Royal Baptism & Beyond: Sermon Preached 1/5/2019 at Timpanogas Women’s Prison, St. Francis Church
Recently, Jose and I, and two Christian volunteers from MOSAIC Inter-Faith, made the traditional journey at the beginning of the year to Crystal Hotsprings in Honeyville, Utah. It is an amazing place that has recently been remodeled. Right here in Utah, it has the highest mineral count for any hot springs in the world. It is a soak that naturally, without drugs or alcohol, pulls out all the tension in your body for less than $15 and gas to get there. You can go in and out all day. People bring in little barbeques and food for lunches and dinner. It is picturesque too. I have such memories still of the hot mists rising up against the mountains on the east and the mists with the sunset on the west.
As lovely as that place is, as revitalizing as those waters are, it is nothing compared to the baptismal waters and the promises of our baptism. We have the promise in our baptism that we ritually become part of God! We are reminded in the waters of Life, that we are created in wide variety, loved as ultimately valuable and loved in Spirited ways every moment by God. We become God’s daughters and sons in baptism. However far we learn to stretch for good on this earth, and I assure you as beautiful as that is, it won’t be enough, God will cover us in goodness for the rest. We become whole in God through baptism. We no longer have to pretend perfection or hide imperfection. We know that God sees and loves us as we are; and fills in where is it needed for each of us for ultimate Goodness. In baptism, we become part of the royal family, we are royalty, beloved by God. 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” After baptism, we get to be involved in God’s work. As Virginia Mollenkott wrote, we get to do “Godding in God’s name” or in Martin Luther’s words “to be little Christ’s in Christ’s name in this world.”
Recently, I read this amazing book, called Thrive by Arianna Huffington, the catalytic force, CEO, behind the Huffington Post. And I was inspired by her paradigm. She does a delightful work and wonder, so to speak, with writing of what to do in your personal life to thrive. I thought as part of our Royal walk to baptisms on January 19th at St. Francis, we could focus on her paradigm to four areas in life: Wisdom, Wonder, Well-Being and Giving or Service – but perhaps in a more collective, God-community, way.
First, Generous Giving and Serving. What does God require of us after all – after we bath in our baptismal waters? “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with me, your God.” This poetic passage in Micah (6:8) is echoed again in Isaiah 1: 16-19: “learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the parentless, plead the widow's cause." The more giving and serving we do, as long as it is in balance, done with passion, not exhausting us, but filling us up, well it cleanses our heart, inspires hearts around us and gives us room to do more justice, love kindness more, and walk with God longer. One of the great ironies of this generous giving cycle is that “Those who shower blessings on others, canna help but shower blessings on themselves.”
Last year, St. Francis provided hygiene kits, socks and underwear, and other items to the homeless; and toys to children who had very little during the holidays. You reached out with Bible and healing studies, cared for the prisoner, were faithful to gather at the Lord’s table and in worship. You gave offerings to the Rocky Mountain region for disaster response and to Crossroads. You held fast to sobriety. Hold fast to sobriety and faith on the outside too. Protect it because this is your true self before God. Serving God, makes us so rich. This is powerful as an individual; and so much more powerful in collective.
Then, comes Sophia, Wisdom. In Seminary, I remember a poster, - now that was 32 years ago – so this is a memorable poster – the poster had a woman and then the saying, “I dreamed a dream – Spirit appeared to me and said, I could choose security or I could choose freedom. After a moment, I sighed, and chose freedom. Spirit spoke, ‘You have chosen well. This choice, will come again.’” And it has, the choice for spiritual freedom has come over and over again. As a woman, approaching 60, I will tell you, with every spiritual confidence, that it does get easier; and yet, every time, you will sigh a deep sigh. You will know the cost of discipleship, not only for yourself, for the collective, which is much more difficult because there will come a time in this Christian journey when it is much harder to see people you love paying the price than the cost for discipleship for yourself. You may know the women at the border whose children are taken from her. You may know the parents across the street who experience ICE coming to their door and having their their kids to DCFS and the parents being sent to two different countries. You may stand as a collective body, at your home or an Agency door and say no to police, you may not enter without a search warrant. You may be at a hearing where justice does not happen and a sentence is extended. You may hold your breath when someone is released; praying that they stay in God’s path and do not stray to hurt others. You may weep when you hear of a friend getting into a home to get food from a refrigerator and being gunned down in the night. You will stretch in love; and you will know a little bit of the love of Jesus at the cross and in the heavens. You will walk with God just as Mary, Mary and John did so long ago. You will know what it is to follow Jesus in the agonizing walk of the cross; and to have faith in an ultimate Resurrection, daily.
And now, with balance, we turn to Wonder. Wonder is such a God-gift, isn’t it? At MOSAIC and St. Francis, wonder and joy go together. Maybe for you too, no?! As Frederick Beuchner suggests, it is the call to listen to our life together and to see “it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: we touch, taste, smell our way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” MOSAIC has an English as a Second Language class with over 30 students. Watching the class grow over the last few years has been delightful. Studying human rights, adult students have wanted to organize protests right away. Learning about citizenship, 40% of the adult class are now USA citizens. What we focus on, wonder about, really matters. It transforms. It is part of the divine and providential road. When we get exhausted or out of whack or out of balance, it is because we have neglected our play and wonder individually or collectively. Be kind to yourself and each other and just recognize this place of needing creativity, transformation, play and wonder. As Ephesians 4:32 states so eloquently: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” Wonder doesn’t mind though, she waits, always ready to go again, at the ready.
Finally, we are at: Well-being. We are essentially royalty: daughters and sons of God, literally made of stardust. Divinity as humankind is in our bones and DNA. The place of well-being as royal women and men of God is intricately connected with humankind and creation. We are called in Mark 12: 20-34 to “love collectively: love God with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength (heart-mind-body) and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” Jesus says in Mark 12 that this call to love, this loving way, is being close to the Kingdom of God – well being. Love is not owned or controlled by anyone. God created it this way. It is between us. Love is power between us. As we get more and more experienced practicing this love between us, we get closer to God’s Kingdom. And, with confession and forgiveness we can always return to love in a “New York second.” In Jeremiah’s time this is what they said (Jeremiah 7:3-6): “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the parentless, the widow and do not shed innocent blood… and do not follow other gods to do your own harm, then I will let you Live in this place…forever and ever.” Later, God expands this promise when drawing close to us in Immanuel, God with Us, – John 14:2: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Quite a promise. When you feel pulled in a million directions, stop, take some time for Holy silence, and feel what the collective heart, mind, body – the stream of Christian saints of all time or the 2 or 3 that are gathered – what is that heart trying to say to you? God is sending collective messages and patterns. Just stop, feel your heart, feel the collective heart, and listen. As Hosea 12:6: “So you, all you all, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait, wait, continually for your God.”
Homework: Encourage the wo/men to read: 1 Peter 2 during the week.