being saved isn’t a single moment in time, one minute everything becomes clear, and you’re saved from eternal fire forever.

 

God doesn’t save us from something,  God saves us for a relationship as beloved children in service to the world.  And that’s something that takes a whole lifetime to develop.

 

But thanks be to God, that’s how long we have.

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