Good Morning. Today we are having a Baptism! Welcome all of you! Beginning with the creation story in Genesis, scripture abounds with stories of events that help form community and build identity as the people of God. And Community is the antidote for epidemics of isolation and polarization.
In the Gospel we have the perfect metaphor for this. What could be more isolating than leprosy? We have ten lepers who Jesus comes upon in his travels between Samaria and Galilee. They are complete outcasts. They are what communities at the time considered untouchables. Their disease has cut them off from society. Not only that, Samaritans and Galileans were peoples at odds with one another. Imagine: this group is really adrift. They are in this in between place. They see Jesus, and seem to know who he is: they ask for mercy. And he points them in a healing direction.
Fast forward to now… we are often traveling a million miles an hour to keep up with things while feeling stuck in our own isolation. It is quite the contradiction. We find ourselves in what is known as an epidemic of loneliness in this country. While at the same time in polarized camps that separate us from one another. We begin to forget who we are by nature. Humans are meant for community and connection.
In Christian community we come together to tell ancient stories in order to pull a thread through time, to feel connected to how we made meaning in the past and to also celebrate where God may be newly revealed for us.
That is the great part about Christian fellowship: it is not a solo journey, but a journey of support and mutuality. It is one of the reasons we make such a big deal about baptism. It symbolizes rebirth and restoration, because we believe in new life, in a life that models the healing qualities of Jesus and is aligned with God’s restoration of the earth, both for human kind and for planet earth itself.
The church also celebrated St. Francis of Assisi this week. Many of you know him as the 12th Century monk who talked with animals and is often depicted with a bird in his hand. His ministry emphasized that we and the natural world are interconnected. His writings address “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” and call us into greater depths of relationship with all of reality, really.
He is credited for saying “I asked the almond tree to speak to me of God and the almond tree blossomed.” Another translation of this is “I asked the almond tree to speak to me of Love and the almond tree blossomed.”
I’ve seen both translations. But both work perfectly in our theology because we believe that Jesus came to teach us that the nature of God is Love. It says it right in our catechism. Actually the very first lines of our catechism says, and I quote: “we are part of God’s creation made in the image of god which means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.”
We say that Holy Baptism is an outward sign of an inward spiritual grace. We make it public because that grace is recognized by and through the community. It is a ritual that says, we believe that Henry is a beloved child of God, with the free will to make choices, but blessed by being part of the body of Christ (us) and with the Holy Spirit (God at work in the world). And all of this together will help him grow into wisdom and Love.
It is a tough world out there. In the gift of Baptism we pray to be given an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage and will to persevere.
Part of being a Christian is to acknowledge that we don’t run away from the chaos, and from the realities of life. Instead we choose to be loving witnesses to the suffering in the world. We are people who reach out to make others feel welcomed and loved. There is true healing and restoration in such a spirit of hospitality.
There is a lot of Chaos in the world, but we have this precious life to live into. How do we want to show up? How do we live in the moment? How do we grow wiser?
One way is to share in rituals that make meaning, that connect us to other people over a millennia; a ritual that expresses our deepest values: Love is the highest form. We call that form God. And we continuously hope and pray that that love will manifest in a restored and peaceful world.
Living in the moment is both a gift and a sacrifice: a surrender to being fully present. It is a sacrifice in terms of the letting go of self, the preoccupation of my needs, and trying to be present to the needs of others around me. That type of sacrifice is Christ consciousness.
Sometimes that’s a donation to charity, volunteering at the food pantry, or really listening to a friend or loved one (not problem solving…simply being present). It’s learning to take a deep breath and try to “stay in the room” and listen to those we don’t understand. Or greet a stranger without judgment. Jesus always manifested presence through his healing ministry. Touching people, calling them by name, eating with them, making them known. He was present.
He was the great equalizer. He wasn’t afraid to talk to the people he didn’t agree with. He was always in conversation with the religious authorities and other leaders of the time he disagreed with. He was always engaged… with people at every end of the spectrum… of ideology, the spectrum of wealth or health. Jesus was pro humanity. As St. Francis preached: "Your God is of your flesh, He lives in your nearest neighbor, in every man."
Being in the moment can also be very simple, like St. Francis staring into the face of a flower and feeling the ecstatic energy of all creation. It is a reawakening that we are interconnected and share with everybody, and everything the very DNA of God.
When we are in the moment, We feel more integrated: body, mind, and soul. We may experience a wisp of something fresh (name it the fragrance of God - or a glimpse of what the Bible calls the Kingdom). We experience a “knowing” that wants to express itself as praise.
In such moments of connection…it is easier to feel thankful. It is like the gratitude the Leper shows in the Gospel today.
It is the tenth leper who turned and thanked Jesus. He wasn’t just cured of his leprosy along with the other nine. He experienced something greater: connection. He had an internal awakening that expressed itself in praise.
He was the one leper who was a Samaritan (He was an outsider or “Foreigner” as Jesus describes). He was doubly outcast. But Jesus saw him. Jesus’ included him. This type of hospitality not only physically cured him, but internally restored him. An experience of Wholeness. Someone reached out and drew him in.
Like the leper we pray for physical transformation when we are ill. But we also long to feel integrated… To feel connected on deep levels to one another in community, which can bring about real spiritual transformation.
Jesus was the master guru of “I see you.” I really see you. You are known and called into relationship.
And that’s how many of us are healed: When we finally feel seen, finally feel a sense of belonging.
In a world where we need connection, today we vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
And today we pray that Henry (like Jesus) grows to be that strong servant of hospitality for his peers and for the future of our community. We pray that Henry (like St. Francis) will be given the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.
Let us end with the great prayer attributed to him:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen.