Sermon for Sunday, September 5, 2021 || Proper 18B || Holy Baptism
I don’t need to list for you the numerous ways the world is in turmoil right now. We are all aware, not just in our minds and hearts, but in our very bones. I bet you, too, feel the kind of bone-weariness I feel right now. It’s an exhaustion that exists on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are in the middle of the desert and our canteens ran out a while back and our legs are shaky and the vultures are circling. Everywhere is nothing but sand: coarse, rough, irritating sand.
Now, I usually save the good news for the end of the sermon, but I think we need it up front today. The good news is this: again and again in scripture, the people of God surprise themselves when they discover God is there with them in the desert. Abraham and Sarah find God when they leave their home and go out into the sand looking for the place God will show them. The Israelites fleeing Egypt find God in the desert, and God provides them manna and quail and water. The prophet Isaiah says this about the constancy of God’s promises:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom…
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water. (Isaiah 35:1, 6-7)
For a people scratching out a living in an arid region, there was nothing more important than finding water, so it’s no wonder the people of God saw God’s movement in the waters springing forth in the desert. They discovered a fundamental truth of God’s presence – that no matter where we are (in the desert, on the mountain, adrift at sea, standing on the shore gazing at the horizon), no matter where we are, God is already there.
This morning, we celebrate this truth with our own water in the desert. It has been a long time – two whole years, since before the pandemic – that we gathered for a baptism at St. Mark’s Church. And today, we have three. In baptism, we celebrate and affirm that we are all God’s beloved children, as we welcome more of those children into this particular branch of God’s family. The waters of baptism will be our spring of water in the thirsty ground of our crisis-weary lives. And not just the water, but the promises we will rehearse in a few minutes allow us, with God’s help, to reassert our positive presence into the ongoing crises.
Since it has been so long since we had a baptism, I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon reviewing the promises that we will reaffirm, our Baptismal Covenant. These promises give us a set of actions and practices that we build into our lives as we follow the way of Jesus.
The Baptismal Covenant begins with a version of the Apostles Creed. We affirm our belief in a God who creates, redeems, and sustains all things. Then we ask God for help in living out the promises.
The first promise: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? The verb “continue” reminds us that we have stepped into a stream that has been flowing for ages. Jesus’ first followers taught that Jesus’ way of love was open to all people no matter what, they shared things in common for the good of all, and they remained devoted to peace even when a violent empire persecuted them. We step into the stream, following their example. We break bread together, and in so doing, share the Body of Christ, which nourishes us to be the Body of Christ. And we pray, keeping our line of communication open to the God who is always calling out to us.
The second promise: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? The verb “persevere” speaks to the dogged dailiness of resisting evil. We do this by recognizing the harmful ways we are complicit in the overlapping evil systems of the world that separate, alienate, and oppress people. Many of those harmful ways are hidden until we actively begin working to reveal them. Our repentance happens when we move to a new state of consciousness that heightens our personal and communal resistance to the big sins of the world.
The third promise: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? This good news takes the separation, alienation, and oppression we just mentioned and heals them through connection, reconciliation, and justice. We proclaim through our speech and our actions that God is making all things new by bringing all creation back into right relationship with God.
The fourth promise: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Upon being asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story reveals that a neighbor is not defined by geography, demography, or culture, but by the action of caring. We serve Christ by being of service to those who Christ loves, which is everybody. We care for others, and we care for ourselves, which means recognizing our limits and allowing others to care for us.
The fifth promise: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? We live this promise when we recognize the truth that dignity is the birthright of all God’s children. We respect dignity by resisting the lie that dignity must be earned, the lie that dignity can be lost or stolen. We strive for justice by dismantling the systems that elevate some by squashing others. We promote peace by moving lightly through the world, using only our fair share.
Those are all the promises in the book, but a sixth one has been added: Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation? We live this promise by making choices that sustain the only planet we’ve got. We lower our use of resources. We divorce ourselves from the unsustainable lie that economic growth powered by consumption is infinite. And we spend time in nature, reconnecting with the land that God gave us, not to dominate, but to tend.
I know that was a crash course in the baptismal promises. Each one could have its own sermon or sermon series. But really, we don’t learn to live these promises by me talking at you about them. We learn to live these promises by living them, day by day, with God’s help. And that help comes no matter where we are, even in – especially when we in – the desert. As we prepare to pour water on the heads of these children this morning and welcome them into our piece of God’s family, know that the baptismal water continues to flow through your life, quenching you as you live out the baptismal promises.
For “the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” As Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (John 7:37)
* I kept trying to get James’s assertion about faith without works being dead (from today’s second lesson) into this sermon, but it kept not finding purchase. But I think the essence of faithful works is there in the living out of baptismal promises.
**Why Anakin Skywalker in the banner? This is why.