Posts Tagged ‘baptism’

The following sermon was preached at Bethel Lutheran Church, St. Louis on January 12, 2014.  The message was based on Baptism of Our Lord texts, Acts 10:34-43  and Matthew 3:13-17. 

Every year, we encounter the baptism of Jesus early in the season of Epiphany, which means “manifestation” or “striking appearance.”  It is in this season between now and Ash Wednesday where our lessons will have a strong emphasis on the striking appearance of Christ in human flesh, revealing the various ways that God is indeed with us.

magi1Last week, had weather permitted, we would have gathered together to retell the feast day of Epiphany, where the magi encounter the manifested baby Jesus.  That day is celebrated on January 6th, and is affectionately referred to as Twelfth Night.

I have a little confession to make.  Before my church work days began, I was a children’s librarian in Northeast Ohio.  During that time I fell under the spell of a great occupational hazard – I became an avid Shakespeare buff.

Shakespeare wrote a play entitled “Twelfth Night,” and every year between Christmas and Epiphany, I pull out my well-loved copy and re-read the story.  My all-time favorite work from Shakespeare, this comedy is a complicated love story where duplicity is the name of the game.  The play’s setting is during a carnival-style celebration of the Epiphany.

When reading Peter’s affirmation of faith in today’s reading from Acts, I was reminded of one of my favorite “Twelfth Night” quotes:

In nature there’s no blemish but the mind; None can be called deformed but the unkind.[1]

Our second lesson is one of those examples in Scripture where context adds a great deal to the message.   Peter is at the home of Cornelius, a Roman officer.  It just so happens that Cornelius’ home is in a very pagan city, dedicated to Augustus Caesar.  Up to this point in Luke and Acts, neither Jesus nor his followers had taken their ministry to such a pagan location.  Jesus had even healed the centurion’s servant from Capernaum outside the city because of the dangers associated with entering Gentile territory.[2]  Before Peter came to Cornelius’ house, he and the other disciples traveled quite a bit.  They baptized Jews and Samaritans, but no Gentiles.

peter_vision1One day while Peter was praying he became very hungry and fell into a trance where he experienced a vision.  In the trance, the heavens open up and a four legged creature appeared.  This creature looked like the reptiles and birds that were considered to be unclean by Jewish custom.   A voice from the heavens told Peter to kill the creature and eat it.  Peter replied that he would never eat something so profane or unclean.  The voice returned, saying three times, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”[3]

When Peter awoke from his trance, he went back to the other disciples, where he learned that a man named Cornelius had sent three men to bring Peter to him.  Now Peter was still experiencing that blemish of the mind Shakespeare wrote about.  He hadn’t unraveled the vision of the four-legged creature and wanted to ignore Cornelius’ request.  The Spirit came to him saying, “Look Peter, I was the one who sent these three men to come get you.  Go to Cornelius house.”

So Peter went to Cornelius’ house, but still didn’t understand why he was there.  He listened as Cornelius shared how the Spirit came to Cornelius in a vision and told him to call on Peter, for Peter would bring him a great message.

Finally, things clicked in place for Peter, and we join his story this morning at this Oprah-esque “ah-hah” moment.  Here, Peter realizes the fulfillment found in Jesus is for all people – Jew, Samaritan, Gentile – everyone.  What had been considered profane had been made clean by God.  The light-bulb over Peter’s head has finally lit.

Now that Peter gets the picture, he says “I truly understand that God shows no impartiality.”  A more accurate translation reads, “By truth I understand.”  By the truth of God’s inclusive love, Peter understands that Jesus’ official ministry began when Jesus was anointed by the Spirit in the river Jordan.  In God’s truth, Peter recognizes the unique testimony that comes from witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection first hand.  Peter acknowledges the responsibility that comes from having known Jesus, and responds to the call to preach and teach the good news of Christ to all people.

peter_baptizing_gentilesThrough Peter’s own baptism, he was called to serve others and expand the church.  The Spirit continued to call to him throughout his ministry, guiding his steps to Cornelius’ door, leading him to a moment of understanding that deepened his faith and that of the Gentiles.

In the verses that immediately follow today’s message, we read that while Peter was recalling the ministry and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were gathered.  As Peter baptized the Gentiles, the Spirit was set upon them, forever connecting them with manifested Christ.

In our own baptism, we are connected to Jesus and have had the Spirit set upon us.  Through baptism, we enter the water as profane four-legged creatures awaiting slaughter, and leave the waters cleaned, whole and alive.  We enter the water as victims of the blemishes of our mind, inflicting unkindness to our surrounding.  We leave the water as proclaimers of the peace and mercy found in Christ, healing the hurt found in this world through the authority that has been anointed unto us by the Spirit.

The transformation we receive in baptismal waters is not something we can bring to ourselves.  This transformation comes to us because God continues to manifest God’s self in our sacraments.

Jesus was baptized in the river not because Jesus needed to be absolved of sin.  Jesus entered the waters without blemish – clean, whole, and holy.  Jesus entered for us, to demonstrate his connection to humanity.

jesus_baptismWhen the Spirit set upon Jesus in the Jordan, it was a moment similar to the anointing of David and other leaders.  Being anointed and partaking in John’s baptismal ministry, Jesus affirms that God is indeed incarnate, humbly sharing in the breadth of our faith heritage.  Just as these actions assert Jesus’ humanity, the dove appearing in the sky asserts his divinity.  His divinity is emphasized as God the Parent’s voice claims Jesus as his beloved Son.  Through his humility in the river, Jesus unites humanity with the privilege of being claimed as God’s own child.

There, in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus changes baptismal waters from being merely a cleansing rite into a way for us to experience God manifested within our midst –present in, with and under the element of water.  This presence comes to us as we celebrate baptism.  When water meets the Word of God, when we recount the times throughout generations God has saved humanity through the water, Christ becomes present in, with, and under the water.

jesus_baptism2This manifestation is what happened with Peter and Cornelius after Peter’s amazing “ah-hah” moment.  The Spirit worked through the water and the Word claiming the Gentiles as God’s chosen people, just as the Spirit claims us in our baptism.

Peter speaks of the privilege and responsibility that comes with having been a witness to Jesus.  He understood that God calls those who have experienced the presence of Christ to serve others and proclaim how the fulfillment found in Jesus is for all.  He understood that the Spirit his ministry to grow into something new at Cornelius’ house.

Through our baptism, we too are called to serve others and proclaim the goodness in Christ. Like Peter, the Spirit calls us to explore new ministries we had never imagined.  God has equipped us to follow when the Spirit calls us because we experience the presence of Jesus through our sacraments.

Every time we gather at the table to share in Holy Communion, we experience Christ manifested in, with and under the elements of bread and wine.  In that sacred meal, the hunger that comes from the brokenness of our sin is sated and the Spirit nourishes us to go out into the world and serve others.

jesus_baptism3Every time we witness the baptism of another, remember our own baptism, or confess our sins, God returns us to the moment where we were anointed by the Spirit in our baptism.  Luther said that we return to the blessings of our baptism every time we wash our face.

Jesus humbled himself to unite our Triune God to the whole of our human existence.  Jesus was anointed as our ancestors were, and as we continue to be today.  Jesus was washed, cleaning the stains of former generations, and giving us a clean slate to strive to bring Christ’s peace to a weary world.  Just as we share in the blessings and ministry opportunities of Jesus’ baptism, we share in Jesus’ resurrection.

Through baptism we have been united to Christ and anointed by the Spirit.


[1] William Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night”, Act 3

[2] Luke 7:6 – 7

[3] Acts 10:15


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This evening I attended a confirmation cluster class with the confirmation from my contextual education congregation, St. John’s Lutheran of Wilmette.  This cluster gathers several nearby congregations together twice a month to offer students an opportunity to learn with other confirmands and participate in service projects with one another.  While I used to work with children and teens in libraries in my life before ministry, I know I have much to learn on helping young people prepare for the affirmation of their baptism.

Today’s topic centered on peace and justice.  Echoing our service project two weeks prior at Feed My Starving Children, tonight’s conversation focused on understanding how we complete good works as a result of our love for God, not as a condition to guarantee some sort of salvation.  We also explored that we are called to behave with a spirit of justice equally to all people, and the struggles that can come with living into that equality.

I think the most enlightening moment for me was recognizing that acting from a spirit of peace and justice is something we promise at our baptism and when we affirm our faith.  I didn’t recall this from my own confirmation, and when hearing those words wondered if this was an add-on to the newer hymnal, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book.  Upon returning home, I opened my old LBW, the Lutheran Book of Worship that contains the words of my baptism and affirmation.  There it was, the exact same promise – “to strive for justice and peace for all the earth.”

It was striking to see that not only do we commit to God and one another to live with a spirit of peace and justice, we commit to striving for peace and justice for all the earth.  Not just our neighbors.  Not just the St. John’s community or the confirmation cluster or even the synods in Illinois.  For all the earth.

We are fortunate that we have a true example of such a commitment through the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus showed us through his actions and teachings that anyone can take steps for peace and justice.  Jesus hand-picked the people who in their high-school year book would have been voted “Least Likely to Care for Others” and empowered them to be disciples.  Out of the twelve in our scripture, each disciple had some issue or fear to overcome when being in service to others.  But held in the love of Christ and empowered by that love, they were sent out to teach others how to strive for justice and peace for all the earth.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we too are empowered to take such steps to strive for justice and peace.  We are further empowered by one another when we enter into the community of believers at our baptism.  This empowerment is one of the things we affirm at our confirmation, to support one another when we struggle to live in a spirit of equality, and such a promise is made back by the community.

That support of the community is the first step in striving for justice and peace for all the earth.

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The following sermon was preached at Community Lutheran Church of Enfield, NH on July 1, 2012, on the texts of Mark 5:21-43 and 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I must be honest with you, when I read our gospel lesson in preparation for today, I had a moment of internal groaning.  Of course the lectionary would lead the seminary student interning as a hospital chaplain to a story of death and illness.  The irony is palpable.

I have been more than a little struck at how much the text resembles what I am witnessing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.  If you were to pluck the hemorrhaging woman out of the crowd, place her in a waiting room and strap a blood pressure cuff to her arm, she could easily be one of the patients I’ve encountered this past month.

I would imagine that there are many of us here today who can relate to what is happening in our text this morning.  I imagine there are some of us who have battled difficult illnesses, those of us who have lost a child or another intimate loved one.

Maybe we don’t have such a literal connection to this passage, but perhaps we are people who can connect to it because we feel a deep sense of loss.  It could be that we are struggling at our jobs, fighting with our spouse, feeling a separation from our once attentive child who has increasingly become more distant as they grow into their teenage and adult years.

In those moments of loss and uncertainty, we may feel that we are like Jarius, proverbially prostrating our self before Jesus, begging for the healing touch that will take the pain, illness, and loneliness away.  We are faithful people, and we want to feel the relief in knowing that our faith can indeed make us well.

And here we wait.  Waiting for the miracle.

The gospel of Mark is filled with miraculous healing stories.  In fact, healing is one of the first notable acts of ministry Jesus performs.

In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is baptized by John, a moment so powerful that Jesus is thrust into the wilderness for 40 days.  Upon his return to civilization, Jesus meets a few disciples, does a little teaching in the synagogue, and then begins healing.

He heals a man in a synagogue in Capernaum.  He heals a bunch of people at Simon’s house.  He heals a paralytic.  He heals the man with the withered hand.  He heals the man called Legion who was filled with so many evil spirits that when leaving Legion’s body they filled a flock of pigs.  This all happens within the first four chapters of the gospel.  Every place he goes, Jesus heals and heals and heals.

Mark wants us to take note of this miraculous healing.   Jesus’ healing ability enlightens us to the extent of his authority.  Jesus can go where no one else would dare to go, do things that are beyond anyone’s expectations.  Not only does Jesus engage the social and religious outcasts by talking to them and teaching them, but he eliminates the barrier that keeps them from their community.   The fact that Jesus can heal what others cannot shows us the limitless nature of his anointed power.

Jesus and his ministry are a contradiction to the reality of the world.  The reality of the world is that people are sick, people die, people struggle in their marriages and feel distant from their children.  The reality is that in a world of hardship and struggles, a miracle is the last thing anyone really expects.

Jesus stands in contrast to all of those difficulties, and the relief he provides in that contrast is beyond anything anyone could imagine.  The people are simply not prepared for the miracles, as seen by the action of the bystanders and disciples in today’s lesson.  Where there should be celebration, skepticism abounds.

After the woman touches Jesus and she felt her body heal, Jesus turns around and asks his disciples, “Who touched my clothes?”  The disciples, steeped in reality, can’t understand why being touched is such a big deal.  Almost mockingly they say to him, “You see the crowd pressing in around you?”

If you we could read the cartoon thought bubble above their head, it would probably read, “Come on, Jesus, it’s a mob out here.  Of course someone touched you.  You probably got bumped, get over it.”

Getting bumped in a crowd is a pretty real and normal thing.  It is such a regular, non-miraculous every day occurrence that it never crossed the disciples mind that in that moment of contact something extraordinary happened.  It was so far from their mind, a woman was healed right next to them and they didn’t even notice.  Their skepticism kept them from seeing what was happening right before them.

But Jesus names the not-so-obvious, calls to their attention the moment that was overlooked.  He tells the woman, that her faith, her faith in something greater than all human reality, made her well.

One would think that bearing witness to the exchange between the woman and Jesus would be enough to open the hearts and minds of the disciples.  Especially after seeing so many miracles before.  Yet again, in the very next encounter, we see the disciples and bystanders’ opting to believe what is most logical to believe.

When Jesus tells them that Jarius’ daughter is not dead but merely sleeping, they not only don’t believe him, they outright laugh at him.  “Okay, Jesus.  She’s sleeping.  Can you believe this guy?”  Again, Jesus makes the impossible possible.  He awakens the girl from death.

I imagine we can all see ourselves in the characters of the woman and Jarius, waiting upon God for our faithful miracle.  But if we look a little deeper, can we also see ourselves in the hearts and minds of the skeptics?

In a world of science and technology, of answers and proof, where is the room for faith?  We claim to be faithful people.  As Lutherans, we confess that we are justified from sin by faith in Jesus Christ.  But do we actually live what we confess?

Do we really believe that our faith in God will mend our broken hearts?  Do we really believe that wellness is within our reach?  Do we trust that Christ will continue to go where the reality of humanity has failed us?

Or are we like the disciples and the bystanders, taking the steps to follow our Triune God while a part of us remains behind and just a little bit skeptical?

Perhaps the reason why it is easiest to identify ourselves with the hemorrhaging woman and Jarius is because illness and grief are emotions that are easier to understand.  It is easier to see ourselves as the person needing a healing touch than to acknowledge that we are as skeptical as the bystanders and disciples, trying to live our faith but not quite seeing the miracle right under our nose.

There is a reason why Mark tells of healing story after healing story.  Yes, these stories show the magnitude of Jesus’ sacred and anointed authority.  But the other reason we see these stories is to bear witness to the bystanders who remain skeptical that their faith will be enough.  We need to remember that there are times when it is not always so easy to believe.

This gospel lesson is a message about healing and hope.  It is also a story that reminds us that it is in our human nature to carry a little bit of doubt, and that followers of Jesus for centuries have sought the balance between reality and the miracles around them that defy such a reality.

The Apostle Paul certainly understood the struggle to remain a faithful person.  In our epistle today he tells us that in order to be faithful, we must commit acts of faith, commit acts of good works to those around us.  In order to see Christ in our world, in order to feel the healing miracle of Christ’s love, we must show that love to others without reservation.

The hemorrhaging woman made her public witness to Jesus by merely touching the edge of his garment.  This one touch allowed the possibility for the bystanders to witness Jesus’ healing presence.  Had that moment remained silent, the bystanders would have missed it.

Jarius’ daughter, by rising out of her death bed, bore witness that Jesus’ love transcends life and death.  Had she laid quietly in her bed, waiting for the crowd to leave, the bystanders would have missed it.

These were healing acts had been seen before, over and over again, but still people needed to see them.  Those miracles needed to be uplifted in that crowd and outside Jarius’ house, because miracles that seem too good to be true are easily forgotten.

We complete acts of faith and show our love for Christ by completing good works.  In our actions and our steps, we provide proof that cures the skepticism.  Our actions as faithful people remind ourselves and those around us that God’s love is always with us, from the hospital waiting room to our dinner tables.

Every time we bring in food for the hungry, we are testifying our faith.  We are curing the skepticism that the hungry are forgotten.  When someone receives that testimony of faith, we provide an opportunity to stop the hunger in both their stomachs and their hearts.

Every time we make a prayer quilt, we are testifying our faith.  We are curing the skepticism that love cannot transcend the cold, dark night.  When someone receives that quilt of faith, and wrap it around their shoulders, we provide an opportunity for someone to remember that God’s arms are also wrapped around them.

Every time we participate in worship, donate money to our teenagers going to New Orleans, invite a friend to join us on Sunday, pray for someone who is struggling in their own lives, we testify our faith.  We shake the walls skepticism.  We invite Christ into our hearts and minds, and in that inviting, create a little room to receive the gift of healing.

It may not be as obvious as being raised from the dead or being cured from a chronic illness.  But it is still a miracle.


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In three days I am packing up my home for the third time in the past year and moving to New Hampshire to begin my CPE training.

Looking around my house, my home kind of matches my head.  There are stacks of clothes and books in almost every room, little lines of organized chaos.  I know in what container everything will be packed by the time I leave on Thursday morning, but right now, all I see is clutter. 

I am so grateful for this ride that is the seminary experience.  Even still, as I drove my closest campus friend to the airport this morning for her own CPE journey, I realized that I am nostalgic for a little stability.  I have changed so much since moving to Chicago last August.  My theology is different, my preaching is different, my writing is different, my body is different, the way I communicate with my loved ones is different.  In seminary, every day is an opportunity for transformation  While it is exciting, this fast paced change can be intimidating at times.

CPE will be twelve weeks of even more change.  These weeks will be spent learning how to provide spiritual care within the context of a hospital setting.  I’ll be working with people of all faith traditions in all walks of life whose lives transition as a result of life-changing medical moments.  Some people will be expecting the changes their health situation brings, like a senior who has been preparing for the end of this life.  For others, like those in a car accident, change will be unexpected.  CPE will teach me to how to faithfully be with people from all edges of the spectrum.  In that process of learning, my expectations of what it means to be a pastor will become something very different then how I understand it to be today.

The irony is, I begin my CPE unit exactly one year after my final day of employment at the congregation which opened my heart to a life of pastoral ministry.  It is also ironic that one year later, I learned that this congregation is also transitioning in its life as I transition in mine, as I learned via a social media announcement this morning their senior pastor has accepted a call to a new congregation. There is a part of me that wishes I could go back to that parish and we could wade in these unsure waters together.  But in my heart, I know that our simultaneous transitions need to travel on separate currents to end up where we need to be.

There is no shame in acknowledging that these currents feel uncertain at times, and that our uncertainty has us reaching for the familiar.  We all crave stability in times of change.  I know right now I am searching amongst the stacks in my home and head , searching for some metaphorical life preserver that will ease the fear of the ambiguity of what is to come.  It is natural for us to quake when we feel the tide of our lives shift directions, even when that change will bring goodness, knowledge, and peace.

But in these moments when we wade, not quite understanding how the water laps at our feet, we should remember that we were called into a relationship of security through turbulent waters.  We were called into a life of faith through baptismal waters, waters that while appear gentle in the font yet powerfully remove the bondage that comes from being victims of a fallen humanity.  Such waters brought a change so strong that we went from being dead in sin to alive in Christ with a few drops and the seal of a cross upon our head.  It happened quickly, in the blink of an eye, and in that blink gave us a life preserver that will never waver no matter how strong the current.

The tide is changing.  Who we were yesterday will inform how we will move tomorrow, but not determine who we’ll be tomorrow.  A change is coming.  Praise and thanksgiving to the One who equipped us to brave the storm through the waters of our baptism.

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The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH in May16, 2012.  This sermon was based on Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-12

As children of God, our lives are split between two realities.  Salvation is here, but not yet.  We are the resurrected people, but we are still waiting for the end of days.  Our Messiah is dead, yet still lives.

The Gospel of John focuses on the tension that many theologians call the “two kingdoms.”  Luther was a big fan of this notion, and our confessional heritage spends a great deal of time helping us reconcile the polarities of our faith.

Lutherans celebrate that we are called into a life of faith.  We recognize that without God calling us into relationship, we would not have our faith.  Since we have been given the gift of faith we are called into a life of service, both to God and to our world around us.  Our faith is entirely ours, but only because it has been given to us.  Our faith is that of two kingdoms.

We are nearing the end of the Easter season.  I just learned recently that during this season, our first lesson is always from the book of Acts.  Our lectionary is structured in such a way that the first lesson is always about the history of our church.  During most of the year, our first lesson is from the Hebrew Scriptures, most often referred to as the Old Testament.  We read those passages to help us learn about how God worked in the pre-Christ world, and the tradition that formed as a result.

We study Acts during the season of Easter for the same reason we read from the Hebrew Scriptures – we are trying to understand another chapter of time within our church history.  The book of Acts shares how the Jewish community began to adapt their heritage from the impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Looking at our Acts passage today, we see a mention of the circumcised people, meaning the Jews.[1]

Acts is a book shares how through Christ, the two kingdoms of the Jews and the Gentiles unite.  Yet, many scholars and people who read Acts and other New Testament scriptures see the division between these two communities, and focus on the rising tension between the two.

How many of us feel that we are caught between two tensions, two kingdoms, two aspects of our lives?

This past week the United Methodist Church held their General Assembly.  While at this assembly, they began their first church-wide discussion about whether or not they would call openly gay, transgendered, or bisexual people into rostered leadership.  Their discussions sounded very familiar to that of our own denomination in 2009, and the Presbyterian Church USA in 2011.

As one can imagine, the United Methodist Church engaged in discussions that contained a great deal of tension, a great deal of controversy.  Two sides of the aisle emerged, two groups of people with two different thoughts, two kingdoms trying to strive for what they feel is the most truth representation of the Gospel.

In the ELCA, we continue to adjust to this division of understanding.  Churches have left our synod and denomination because they felt conflicted on where the church should stand on such a controversial issue.  Often, same passages of scripture and confessional doctrine are used to represent one side of the aisle or the other.

It is hard to engage in these discussions because we all just want to do what is right.  We all want to follow God’s will the best way that we can.  We all want to know that we are making the right call, and that we can somehow, some way, bridge that gap that separates this earthly reign from the reign of the heavens.

During the season of Easter, we read the book of Acts to help us remember that building a church and forming the right doctrine really isn’t about us.  Moving the church forward requires us to release a part of ourselves and make room for the Spirit.

In the passage directly before our lesson today, Peter is telling the Gentiles that the disciples had been commanded to preach that Jesus had been ordained to judge the living and the dead, and that people will receive the forgiveness of sins through is name.

Much like the justice conversations that have been occurring over the last few years, this was really controversial news.  This news did not match how the Jewish community understood their faith to unfold.  Peter was really connecting with the Gentiles, but making no headway with the Jewish community.

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit fell upon the conversation, and all who heard the word understood that it was true.  Not only that, but they could also communicate with each other in a way that they hadn’t been able to before.  Suddenly, they not only were hearing each other, but they were working for the same cause.

Before that moment, no one would have thought that the Gentiles would have been invited into a life of faith as the Jewish community had.  No one would have thought that anyone outside the Jewish community would have benefited from the Messiah of the chosen people.

Yet in that moment, the Holy Spirit called the Gentiles into a life of faith.  The Holy Spirit made room where the human limitations of faith could not.  Peter recognized this and asks:

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”[2]

Peter is asking his followers, “Who are we to place limits on who should be baptized when the Holy Spirit is clearly telling us that these people have been chosen by God into a life of faith just like us?”

He is asking, “Which kingdom has the right to decide who experiences the grace of God?”

It is a futile question.  We all know the answer to which kingdom has the right to decide.

The non-futile question we must ask ourselves today is how do we invite the Spirit into our hearts and minds so we can faithfully hear God’s decision?

One answer is found within the epistle of John.

The letter first reminds us that we are loved by God, and that out of respect to that love, we should follow the commandments.  The letter reads:

“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.[3]

Once again, we are confronted with two kingdoms.  To make change in this world, we must adhere to laws that are not of this world.  We must follow the commandments to love others as we love ourselves, to honor the Sabbath, to not commit trespasses of morality, to honor those around us and their possessions.  If we ever hope to make change in our church, in our world, we must live by guidelines that are not of this world.

This message is re-solidified in our Gospel passage, where Jesus reiterates that to truly show our love for him, we must love one another.  We must keep the commandments.[4]

Jesus takes this message one step further.  He tells us that when we keep his commandments, we are no longer servants but friends.  We are elevated into a place where we are freed to engage in tough conversations.  By keeping the commandments, our hearts are in put into a place where we can, like the crowd in Acts, hear the truth with the Holy Spirit.

I read recently an article where a pastor explained his frustration with people referring themselves as children of God.  For him, referring to ourselves as children places us in a sort of “arrested development” state, a state that allows us to sit back and wait, hoping that God will speak to us when we need to be spoken to.

This same pastor argued that we should continue to see God as a parent – a mothering Father who will forgive us when we fail, support us in our struggles, and comfort us when we ache.  But he urged his readers to view themselves as adult children relating to their Holy Parent, rather than a toddler waiting for Daddy to scare away the monsters under the bed.

I know that for myself, my relationship with my parents has greatly enhanced since I have become an adult.  Now that I hold myself accountable for my actions, I am freed to be honest with them in a way that I never have been before.  Most of our conversations have a level of equality that leads to an understanding of truth that I had never considered when I was a child.

And yet, I am still their child.  It was only a few weeks ago that I had some struggles with my auto-immune disorder, lupus, and I called my mom in the middle of the day.  As a loving parent, as a parent who values my adult nature, she hopped right into her car and drove six hours to Chicago to be by my side.  As an adult, I connect with her more intimately than I ever did before, and it is because of that intimacy that the testimony of her action was so powerful.

In our Gospel and Epistle today, our texts support that we should engage our faith as adults.

We are called into our adulthood when we are given the responsibility to engage in the commandments and to follow the scriptures.

We are called into adulthood when we engage in challenging conversation that we would rather have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy about.

We are called into adulthood when we celebrate that our high school seniors are now making life choices that are our equal.

We are called into adulthood when we parent our own children, or when we respectfully celebrate holidays about parents when we are unable to be a parent ourselves.

It is in engaging our adulthood that we overcome our arrested development and achieve an intimacy with God through the power of the Holy Spirit that we could never imagine.  Living into our commandments helps us to bridge the gaps between our earthly reign and the reign of the heavens.


[1] Acts 10:45

[2] Acts 10:47

[3] 1 John 5:3-4

[4] John 15:12

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The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH, at the Easter Vigil Service on April 6. It was based on the text of Mark 16:1-8

My niece and nephew love to play Hide-and-Seek.  Just last night at bath-time, four year-old Phoebe hid from her two year-old brother Alex when he wasn’t looking.  She hid in the most stealth of places, behind a curtain, her little hot pink socks pointing out underneath the fabric of the curtain, which was shaking with the force of her giggles.

Once Alex realized Phoebe was missing, he got a little flustered.  He started walking around the living room, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  As his search grid became wider, his started to look more and more bewildered, his voice getting louder and louder, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  He looked over at me with big fearful eyes, afraid because he couldn’t find his sister.

I pointed him over to the corner window.  Once it sunk in that she was hiding in plain-site, he could not wait to pull back the curtain and “find her.”  Together they laughed and laughed at this miraculous discovery, and my mom and I laughed with them.

The fun as adults watching children play games like Hide-and-Seek and Peek-a-Boo is that we know there is never any real threat.  We know that the missing person will be found.  We can enjoy in the experience of the discovery because we know the ending to the story.

Looking at this passage from Mark, once again we have the privilege of being the informed observer.  We know that there is no real threat to the Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James.  We know that the man in the tomb who speaks to them is an angel telling of a resurrection.  We can enjoy the experience of the discovery because the good news of this message is as obvious to us as a four-year-old hiding behind the curtain.

But for Mary, Salome, and Mary, this news makes them very, very afraid.

Fear is an important part of Mark and is what propels this gospel towards the cross.  Time and time again throughout we see that people are afraid of divine miracles that test their faith.

For instance, after Jesus stills the boat on the sea, he asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Later, there are three times when Jesus foretells the crucifixion, and each time the disciples had questions about what Jesus was saying but were too afraid to ask.  Perhaps most significant to Easter, the chief priests and scribes searched for a way to crucify Jesus because they were afraid of his teachings, and later when trying to trap him as they questioned him about John the Baptist, those same priests and scribes were afraid of the crowds.

We must also remember that as Jesus performs divine actions throughout Mark, he tells people to stay silent.  We see incident after incident where Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick, and each and every time he instructs the formerly afflicted to “tell no one what has happened here.”  And yet, the healed cannot compel themselves to keep such actions a secret.  They share the miracles, and the attention that comes from these miracles eventually results in Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is ironic that the one and only time in this gospel when someone is specifically told to share a miracle that has happened, Mary, Salome, and Mary cannot do it because they are afraid.

It is hard to acknowledge the times when our fear stands in the way of being courageous in our faith.  This was most certainly true for the translators of Mark.  We have learned that in a few sources translated after the fourth century, the Gospel of Mark suddenly has a different ending from the original source.  This new-and-improved ending has all sorts of reassuring images of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and the ascension to heaven.  This new ending was to reassure fourth century people that their faith was placed in the right place.

The original intention of the Gospel of Mark does not want us hide from the notion of fear.  The original ending, while at times unsettling, is important because it speaks so honestly of what it means to be a person of faith.

Faith is a scary thing.  Our faith is arguably the most personal thing we have, but it does not come from our own making.  It is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit, and it is what calls us into relationship with God.  This gift of faith is what brings us to the table at Holy Communion, and is the gift of faith that justifies us through the waters of baptism.

Tonight we celebrate the baptism of our newest members of the body of Christ.  Somewhere along their journey to the font, they experienced a means of grace.  Somewhere along their journey, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of faith, and today they will be justified through the waters of baptism.

It is so fitting for us to celebrate baptism on this Easter Vigil night.  We were born into the world victims of a fallen humanity.  Through Christ’s death on the cross we are freed from the bondage of that sin that comes from a fallen humanity, justified to engage in the relationship of faith.  In baptism, we can most intimately experience the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is through baptism we travel the journey of death from the bondage of sin to live forever a life where sin no longer holds us captive.

Through baptism we are justified by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, without the fear that if we do not complete a certain quota of good works our justification will be taken away.  It is in thanksgiving of this fear that at our baptisms we pledge to exhibit our faith the best way we can.  We recognize the truest way to exhibit faith is complete good works like caring for the earth and loving our neighbor.

In baptism, we publically accept this gift of faith and we commit ourselves to a relationship with God that is eternal.  This is a life changing moment, and can make even the best of us a bit fearful.  This is why we celebrate baptism together in community.  We support one another in this commitment because it is easy to be fearful when accepting the magnificent blessing of salvation.

The challenge comes in living out our faith.  It is hard to be bold in our faith at times when we feel shaken.

Today’s lesson of Mary, Mary and Salome is the perfect example.  They were afraid to accept this turn their faith journey took.  They believed in the teachings of Jesus.  They loved Jesus.  They were dedicated servants to his ministry.  It was faith that brought them to the tomb.

But while the stone of the physical tomb had been rolled away, the stone of their fear kept them silent.  They didn’t know how to handle this shocking revelation that so greatly impacted what they understood their relationship with Jesus to be.

Every time I have read this passage lately, I have been reminded of a song by Mumford and Sons.  The song opens, “Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we will find.  Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I’m afraid of what I’ll discover inside.”

When we encounter stones that redirect the pathways of our faith journeys, it is easy to be afraid and to feel alone.  We are not alone.

In baptism we are adopted into God’s family, given a family wider and broader then we could ever imagine.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a mothering Father who stands fast with us in times of strife.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Son who died on the cross for our salvation.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Spirit who is as close a confidant as the most tenderhearted sister.

Because our baptismal family is so large and broad, we will experience transitions in our faith at times when we least expect it.

Four years ago, I did not know where my faith would lead me.  Four years ago I was working as a librarian, and while feeling loved by God, did not feel overly connected to the idea of the church.

Four years ago, I stood at a baptismal font with my niece Phoebe.  As I watched the waters of baptism justify her sweet, infant face, I began to weep.  I remember later when I returned to my seat my aunt joking that I cried more at the waters of Phoebe’s baptism then Phoebe did herself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment of baptism reactivated my awareness of my gift of faith.  Within six months I was no longer a librarian, but working part time as a secretary for a church.  Six months after that, I was the director of that same church, overseeing the outreach ministry and living a life of service.  Six months after that I first began discerning my call to ordained leadership, and six months after that I was accepted as a pastoral candidate for our synod.  Six months after that I applied to seminary, and now I stand before you with almost a year of seminary under my belt.

With each and every faith transition I have been afraid.

I was afraid that day at the font of someone else’s baptism because I knew then that despite turning my back on my faith at times, God never turned away from me.

I was afraid because I knew that I am not a perfect person.  I have tattoos, I swear, I battle a cigarette and food addiction, I have let my loved ones down, spent more money on myself then I gave to my neighbor, have ignored the homeless on the street corners, have lied, have doubted, and yet, there I was.

Hearing the Holy Spirit call my name at someone else’s baptism.

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “Tina, child of God, you have been sealed by the cross of Christ forever.”

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “No matter what, I love you, and believe in you.  Be in relationship with me.  Do not be afraid.  Live out your faith and be in relationship with me.”

It was at someone else’s baptism that I was able to start the process of rolling away my stone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I realized I wasn’t alone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I re-discovered what was inside, and it was at someone else’s baptism that I learned the joy of being afraid.

It was the fear of my faith transition that gave me the strength to ask my baptismal family to stand with me as I began living out my faith journey, and they have not let me down.  Being true to my faith and my individual sense of calling and sharing that with my church family has been more of a blessing to me then I can ever begin to put in words.

I am so grateful that tonight our family will grow again, and to see how the Spirit will work through their lives.  I feel privileged to bear witness to the Spirit calling their names into a relationship of faith, and supporting them as they are sealed with the cross of Christ forever.

I am so grateful for such spirit filled waters, and I can’t wait to discover how the Holy Spirit will speak to me tonight at someone else’s baptism.

Roll away your stone.  I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we can find.  We are not alone at this time, even when we are afraid of what we will discover inside.


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