Scripture Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In 2001 I was serving as student chaplain to a retirement community. I had made a point to let the staff know I was available to them as well as the residents, so I wasn’t surprised when one of the housekeepers asked if I would meet with her during her morning break. I had recently given her a Good News Bible, which she was very excited to see was written in English she could understand, and I thought perhaps she had biblical questions. As we sat with our coffees and snacks she said that on Sunday her pastor had been preaching about how God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three persons but also one, and asked me to explain that. During a 15 minute coffee break! Not gonna happen! I told her that many very wise people had been trying to explain that for something like 1600 years, and all I knew for sure is that God and God’s ways are beyond our understanding. I just believed it was true, I said, and didn’t really worry about how it worked. She was ok with that, for which I was grateful.
Today is Trinity Sunday and I am even more unwilling now to attempt an explanation of the Trinity in 15 minutes here than when I was a seminary student and knew everything. According to one article I read this week, any attempt to describe the workings of the Trinity inevitably descends into heresy! (Not a Disciple theologian, obviously.) So instead of a deep theological discussion, we are going to look at Romans, and faith, and endurance and what it means to move forward in a life of faith after baptism. After all, we did have a baptism last week, and even though I was unable to move 3,000 of you to come forward after my sermon, this seems like a really good time to talk about life after baptism.
Different people have different expectations about their baptism and different reasons for wanting to be baptized. One young woman come to me asking to be baptized because it would really upset her Buddhist parents. (I said no.) Howard, who was one of my neighbors, asked to be baptized because Joel Osteen said he should do that. Although he did show up on Sundays while going through the baptism classes, and he engaged with the congregation during that time, I was not too surprised afterwards when he chose to attend Joel Osteen’s church in his living room instead of being part of our community. And then there was Donna, who came up to me a few weeks after her baptism very upset because her life had not changed at all. She thought God would wash away all her problems once she was baptized. But she still had overdue bills, she still drank too much, and she still had relationship troubles. Somehow she missed the part about her commitment to changing her life.
On the other hand, one day a young mother came to me saying her 7-year old daughter wanted to be baptized and give her life to Jesus. Although 7 is rather young, I had recently heard Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President at the time, say that she had been baptized at age 7. So after questioning Abby about her commitment to Jesus and her understanding of what baptism is, I agreed, and she was baptized. Several months later her mother came to me saying that Abby had clearly taken her baptism seriously. She was making every effort to be a better person. She was even being nicer to her little sister! Abby, at 7 years of age, had understood what baptism meant better than all of those adults. She committed her self to Christ and to Christ’s people, even showing up after Sunday morning soccer games. She took part in all of our mission projects. She went through some significant difficulties, and learned to let Christ help her through whatever life brings. She learned at a very young age that life is filled with high days, and low days, and lots of days in between.
A side note on liturgical fashion. Last week was Pentecost and everything was red! Jeffrey designed this beautiful decor, which technically is only supposed to stay up for one day, but we have kept for another week just cause it’s gorgeous. The colors we use, the stoles I wear, are not just randomly selected, and I don’t get to just match my stole to my outfit. These colors tell us what is going on in the church year. Today is Trinity Sunday, so I am wearing white, because white is the color we wear when we are joyful - Christmas and the season following it, Easter all the way up to Pentecost, and today, the celebration of the Trinity. Once a year, on Pentecost, we wear red to celebrate the Holy Spirit. In the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter - during Advent and Lent - we wear purple symbolizing repentance and preparation. All the rest of the year is green, symbolizing hope and life and anticipation. It is the time when church life is filled not with the highs of celebrations and the lows of times of trial and grief, but with the daily life of Christ’s ministry. The green gets really boring. (And I am sorry, but we need switch to green next Sunday.)
But that’s kind of the point, because the green time in our lives is when we develop endurance as Christians. We hear the parables and the healing stories and the theological arguments Jesus has with the scribes and Pharisees, over and over again, until they are as familiar as the backs of our hands. Just as it is in our own lives. We have no problem celebrating the good times, and we know to ask for help from God in the bad times. It’s that daily slog through life that can really challenge us. It’s the musician’s daily practice - scales - to prepare for the performance. It’s the athlete’s work out routines to prepare for competition. It is making the bed, doing the dishes, washing the clothes, showing up for work or class over and over even when we don’t feel like it.
When we move forward from our baptism into the new life in Christ that we have committed ourselves to, we will find there are highs - like the baptism itself - when we can feel the Spirit and we know that God is present, and there will be lows, times of doubt when we may wonder where God is. And there are all the times in between, when we just do the next indicated thing. Now that we are Christian, we can’t just sit still and do nothing. Our faith is strengthened by work, and work is, by definition, not easy. And when I say work, I don’t mean doing works of charity, or mission trips, or even serving on church boards and teams. All those things are good, and please do them. Do not stop doing these things.
But what I mean by work is the daily and very difficult work of loving our neighbors and ourselves. We are baptized because we want to turn our lives over to God, not because we want to upset our parents. We are baptized because we want to change our lives and make a new beginning. Moving forward from our baptism means making a daily effort to follow Christ’s teachings and example in every thing we do. It is through this daily effort that we develop endurance, and thus character. It means that instead of expecting God to miraculously remove her compulsion to drink, or to pay her bills for her, or to suddenly change the family members she had trouble getting along with, Donna needed to work at changing herself to become the person God intends for her to be. It means that Abby had to work at being nicer to her younger sister - which I know was hard because I have a younger sister. Don’t get me wrong, God loves them both no matter what. God loves us all, no matter what. But if we are to move forward from our baptism into being the kind of Christian that attracts others to Christ, we must work at sharing God’s grace with others - every day, all the time. We must share God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, even with people we don’t like - every day. We must act with mercy and compassion, forgiving as we are forgiven - every day, even if we don’t want to. We must treat others with respect and care, as we ourselves wish to be treated - every day. We must endure the green times, the ordinary times, when it seems like nothing much is happening, when it seems like every day is like every other day. And to do that, we must always keep Jesus in the front of our minds and hearts. We must begin every day with our minds on Jesus.