Tag Archive | sacraments

3rd Sunday of Easter, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, year A, preached 4/30/17

first reading:  Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

second reading:  1 Peter 1:17-23


There are times in our lives when we’ve all faced disappointment.  Deep disappointment.  Sometimes that disappointment is also accompanied by a loss of hope.  I think I can safely assume that most of us also have gone through periods of hopelessness.  I know I have.

Disappointment and hopelessness can lead to profound grief over what “could have been.”  But grief can also lead to disappointment and hopelessness.  Grief can be the cause or the result.

For our disciples this morning, grief was the cause.  This was just a few days after the crucifixion.  They had lost Jesus.  They had been in Jerusalem, where just the week before Jesus had entered triumphantly to “Hosanna’s.”  A week before, filled with hope.

Now they were leaving, filled with grief.  And this grief wasn’t only for the loss of a teacher.  This was grief for what they had hoped Jesus would bring to their people.  As they would tell the “stranger” walking with them, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

They “had” hoped.  Hope in the past tense.  Hope gone.  They were grieving the loss of Jesus, but they were also grieving the loss of hope.

I can only imagine their disappointment.  Their teacher dead, hopes crushed.  The believers hiding and dispersed. I’m sure they felt like God had abandoned them.  They obviously thought there was no reason for them to stay in the holy city.  And so they were walking away in grief.

Pastor Robert Hoch of Baltimore writes, “There are some walks that are longer than others – not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens…”¹  And into this journey, which Pastor Hoch refers to as a “walk of hopes in shambles” comes a stranger.

They were “talking and discussing” and this man they didn’t recognize asks them a question:  “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

One of the disciples, named Cleopas, basically says, “What rock have you been hiding under?  How could you NOT know?”  To which Jesus basically answers, “Then tell me.”

And Cleopas does.  Cleopas pours his heart out to Jesus the stranger.  Most telling is his account of the empty tomb.  He and his companion know about the women finding it empty, they know about the “vision of angels who said that he was alive,” but it seems they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it.

Then it’s Jesus’ turn to talk.  First we need to understand that when he calls them “foolish” – what he really means is “thoughtless.”  He isn’t calling them stupid or rejecting them.  He’s pointing out that their hearts have been “slow” – they’re not connecting the dots.  So he does it for them.

The Word proclaims the word.  Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself…”  Then after the Word proclaimed the word, Cleopas and his companion implored the stranger Jesus to stay with them. They were living the gospel of Christ – loving their neighbor by showing hospitality.

Then in the breaking of the bread they saw the stranger for who he was.

Grief turned to joy!  Hopelessness to purpose!  Disappointment to mission!  Back to Jerusalem they go to share their experience!

All along, even when they were disappointed and hopeless and filled with grief, and even in their confusion, the Savior was with them.  They just didn’t realize it.

Their words are telling.  And they tell us where WE can find the Lord when WE feel lost, disappointed, hopeless, confused or grieving.

Their hearts were “burning” while Jesus preached, and then recognized him in the “breaking of the bread.”  How Lutheran of them!  This is “CHURCH” for us – where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered.²

Often when we hit rough patches in our lives, when nothing seems to be going right, when we feel hurt or betrayed or abandoned, when it seems to be one thing after another, we might doubt God’s presence or even existence.  Or we might not doubt God’s presence but doubt God’s LOVE for us while we’re deep in our troubles.

This is precisely when we need to be reminded that we are NOT alone, that God not only exists but is indeed “with us” – Emmanuel – in the midst of all our mess.  And “church” is the best way we have to get that reminder.

Church – where we hear the Word proclaimed, the uncompromising unconditional love of Jesus who gave his life for us, not because our lives are great, but precisely because they are NOT.

Church – where we receive the sacraments of love – the covenants – that God has made with us. Baptism, when we are marked with the cross of Christ forever; and Holy Communion, when we receive the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

God gives us the gift of Jesus and Jesus gives us the gift of the Word and Sacraments, so that our hearts might burn too, and realize his presence with us.

Mosaic, 6th century

The Emmaus road is a hard road to walk for any of us – but even there, especially there, Jesus shows us that he is with us, just as he was with Cleopas and the unnamed companion.

It’s true that sometimes Jesus feels like a stranger to us.  We feel alone – hopeless and grieving.  But even when we don’t see him he is there.  Even when we don’t recognize him he is holding us.

And while the Church isn’t always perfect, indeed is NEVER perfect, the Church is still the place “where two or three are gathered”³ that Jesus promises to be.

Where we are reminded explicitly that God loves us and is with us no matter what.

Where we are reminded that our hope is ETERNAL life, but also that God holds us and walks with us in THIS life too.

This is our Easter hope.  Alleluia.

AMEN.


¹source:  Working Preacher commentary for Easter 3, year A, 2017, at WorkingPreacher.org

²Augsburg Confession, article 5

³Matthew 18:20

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12th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 8/7/16)

first reading:  Genesis 15:1-6

Psalm 33:12-22

second reading:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

gospel reading:  Luke 12:32-40

Note:  today in worship we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Baptism, so my sermon focused on that.  I have used only the first initial of the child’s name to respect the family’s privacy.


IMG_2361Today I get to do one of my all-time favorite things as a pastor – preside over the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

It is a beautiful and wondrous, amazing and mysterious thing we do today as “S” becomes a member of the body of Christ, and our brother.

Baptism is one of the most important gifts that God has given us.  It marks the beginning of our journey of faith, our life as a disciple, but it is also so much more.  As “S” receives this sacrament today, it’s a perfect time to reflect upon our own baptisms, and what it means in our life day to day.  And if we’re not baptized, we perhaps have the chance to learn about it for the first time.

First of all, Baptism is a covenant – a promise of faith – that God makes with us through Jesus.  In Holy Baptism we are claimed by God as God’s own child, we are marked with the cross, and named by God.

From now on “S” will have a new name.  A name that comes before anything anyone on earth will ever call him – and that name is “Christian.”  This baptism, along with the name “Christian” is not something that has worldly value.  It’s not something the world sees – it’s not something you can buy or sell – but it is worth more than ANY thing.

As Jesus says in our gospel reading today, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

There are no guarantees in this life.  Everything is transitory.  Wealth comes and goes.  Success comes and goes.  Happiness comes and goes.  Relationships come and go.  Health changes.  We face sickness. We confront death.  Life is fragile and our bodies and spirits can be broken.

Baptism is an eternal gift that never goes bad, never expires, never leaves.

You know why?  Because Baptism is God’s gift and promise to us – and God doesn’t take back gifts or break promises. We may walk away from our baptism, we may forget about it, but that doesn’t mean God takes it back – it’s ALWAYS ours for the claiming and re-claiming.

In fact that’s what we do every time we seek God’s forgiveness for our sins.  That’s what we do every time we confess – remember our baptism.  Because forgiveness is the main gift and promise that God gives us in Holy Baptism.

IMG_2362In this sacrament that “S” will receive in just a few minutes, we all receive three gifts:  forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.  So easy to say – one simple sentence with three ideas – but a lifetime’s worth of working out.

Because we need forgiveness every day.  At least I do – often repeatedly throughout the day!  None of us are perfect – as we say in our opening confession – we sin in thought, word and deed – in things we’ve done and in things we’ve left undone.

But through Jesus, we don’t have to worry about being perfect.  We don’t have to worry about being “good enough” for God to love us.  God loves us just as we are, imperfect as we are, and forgives us just as we are.  And this forgiveness we receive from Jesus is our redemption not just in little things, but from the biggest things we face – death and evil.

Each one of us here knows the power of death.  We have all been touched by it.  We have all grieved; no person is exempt from that.  But through Jesus’ death AND RESURRECTION, the power of death is defeated for us.  Jesus’ life is stronger than death.  Death does not have the last word for us.

And we know the power of evil too.  We have seen too much of it, even recently.  But Jesus overcomes that too – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.*

It doesn’t mean those things don’t exist.  What our baptism means, again, is that death and evil doe NOT have the last word – JESUS does.  And Jesus is LOVE and LIGHT.

And Jesus is also eternal.  The LAST word for all of us is eternal life WITH Jesus in the place he has prepared for us.

Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves each and every one of YOU here.  He is not some angry vengeful God come with a checklist – he is a loving God who stretched out his arms in love and gave his life so that we can live.  Every time we ask God to forgive us, we are simply remembering the power of Holy Baptism in our daily and eternal life.

Our baptism also joins us to one another.  As we become God’s child in Baptism, we also become siblings to one another – part of something larger than ourselves that calls us to look beyond ourselves.  “S” will become my brother. He will be YOUR brother.  And if he is our brother, it is our job to watch out for him, to care for him – as Jesus says, to LOVE him, as he commands us all to love one another.**

It’s an outrageous mystery, Holy Baptism.  That water, together with God’s Word, can do so much FOR us and IN us. I can’t explain HOW it happens – only that God promises us that is DOES.

Thank you (mom) and (dad), for bringing “S” to us – and for giving us this chance to reflect on the meaning of Holy Baptism – this “unfailing treasure” given to us by Jesus – and for giving us a new brother to love!

AMEN.


*John 1:5

**John 13:34

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 2016

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/17/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36:5-10

second reading:  1 Corinthians 12:1-11

gospel reading:  John 2:1-11


Today the lectionary presents us with weddings.  The institution of it and the joy of it.

Marriage is an important part of our culture.  Perhaps not as much as it used to be – more people are choosing to remain single, and others don’t feel the need for the state or Church to legalize their relationships.  But, in general, we have a culture that values marriage.

Things were quite different in the time of Isaiah and when Jesus walked the earth.  Marriage was EVERYTHING.  For a woman it offered protection and security.  For a man it was the way to provide legitimate heirs.  How much love played into it depended on the individuals, but to be married was the goal for everyone.  To be alone was culturally “second rate.”

This is why Isaiah uses marriage to describe Judah’s future.  They will go from “forsaken” and “desolate” to delightfully married, and God will rejoice.  The same attitudes of marriage were present in the time when Jesus was born and lived among us.  Weddings brought two individuals together, brought two families together, brought the whole community together, and were a sign of hope for the future.

Weddings are wonderful and special.  In Jesus’ day they could last up to a week!  In our day we have a party, we take pictures, we remember the day every year.  And yet, at the same time, weddings are pretty ordinary.  I mean, people get married all the time.

Over 2.1 million couples got married in 2014 in the United States.  That’s almost 6,000 weddings a DAY.

Isaiah’s vision of a nation restored, legitimized and filled with joy,  and the setting for Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of John, tell us something wonderful about how God operates.

Many times we think that for something to be holy it has to be unique, ULTRA special, EXTRA ordinary – something set apart.  And while it’s true that holy things are things set apart, what makes them holy is the function they serve.  No thing is inherently holy.  It’s what we DO with a thing that makes it holy.

Over 6,000 marriages a day, nothing special about that.  But God gives us a message through using this example in Isaiah and John.  And the message is this – that God can and does take what is everyday and ordinary and make it holy.

Through the marriage imagery in Isaiah, and Jesus’ attendance and first miracle at a marriage banquet, we learn the God wants to take things familiar to us and use them to help us experience the divine.

A wedding may be commonplace, and even if it takes place at city hall, invoking God’s name and blessing makes it a holy thing.  Our meeting here together this morning in and of itself is not a holy thing.  People meet together all the time:  at the grocery store, a concert, the doctor’s office, at restaurants, the senior center.  But when we meet and call on God’s name, to praise God and hear God’s Word, then it becomes worship, and worship is holy.

IMG_0879I drank a glass of water this morning.  Thank goodness that for most of us here, water is an everyday ordinary thing.  We turn on the faucet and it’s there like magic.  My glass of water was not holy.  But God decided that the act by which you and I would become God’s children would involve simple everyday water.

Again, God using an ordinary everyday thing to make a holy connection to us – a holy covenant.  Because when God’s Word is spoken over everyday water, it becomes in the words of Martin Luther, “a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water.” (Book of Concord, Tappert ed, Large Catechism, p. 438)

We eat and drink every day.  It’s one of the first things we do as a newborn, and one of the last things we will do before we die.  Once again God chooses one of our most ordinary activities to make holy.

11173340_1208991342450171_5284530707964794726_nIn the Old Testament God instituted the Passover – in the New Testament Jesus gives us the new covenant through the eating and drinking of holy communion.  Everyday substances of bread and wine, that when joined with God’s Word, become for us a sacrament of forgiveness.  Jesus took the bread, took the cup, blessed them and made them holy.

Over and over again, God takes the things we KNOW – the things we experience in our daily lives – and uses them to form and keep a relationship with us, and to strengthen our relationships to one another.  Because God knows we are both spiritual AND earthly people.

We cannot disconnect from our human senses, and so God USES those senses – sight, touch, taste, hearing and even smell – to connect with us.

Indeed God loved us SO much, want to be so intimately involved with our lives and way of living, that God chose to be among us.  God chose to be born and live with us, to experience the joy of a wedding, the relaxation of eating with friends, the death of a loved one, and even death itself – all out of love for you and me.

It’s an amazing thing – that God stoops so low, indeed Jesus BECAME an ordinary person, to meet us in love.

Because Jesus lived among us, God understands first hand our humanity and how it works.  It’s wonderful, and I’m so grateful, that God uses the things we find familiar, in order to form and keep us in faith.

We don’t have to travel to some far off place to find what is holy, we don’t have to conjure up complicated potions, we don’t have to perform great athletic feats, we don’t have to be perfect people to find the holy.

God comes to us in Jesus – with water, with bread and wine, saying, “where two or three are gathered together in my name.”

May we recognize him in these moments, in these things, and give thanks.

AMEN.

 

Communion

Holy Communion is one of the joys of my life – both as a presider and as a communicant.  The comfort and strength I receive from the sacrament are immeasurable.  The closeness I feel to Jesus when I receive him in the bread and wine is palpable.  I didn’t think it was possible that my comprehension and appreciation for this great gift could get any deeper, but it has in the most unexpected way.

In December my oldest child became an assisting minister at my husband’s congregation (my congregation of membership too, but not the congregation where I serve).  The assisting minister processes with the pastor, reads the scripture during worship, leads the congregation in many prayers, and assists with the distribution of Holy Communion as one of the chalice-bearers.  I was armed with my camera, poised to take unobtrusive pictures when appropriate.  I’m a proud mama!

I had decided that I would receive the chalice from my daughter to show her my support.  I knelt at the altar, hands outstretched to hold the chalice, but when the time came I was quite unprepared for what happened.  She came to me – this daughter who I carried, this child who I nursed, this girl who I held as she cried through the worst times of her life – and said, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”  And I almost broke down.  The weight of that moment, profound in its words, but most of all in the young woman before me who spoke them, was almost unbearable.  I was shaken, not in fear, but by hearing the gospel given to me by my daughter.  Suddenly our roles were completely reversed.  I was kneeling before her.  I was receiving the Lord from her.  I was the needy one, looking up, waiting to be nourished.

I would like to say it was awesome – but that word is too overused in our culture, and has come to mean something more akin to “great” or “fantastic!”  So I’ll say the experience filled me with awe:  awe for the life-journey of the young woman who fed me, and awe for our God who comes to us anew in the most unexpected times and places. It was a strong reminder to me of how God works through each one of us, using our strengths and our weaknesses. How the seemingly weakest/smallest/least significant among us can play a tremendous role.  How the young can teach the old,  the weak lift up the strong, the marginalized preach to the strong.  We are a motley group, we Christians.  Struggling with sin, kneeling equally before the altar as beggars, and receiving the body and blood of forgiveness.

Of course I knew all this before.  It’s not like I didn’t know that we’re equal before God, or that I could learn and receive from my children.  But once in a while, when our hearts and spirits are open, we can experience an old, well-worn thing, a beautiful gift, a wonderful treasure, with fresh perspective.  Like finding a new detail in a favorite painting.  And all we can do when we have this experience is let it flow over us – and thank God.

my daughter recessing at the end of worship with my husband

my daughter recessing at the end of worship with my husband

different traditions

When I was a senior in seminary, it was part of our curriculum to worship in different contexts on Sundays.  For three years we were assigned specific Lutheran congregations in which to serve, but for our last year we were told to go out and do something different.  And when I say “different” I mean, similar to extremely different – from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal.  I’m so glad I had that experience, because now as a pastor and pastor’s wife, I’ve been pretty much in the same buildings for 9+ years and worshiping Lutheran for almost twenty.  I’m thankful I had the chance to “church hop” because it allowed me to see the richness in other traditions, while at the same time coming to appreciate why the Lutheran Church is the right place for me.

I recently attended a Roman Catholic funeral mass, and that seminary experience came back to me.  I was there to support a parishioner whose adult daughter had died from a short illness.  It was truly heartbreaking to see the widower and his teenage sons and my parishioner saying goodbye.  It’s a common saying but all too terribly true that a parent should never have to bury their child.

Of course this is a generalization, but I love the atmosphere of Roman Catholic churches.  Although this congregation had a modern building in the shape of a semicircle, it still retained many of the classic elements and “feeling” of a typical Roman Catholic Church.  By “feeling” I mean a sense of quiet, contemplation, meditation and prayer.  I love the sense of awe that my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have for the space for worship.  I think it stems from the presence of the tabernacle or monstrance, and the confessionals.  At any time you enter a Roman Catholic church at least one sacrament is currently “happening” – in the tabernacle/monstrance – and one “could” be happening in the confessional.  While it’s true that other traditions have an understanding of being respectful in “God’s house,” Roman Catholic folks have a greater sense of “holy space” than most protestants.  And that’s too bad for us.  I think we would do well to have a healthier sense of awe for where the Word and Sacraments happen.  I know that Church is more than a building, indeed not a building at all, but the space we set aside for worship is special – whether it’s a building called a church, or the living room in someone’s home – and we should treat it as such.  I almost always have a feeling of peace, and an openness to prayer and contemplation when I visit a Roman Catholic congregation, which is a beautiful thing.  Along with the sense of holy space is the Roman Catholic regard for the liturgy.  While I’m comfortable worshiping in any setting, including hands in the air “alleluia” services, a more formal liturgy is where I feel most at home.  I appreciate the flow of worship that’s been handed down to us from generations past, and I’m glad the the Lutheran church has retained the ancient pattern, so much so that when I’m at a Roman Catholic mass I barely miss a beat.  But… there’s something in the way, an invisible wall, not between me and the holy space or the liturgy, but between me and the institution – as a protestant, as a woman and as a clergywoman – that keeps me from feeling fully welcomed and included.

Here comes the part where I “appreciate why the Lutheran Church is the right place for me.”  (Let me make it clear that I don’t write any of this to offend or attempt to convert my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.  These are only my thoughts on why I couldn’t be Roman Catholic, not on why you shouldn’t be.  If you’re at home in a Roman Catholic congregation then God bless you.)

I was glad that my parishioner felt she could receive communion.  I know her well and I know communion is a great comfort to her, but I also know that she shouldn’t have received, and I felt excluded as I sat in the pew while others went forward.   I could’ve presented myself for communion, and the priest would have been none the wiser, but that would not have been right.  When you’re in someone else’s house you abide by their rules, you don’t sneak around to break them.

There are two basic reasons why I couldn’t present myself for communion at this funeral.

  • Lutherans have a different understanding of Jesus’ presence in the elements.  We believe that Christ is present “in, with and under” the bread and wine – the elements don’t change, but Christ is present with them –  a mystery we can’t explain.  We do NOT believe that the bread and wine are substantially changed.  In the Roman Catholic faith one MUST believe in this doctrine of transubstantiation in order to receive communion.  And I don’t.
  • We also have a different understanding of what makes one worthy to receive communion.  In the Roman Catholic faith, one must be in a state of grace – in other words, free of mortal sin.  For the Roman Catholic, the Eucharist only forgives venial sins – mortal sins must be confessed prior to receiving communion.  In the Lutheran faith one can NEVER be worthy – it is precisely the recognition of our unworthiness that makes us worthy – the sick who need the doctor, the sinner who needs forgiving.  ALL our sins are forgiven in the Sacrament – Jesus didn’t say “for the forgiveness of the little sins only,” he said, “for the forgiveness of sin” – period.  The bigger our sins the more we need communion.  Since I haven’t been absolved through the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession I also cannot receive communion.

[That said, there are extremely rare instances when a non-Roman Catholic may receive communion from a priest, but before they can they must “manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments…” (Code of Canon Law, CIC 844 § 4).  In other words, the person isn’t Roman Catholic, but believes what the Church teaches, so probably IS Roman Catholic in their hearts but hasn’t had the chance or opportunity to convert.]

The other thing that makes me feel unwelcome and exluded, and it’s a big one, is my biology.  As a woman, I have a very hard time tolerating an all male clergy.  I have a very hard time tolerating the positions on separate gender “gifts” that the Roman Catholic Church puts forth.  We can have a good conversation about whether the few passages of Scripture that exclude women from leadership were meant for “all time” or just for “that time,” but for the Roman Catholic Church it’s also an issue of tradition – a tradition that has been declared infallible and cannot be changed.  I’m sure we’ll see married priests at some point, but I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church will EVER admit women to the priesthood – indeed, church teaching says it couldn’t couldn’t ordain women even IF it wanted to (there are many reasons not just biblical – you can do a google search on this if you want to go deeper).  This is one of the many reasons I appreciate being in a church tradition that can change certain things, even BIG ones, as long as the message of the gospel remains (because THAT is the one thing that never changes).  Of course, this means that my tradition discusses, studies, debates, fights, discusses, studies, debates and fights some more about changes – and sometimes things get messy.  It’s no fun, and it’s certainly not perfect or infallible.  But I’ll take it over the hierarchy/patriarchy any day.  That’s just me.

So as I sat and prayed in this funeral mass, all these thoughts were swirling in my mind and my emotions ranged from peace to anger, from contentment to frustration.  I was grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the sacred space – a space that was holy for me, and that I could feel enveloped by that holiness.  I’m also grateful to return to my own space, where I might have to work a little harder to experience that same sense of awe and holiness, but where I also feel completely welcomed and wholly valued – not for my body parts (or lack thereof) or my spotless life – but because I’m forgiven.

***Again, these are just my thoughts and feelings and not meant to offend or convert.  I’m only saying what is right for me.

All Saints’ Sunday, 2014

All Saints’ Sunday, year A, 2014 (preached on November 2, 2014)

first reading:  Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

second reading:  1 John 3:1-3

gospel reading:  Matthew 5:1-12


water and the Word

water and the Word

In our adult forum this morning, we continued our discussion about the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We reviewed what is taught in our catechism regarding this most precious gift of Christ – that through it we receive 1)forgiveness of sins, 2)deliverance from death and the devil, and 3)eternal salvation, as the Word and promise of God declare.

We are taught that it signifies that the “Old Adam in us… should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.”

Baptism is that THING, the promise, that we return to again and again throughout our lives – that though it happens only once, is drawn upon continuously.  Every time we are bold enough to ask God to forgive us, we are doing nothing less than returning to and remembering the promise God made to us in Holy Baptism.

One of my favorite passages from Luther is found in his Large Catechism in the section on Baptism:  “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized!  And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life….  No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism…”

You may be asking yourself, “Why all this quoting Luther, when Reformation Sunday was LAST week?”  “Why all this talk about Baptism on All Saints’ Sunday?”  “Why talk about the happy occasion of Baptism on what many consider to be the very somber day of All Saints’?”

Well, we need to start by remembering the true meaning of these things.  I stated a few moments ago that the gifts of Holy Baptism are forgiveness, deliverance from death, and eternal salvation.  Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is our only key to the gate of heaven.  The feast of All Saints, while somber in remembering those we have lost for now, is really a celebration of their passing through that gate of heaven.

We may approach this feast with grief, but it is grief mingled with hope and comfort.  The hope and comfort written in Revelation, when there is no more hunger or thirst, and when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  The hope of the psalm that the Lord delivers us, and that we will lack for nothing that is good, and not be punished.  The hope written in the first letter of John, that we ARE God’s children, and we will be like him.  The hope we receive from Jesus himself in the beatitudes – receiving comfort, mercy, blessings and the kingdom of heaven.

The feast of All Saints is also a day NOT just to remember the blessed dead, but the saints of here and now – celebrating the life you and I and all the baptized live in faith.  And we live that life beginning with our baptism.

We remember all those we loved who have gone before us, and it is good and proper to do.  But to completely observe the feast we also need to hold up a mirror and see ourselves – for we too are saints.  Saints who still sin, but saints nonetheless.  We are made saints through the water and the Word – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, All Saints’ Sunday is one of the principle baptismal feast days of the church’s liturgical calendar – along with the Vigil of Easter, Pentecost and the baptism of our Lord – it is a time the Church says is especially good to bring people into the kingdom through the sacrament.

The gift of baptism we receive through Christ unites us with St. Peter, St. Lucia, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Martin Luther, St. Henry Muhlenberg, St. Anna Obernier (my great-grandmother), St. Aaron (my father-in-law), and St. Harold – our brother in Christ who entered the Church Triumphant in February.

Our baptism unites us to all these saints of the past, and unites us as believers in the here and now, as we gather together to worship, learn, and serve God and one another.

All Saints’ Sunday reminds us that we are part of this great communion of saints that we confess in the creeds.  It also reminds us that our faith is more than a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but that our baptism also connects each of us to the other.

Our baptism intimately unites the past with the present AND the present with the future.

What tremendous gifts Jesus has given us, to forgive and free us, and to promise us a place with him forever – to reunite us with those who have gone before, so that as St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, even though we may grieve, we do so with HOPE.

Today, we remember those who have died in the Lord, not with despair, but with a sadness mixed with joy.  Today, we look at our own lives and are strengthened by knowing that even though we still sin and fall short, we are part of a forgiven people, each one of us saints in the here and now.

And we are made saints through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  For in this great gift God binds God’s self to us, and we are bound to one another as brothers and sisters – now and forever.

As we sing in today’s great hymn:  “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.  Yet all are one within your great design.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!”

AMEN.

5th Sunday of Easter, 2014

5th Sunday of Easter, year A, 2014 (preached May 18, 2014)

first reading:  Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

second reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10

gospel reading:  John 14:1-14

I’ve been thinking about babies lately.  My son turns eight on Saturday – my babies are growing up.

There are some good things about that for sure, but there are some sad and worrisome things too.  Within weeks of my son turning eight, my oldest will be affirming her baptism in the Rite of Confirmation.

I’m bouncing between a growing child who is infinitely inquisitive and believes I know EVERYTHING, and the teenager who increasingly believes I know very little and SHE knows everything!

Where is all this heading you may be asking yourselves?  What does my reflecting about babies, and growing children, have to do with our worship today?

Throughout the week I kept coming back to our second reading.  It begins, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if you have indeed tasted that the Lord is good.”

We all now how difficult infants can be when they’re hungry.  And we all know how their disposition changes when they’re finally fed.  And we know that if an infant is fed, it will be healthy, and grow and change and grow some more.

In our second reading, this is the image we’re given – of us as newborn babies who are well-fed, satisfied, and growing – the picture of health.

Just as an infant needs “material” food to grow and be strong and healthy, in 1 Peter we’re told that we need “spiritual” milk to grow and stay strong and healthy spiritually.

And what is our “spiritual milk?”  What practices, what food,  helps us grow and stay strong and healthy in the faith?  I see four.

1)  We have the Word of God found in Holy Scripture.

2)  We have worship, during which we give our very selves over TO God, and receive FROM God within a community of faith.

3)  We have the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, in which Jesus literally feeds us with HIS very self.

4)  And we have prayer, in which we share with God, give thanks, present our worries and fears – and also LISTEN for God.

Just as neglect of an infant’s physical needs can result in failure to thrive, neglect of our spiritual food can result in our failure to thrive in faith no matter how old we are.

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we are in a LIFELONG relationship of love and learning with our Lord and in lifelong service to him.  We can never know all there is to know.  We can never completely comprehend the majesty and mystery of God.

1) The Bible.  I don’t know anyone who believes they understand everything in the Bible.  I certainly don’t.  Even the greatest biblical scholars are constantly searching, constantly reaching to understand more.

The Bible is a gift to us that is filled with the richness of the stories of God’s people.  The Scriptures help us get a glimpse of God’s nature, the Bible shows us Jesus.  In reading and wrestling with Scripture we grow and stretch out of our comfort zones to see God at work in the lives of people just like us, and people who are definitely NOT like us but who God loves equally.

2) Worship.  SO many people miss out on so much by neglecting worship.  Now there are those who say we can worship on the golf course or in the mountains or at the beach – but do they?

How many folks do you know that read Scripture or sing songs of faith or pray for the WORLD (not just for a good round) on the golf course?

Contrary to what some would like to believe, we’re not called to be Christians in solitude.  In Peter’s letter we’re given the image of ourselves as STONES, that together are built into a spiritual house.  There can be no house with just one stone.

Being part of a church isn’t always easy.  We can get caught up in personality differences, in all the STUFF that has to get done, and the work of running the “business” of the church, especially in a small congregation like ours.

But this is why worship is SO important.  It reminds us why we work so hard.  It reminds us that there is something at work here that is bigger than ourselves – and our worship together gives us strength from God and from one another to go out and face another day.

3) The sacraments are a vital part of any growth or health or strength in faith.  Even though we believe in only one baptism – every time we witness a baptism we can be reminded of the promises God made to us at the font.  And in Holy Communion we are continually renewed in faith through the forgiveness of sins imparted at Christ’s table.

They are the means by which God gives grace and forgiveness to each one of us, a way that God comes to you and me as individuals and as a community.

4) And we have prayer.  Prayer is something we do together AND individually.  We share our inmost fears and desires, and we pray together for unknown numbers of people we will never meet.

And we listen.  The listening is the hardest part, at least for me.  It’s the part that stretches us to grow the most – because we can never be quite sure what God is going to say.

As we receive our spiritual milk, Peter’s letter tells us we “grow into salvation.”  Now, growing into salvation doesn’t mean working at our salvation.  It doesn’t mean we’re earning it – it means we are constantly in the process of discovering what our salvation means.

Growing into salvation means being fed so that we are strong and healthy enough to explore all the layers of who this Jesus God-person was and is, for us and for the world.

Growing into salvation means allowing God to feed us through all of the means of grace – through the Word, worship, sacraments and prayer – so that we may be drawn ever closer to Jesus and to one another.

In this wonderful faith we have, centered on the miraculous love of Christ, we have a lifetime to learn and grow and love.  Praise be to God!

AMEN.