February 3, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
The birth of a child is one of those mountain top experience. It is life changing, for nothing remains the same. And we must come down from that high to the issues that this experience brings. We have the care and feeding of this child now. Our family reality is changed. Birth has all sorts of practical implications and we are in it for the long haul.
And that long haul will bring with it more mountain top experiences as well as dips in the valley. Each stage in our child’s life brings new challenges, worries, joys, and hopes. Today we celebrate a welcome of a child, Hope, into a community dedicated to the flourishing of the life on earth. In baptism a child is welcomed into the kingdom of Heaven which is the symbol of God’s gracious care of this world in the here and now. We splashed the water of hope down on her head. Anointed her with oil as the symbol of God’s excessive grace and made the sign of the cross to claim as a child of God.
This is the symbolism of baptism - a welcome into a faith community that commits itself to the care of all. Symbolically we take on the responsibility of mentoring a person so that she can flourish. We hope for her. We commit ourselves to providing places and ideas that will help her grow in knowledge and faith.
The symbolism of water is powerful for it was out of the unordered waters of chaos that God began the creative process of our world. Out of chaos God saw what was to be good and sought for its flourishing. And in the waters of baptism the water is splashed everywhere and on all of us. We come up changed.
It is like this story in Matthew. There the symbols of Jesus time are brought together in him. There is the image of Moses, the one who brought liberation and is the representative of the priestly function - which is to see this earth as God’s home and sacred space which spills out on us. And then there is Elijah, the symbol of the prophetic tradition which speaks of our yearning and working for justice. Matthew has Jesus as the one who brings these functions together in one reality. He is sacred space that calls us into working for a just world.
In baptism we represent this hope and there is the symbolism of dying to the old self and rising out of the waters as a new reality. Out of the chaos of the past comes a new reality. In our vows we have summed up our commitment to the flourishing of Hope and the wider community.
Carrying the images of dying and rising further, what is being asked of us is to reflect on what it is we want to commit ourselves to. There is a movie called the Bucket List which follows two men who know they are dying. They set out to do things they have put off. One of things we discover is the skydiving and trips to Africa and all that stuff is really nice, but in the end, it was that deeper things of relationships that matter. The message is: connecting in a deeper way to others is what brings real happiness.
The screenwriter of the Bucket List said this:
The Bucket List came from me just trying to figure out what are the things I want to do with my life, before I kick it. And gradually, after a little time went by, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea – and as writers, we tend to do – just scribble notes here and there, I realized I had to get out of town, so I drove up to a cabin up in Idlewilde – up in the mountains here in California, and I spent two days, and I just wrote out an entire outline. And it was one of those things, where, once I figured out who the characters were, once I knew who Edward was and Carter were, it wrote itself.
(from Listen up)
Baptism is our bucket list - asking us what is it that we must do to make us flourish. Research has found that those who volunteer experience a more satisfying life. Those who have a deep faith are more able to deal with reality and the threats to flourishing. It is said that the secret to being a happy person is to be a giver not a taker. Baptism is the beginning of developing an identity grounded in the aim and love of God.
Mountain top experiences are also to be left behind. Notice how in the story Peter misses the point. He wants to build a shrine to catch the moment. Of course that is a natural response because don’t we want to capture the moment of our changed reality - take a picture and put it in a scrap book - bottle it. But to cast them in stone, to protect them from growing is the surest way of killing the dream. The story reminds us that there are many transformational moments and the importance of them is to take us back down from the mountain and live the inspiration.
Jesus comes down and immediately begins to teach and heal. And as the story reminds us, it is in the face of coming danger. He knows his vocation is a challenge and threat to the status quo and all empire aspirations. He offers another vision of flourishing which is in service to the world, to bring in the excluded, to heal the sick, to provide shelter from the storm.
Martin Luther King Jr. in his last speech, given the night before he was killed, said this:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
What the King quote reminds us is, this is the name we have been given in baptism. We have put on the name of Christ and now we know our project. It is to live the grace in action, to do in our own small ways the healing of this our bruised world. We are to be symbols of God’s grace which seeks the redemption of all, to bring new life out of the chaos of the waters. The water is turned into healing water, symbol of the ongoing transformation of life which is God’s project. We are invited through our mountain top experience to return to the plains. We know those transformational experiences are to be shared. Having experienced flourishing we seek the flourishing of all.