Sunday, November 13, 2016

Because of your faith . . .

Luke 21:5-19 Common English Bible (CEB) 

5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”

8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9  When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

Last week I mentioned that there were very few times in the church year when I would have the opportunity to wear a white stole - Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Sunday.  You will have noticed, I think, that today is none of those.  But today is another time of great joy and celebration.  Today is the day we baptize a new Christian.  Will Thompson is sitting right up front here in a white baptismal robe, anxiously awaiting the moment when I call him forward to make his vows and go into the water of forgiveness.  

Will is probably happy that we no longer do baptism the way the early Christians did.  The picture on the screen is an ancient baptistery located in the Negev - a desert region of southern Israel - and was likely built sometimes between 250-600AD.  Early Christian baptistries were shaped like a cross, so, if Will was being baptized then, he would stand at the foot of the cross, remove all of his clothing, and walk into the water.  This symbolized his willingness to give up his old life, his old ways of understanding the world, and entering an entirely new life in Christ Jesus.  He would have spent a year or more studying the faith before the church elders agreed he was ready to become a member.  He would have attended worship services, but he most likely would have been required to leave the service before Communion, as that was restricted to baptized Christians only.   Once he was in the water, he would have been pushed under the water by the leader of the congregation, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and given an entirely new name - his Christian name.  The old Will would have died - symbolically - under the water, his old life gone forever, wiped clean by the waters of baptism.  Emerging from the water a new person, with a new name, he would be anointed with oil, given a new robe to begin his new life, and would then join the congregation for the Lord’s Supper for the very first time.

If you all will excuse me for a few minutes, I need to talk to Will.   Things are a bit different today.  We don’t do that whole naked thing anymore.  We don’t give you a new name.  We don’t anoint you with oil.  We don’t even give you a new robe - although we do lend you the very nice, white robe you are wearing right now.  And because you are a member of this church, you’ve probably been sharing the Lord’s Supper with the congregation ever since you could eat solid food, so when you join us in that meal today it won’t be for the first time.

But it will be for the first time as an adult member of the Church universal.  You see, that’s what baptism is for you.  Your decision to become a Christian through baptism is the decision of an adult.  From here on out, you will be held to the standard of any adult Christian.  I know that is what you want. I know that you want more than anything to be a Christian - a baptized Christian, fully accountable to Christ.  I know that you want more than anything to dedicate your life to Christ publicly.  And that you want to do that in this church, your home church.  You have no idea how happy that makes, not just your family, but the entire church family here present today.  

I hope that you do understand what it means to be Christian.  I know that your parents and grandparents have taught you well.  I know that you pay close attention to what you are taught in church and Sunday School and Youth Group.  But now that you have made the decision to be baptized, to dedicate your life to Christ, to follow his commandments in your every day encounters, when the rubber hits the road, you will be required to act.  

Jesus said to his disciples, “they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. . . You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you.  Everyone will hate you because of my name.”    You may think this can’t apply to you, but it does. It applies to all of us, to all Christians.  In this country, we won’t be arrested for being Christian, and we are very grateful for that, as there are some countries in the world where you can be arrested or even executed for preaching your faith.  But even here you might be harassed by classmates and other people who think that all Christians are like the folks from a church that pickets military funerals, and think gay and lesbian folk ought to be executed, and openly practice racism, and say women aren’t allowed to be leaders.  There are a lot of churches like that, and unfortunately, many people don’t know that not all Christians believe those things.  So it is up to you to show them what Christians are really like.  You might find yourself in a situation at school where someone is being bullied, and as a Christian, you have to do something about it.  It doesn’t matter who the person is or why they are being bullied.  You cannot stand by and watch someone else be oppressed.  You have to keep from using ugly language, or speaking hatefully of other people.  From here on, and for the rest of your life, you have to demonstrate the primary commandment we have been given by Jesus - to love God and to love your neighbor - with every word and action.    Jesus said we should be grateful when people oppose us, because “This will provide you with an opportunity to testify.”  Sometimes we get to testify to our faith with actions.  Sometimes we get to testify to our faith with words.  Sometimes we get to testify to our faith with silence.  

All of this is a lot to ask of anyone.  It’s difficult, very very difficult to do.  Maybe close to impossible.  But it is what is required of us, so we all have to try, all the time.  

But here’s the Good News.   Even when we fall short, even when we do what is wrong and we know we are doing wrong, even when we don’t do the right thing and we know we haven’t done the right thing . . . God will forgive us.   We don’t have to carry the weight of that guilt for yelling at our little sister, or disobeying our parents, or shoving the dirty clothes under the bed instead of cleaning our rooms . . . not that you would do any of those things, but even if you did.   We do have to make amends to anyone we have hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, but no matter what our sin may be, God will forgive us.  Even though it is really, really hard to love one another the way God loves us, God will forgive us when we fall short.   God will wash us clean of our sins over and over again, forgive us over and over again.  And all we have to do is love God, love one another, and follow Jesus.   Are you ready?  Do you want to be a Christian?  Then come forward, Will Thompson, and present yourself as a candidate for baptism.

Let us pray:  
Creator Sprit, who in the beginning hovered over the waters,
Who at Jesus’ baptism descended in the form of a dove,
Who at Pentecost was poured out under the sings of fire and wind,
Come to us, open our hearts and minds,
So that we may hear the life-giving word
And be renewed by your power
In the unity of the Father and the Son, now and forever,  Amen.

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