[Leave room for silence]
In this sacred time of worship this morning, we’ve been part of a kind of tapestry of song and prayer and scripture.
And there will be more singing to come, some silence, prayer, holy communion.
The rhythm of how we do worship – when it works – can be a way of both stimulating and calming our minds, as well as stimulating and calming our hearts, and most importantly our souls in a way that helps our minds, hearts, and souls ease open to the presence of the Living God.
We sing together, we reflect on the wisdom and on the testimonies of our faith, on the stories about Jesus – we share the spirit of community with those here and with the great lineage of our ancestors in the faith, we share rituals, sacraments … bread, wine, breath, word, silence …
.. and through all of this, something mysterious can happen.
We can receive a gift, a holy gift, and we can offer ourselves as a gift.
We have heard this morning the ancient Psalm that sings out to God utter amazement at the wonders of our body, this intricate and exquisite community of cells and organs and tissues and bones and networks of receptors and signals all humming and pulsing with this tremendous life force.
“I praise you God, for I am wondrously made. Wondrous are your works.” Psalm 139 sings to our God whose Spirit is interwoven with all of our being and with every height and depth the nook and cranny of Creation … a God who embraces each of us and all of us – a God who knows us more fully than we know ourselves.
We then heard the story of Jesus emerging from the waters of baptism to receive that fullness of being known.
John the Baptist brings Jesus down into the cleansing waters and Jesus breaks back through the surface to find the Spirit of God flowing down from Heaven and filling him, knowing him, naming him:
You are of God – You are the Beloved of God.
We find in Jesus – the gift that Jesus gave humanity, as the Christ – the presence of God in human flesh.
He gave that gift despite the costs and consequences.
So that “all who trust in him,” as the Gospel of John says, may “receive the power to become children of the Living God.”
This power endures despite all the stuff that gets in our way.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Jesus followers in Rome:
“What will separate us from the love of the Christ? Will trouble, or difficulty, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?” (8:35)
“I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, or archangels, nor the present, nor the future, nor any powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, revealed in Christ Jesus.
But let’s be honest, it sure can feel like we’re separated from the love of God, right? A lot of the time, for most of us.
So much of what gets dished out and gets endured in human relations is so unloving, so far away from the love of God. We humans can be pretty good at being brutal towards ourselves and others. And, yes, at the same time, we can be pretty good at being loving and fair and peaceful.
But here’s the thing:
I’m pretty sure that many folks here when we hear these scriptures about the Love of God – “no height, no depth, no power, no created thing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ” – or we hear the Psalm, “I praise you God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” – when we hear these words, when we sing these words, when we sit still and pray on them, we say “Yes!” “Amen!”
This we know to be true.
From the depths of our beings we know this to be true.
If you’ve experienced the Love of God, even just as brief fluttering and flash as it flies by – if you’ve experienced the Love of God, you know it’s real – and not just real but a revelation of the truth.
It’s like waking up.
It’s like the clouds parting and the sun and the blue sky and the warmth pouring down – it’s always been there, something’s just clouded us over. As as the children reminded us earlier this can happen on a Ferris wheel. It doesn’t have to be all serious and pious. It can be fun. It’s a thrill to get up above it all for a few moments.
In these moments, these holy moments, the clouds evaporate and we are filled with light and warmth.
So one thing we can forget about the love of God, as I just said, is that it can be fun, joyful, delightful. But another is that it’s challenging. It embraces us and calls us beloved at the same time as it pushes us to leave behind all the false things we’ve been clinging on to, those illusions by which we separate ourselves from our Creator. That can be uncomfortable.
This love challenges us to grow, to be stronger, more courageous, more loving, more at peace. It pushes us to live out that Love, to share that Love, despite the costs and the consequences.
And then, yes, we get cloudy again.
Faith is having the trust in that Love of God that we got a taste of. It’s having the trust that that God is more real than whatever can come to make us feel separate from it.
It’s trusting our yearning – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for a right, restored relationship with our God and with each other. Trust that yearning. We can have that yearning even if we haven’t had some kind of special experience. And, you know, it doesn’t have to be so special. Holy moments are mostly commonplace – they’re mostly not mind-blowing mystical events. The most common I suspect is simply the yearning we have. Our memory of our origin and our final home is deep even if it isn’t conscious – and we can feel it in a kind of bone deep yearning for God.
Faith is about sharing that yearning with each other, as well as remembering to ourselves and to each other the revelations of the Holy that we have received, hearing the echoes, catching the little glimpses.
Faith can lead us to committing ourselves in a sacrament like Baptism, where we let Christ lead us to die to an old self, false self, and we let Christ lead us to be reborn into new life.
This Sunday we remind ourselves the story of Jesus’ Baptism.
So let me remind us all what we commit to when we ourselves are baptized, or when we baptize our children:
“Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciples, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?
Do you promise, according to the grace given you, to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering Christ’s mission in the world? A mission of healing, of liberation, of love, of forgiveness, of peacemaking, of courage, of discipleship in being true to our God.”
Thanks be to God.