Preached at Our Savior’s Lutheran, South Hadley, Mass
On the occasion of a baptism
Today we get to baptize a new tiny one!
I was all ready to have a baptism party and, like I do every week, I flipped to the Gospel text for this week and choked on my coffee.
We follow the lectionary, an assigned group of texts for each week, so it’s kind of the luck of the draw sometimes.
And this week, in the midst of an election year and on the day of a baptism here at our church, we get this text: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
The nerve of that guy.
Just in case I wanted to preach gentle Jesus, meek and mild, here we have Jesus calling for things to be set on fire. I admit that at first I thought, “Good thing this sermon needs to be short.”
But then I started thinking about how often the church has failed people, and how often religion has failed people. Of how often we see things in the world that are wrong, people being hurt, people hurting each other, and we say nothing. How the Martin Luther King, Jr. described in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
“So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.” (1)
We too often lag behind and hurt people in the meantime with our lazy acceptance of half truths or our refusal to look deeper into insidious issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and even outright, blatant abuse.
And I think of how this must have frustrated Jesus. How it must still break God’s heart.
And I thought of Claire, and Ari, whom we baptized a few months ago. And I thought about how we have promised to love them and pray for them and support them and teach them the ways of Jesus. How it will be difficult.
And I don’t just mean that in the ways that the people who raised me meant it. They meant that if you constantly only try to convert people, you will annoy them.
I mean something different. I mean that if we stand up for others and for people who are hurting the way that Jesus wants us to, people aren’t going to like it. They’ll tell us we’re dividing the church and they’ll call for “unity” but what they really mean is that they want us to stop rocking the boat, even if the unrocked boat allows people to be abused and hurt for no good reason. Or we ignore pain and tragedy around us when it’s unpleasant.
And you know what? I often go right along with it. We all do. The church has a history of it: of backing away from pain, of letting people be Bible beaten and bullied, of even knowingly permitting abuse.
Jesus isn’t interested, as I once thought, in picking apart our lives looking for sin. He is in this for the redemption and transformation of the world, the world turned upside down, where no one has to suffer, where no one is oppressed, where all are truly free.
And you know and I know that that’s going to cause division before it brings peace.
When America finally freed the people it had been holding as slaves, there was division and anger. When the schools were racially integrated in the South, bricks were thrown and fires were set and people were angry. When women won the right to vote, some people said it was the end of our great nation.
Every single time we have brought justice to this land for people that we have previously hurt or forgotten, there has been division and anger over it. Because, in the words of a blogger named Glennon Doyle Melton, being brave is a choice. Standing up for other people is a choice. And it’s not always a popular one.
In an article on her blog, Momastery, she writes a letter to her young son who is starting the third grade. She tells him about a kid in her class named Adam who was constantly picked on. And she tells him that she didn’t do anything to help Adam, and she still regrets it. She tells her son in words that I am sure echo God’s words to Claire and to us:
“We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As….
We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Because brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd. Tweet: Brave isn’t a feeling. Brave is a decision that compassion is more important than fear or fitting in.
Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.” (2)
I wonder if God doesn’t send us into the world to practice being brave and kind. Even when the crowd hates it. Even when they tell us that our standing up for other people causes division.
The truth, Jenn and Chris and TJ and Raymond, is that having Claire baptized doesn’t mean that you need to be holier than any of the rest of us. And as a congregation, promising to be here for Claire and pray for her doesn’t mean that we have to be extra holy examples for Claire. When we renounce the devil and the forces of evil in a few minutes, it doesn’t mean that we will be any holier or that God will or even could love us any more than God already does. That much is done. Sealed.
It just means that we need to practice being brave and kind, so that Claire grows up knowing that this is the way of Jesus: to be brave and kind, loved, and called by name. It means seeing ourselves as created in the image of God, so that we treat other people like they are created in the image of God too.
Having Claire baptized doesn’t mean we have to be the best Christians. Jesus couldn’t love us any more even if we were.
The cross is here to remind us that we are loved beyond measure and that God is present with us even when we suffer, even when our choice to be brave is unpopular, and even when we fail to be brave in the first place.
Claire and Jenn and Chris, TJ and Raymond, and people gathered here at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church: you are loved beyond measure, and I am so glad that you are here.
Let’s have ourselves a baptism party. Amen.
1. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” [ext.], http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/060.html.
2. Glennon Doyle Melton, “One Letter to Read Before Sending Your Child to School,” Momastery, http://momastery.com/blog/2014/08/21/the-one-letter-to-read/.