This morning I was proud to sponsor a new member into the family of Divinity Lutheran Church. I love the days when I see my church family open our arms wide and welcome a new brother or sister in Christ. Whether it is through baptism or reaffirmation of faith, I love standing beside someone who is taking a pivotal moment in their faith journey and lifting my voice with them in praise. It reminds me of the sacredness that comes with being an active part of one communal body. This experience comes on the cusp of my return from my first Via de Cristo weekend in southern Ohio, another experience which allowed me to live in the grace that is a communal body of God.
Before I embarked on my weekend, like many pilgrims, I had no idea what was in store for me. I had seen members of my home church return home with an almost reverent glow about them. When I would ask them what made their experience so memorable, I was typically met with the response, “It is not something you can explain, it is something that you experience.” While the practical aspect of my personality did find those comments a little too cloak-and-dagger-mysterious for my liking, I now know what they meant.
The best way for me to describe Via de Cristo is with one word – freedom. It is the freedom to talk and worship in a safe, loving, supportive environment about what has shaped our faith, what guides or faith, and what stunts our faith. It is the freedom to gather with other Christians who are also in a journey of self-discovery. It is the freedom to uncover how God continues to speak to each of us individually on discerning where our independent journey is leading us, and how it connects to the collective journey of the church. It is the freedom to bask in Christ’s love with people who celebrate that you and your brothers and sisters are entrenched in that love. For many people, Via de Cristo is like standing on a mountain top, seeing for the first time how God’s grace and love surrounds every essence our being.
I’ll admit that for me, Via de Cristo wasn’t a “mountain top” experience. My “mountain top” experience came the day after I was officially entranced as a candidate into the ordination process of the ELCA Northeaster Ohio Synod. I was entranced on a Tuesday, and the next evening I gave a meditation for a Wednesday Lenten service on the topic of God’s recognition of our gifts. I’ll never forget standing at the pulpit, smiling from ear to ear, as the Holy Spirit reaffirmed in my heart what I had written on paper. At that moment, I had fully embraced that not only did I recognize how God was calling me to serve the communal body, but that the same body was also embracing that calling. It was magical, and that moment on my mountain is what has given me the confidence to embrace opportunities like Via de Cristo. Had God not brought me to the top of my mountain, I wouldn’t have been ready to give myself over to the experience of VDC, an experience that has truthfully enhanced my life.
This morning, as I introduced the member I am so thrilled to sponsor, I saw a new person begin the climb to the top of her mountain. I don’t know if she will one day reach the top on a VDC weekend, or at a Lenten service, or perhaps an afternoon walking outside as the sun warms her cheek. It is her mountain to climb, and our job as a community is to demonstrate the freedom that comes with living a life that embraces God’s love for us. It is our job to offer climbing tools that will make her journey easier – prayer, fellowship, friendship, honesty, confidentiality and compassion. It is our job to show her the freedom of taking risks by serving as a safety-net of support if she stumbles. And by uplifting new climbers, we too can return to the top of the mountain, and renew the freedom within ourselves.