BAPTISM OF THE LORD
JULIE KAE SIGARS
What a week. Yesterday was filled with anticipation and fun of Seahawks and heavy metal band. Our week included the shock and anger at terrorists killing people in Paris. In preparing the liturgy this week, I was worried about flooding and how that would bear on the water images of baptism. Did you all see the picture of Snoqualmie Falls? Massive and powerful. But other images also came to us this week. Some we will not soon forget.
We also have some great news of “See, I am doing a new thing!” nature. Maggie’s call to ecumenical ministry is gathering energy and may be officially ecclesially in place very soon. The same evening that is taking place, we will be having difficult conversations about marriage equality in the church, and what our Presbytery has to say about it.
We will also, on this same evening, vote on inclusion of the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. OK, Julie Kae, you are being a bit Presbytery geekie here. But this confession has something very important to say to us in the difficult conversations of race. Where, two years ago, many folks didn’t see the need for this conversation, well, I think we can all agree that things are noticeably different now, especially for us who in our privilege, may not have seen how much this confession is needed.
The Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa traditionally had Three Standards of Unity: The Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and The Canons of Dort (1618-1619). In their original European context these documents asserted that Protestant Christians were not anarchists, but were good citizens, willing to obey the government of the land.
These confessions from the 16th and 17th centuries were used in the 19th and 20th centuries in South Africa to justify obedience to a government that imposed strict separation of the races and domination by members of the white race. The system was called by its Afrikaans name, “Apartheid.”
The Confession of Belhar was written as a protest against a heretical theological stance by the white Dutch Reformed Church that used the Bible and the Confessions to justify the harsh and unjust system of Apartheid.
The end of this confession goes like this:
· that God has revealed Godself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people
· that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.
· that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
· that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind
· that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
· that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering
· that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right
· that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream
Pretty intense, and to the point. Biblical and clear. And Water with Justice. What a powerful image. But there will still be issues of rather we should add this or not to our Book of Confessions.
So lots going on. Sometimes, we may feel tossed to and fro and wonder how we should hold up amidst the chaos. Sometimes, we may ask, does it really matter? Sometimes we may ask, what does what we do here, on this day, have to say to any of this?
What does remembering our baptisms, how does this speak to what is going on in our lives and in the world? How does coming to the table do anything with our week?
We know that formation happens here. We gather, we pray, we tell our story, over and over, we remember, we remember water and we feel it, touch it; we remember meals, and we taste and see that the Lord is good. And we go. And we carry all of this with us. And the Holy Spirit gifts us with words and actions that speak to the world. And we live into our callings, our vocations, our “passions that meet the world’s needs.”
Beloveds. We all are. Beloveds. Baptized not to be special or set apart or God’s favorites or to get to heaven. Baptized into the live and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, called to go out into the world. To bring hope to the nations and maybe, the little girl down the street.
We feel the water and remember who we are. We eat the bread and drink the wine to be nourished to bring the bread and the wine out to the world.
Remember John’s baptism of repentance? We speak words of repentance, too. I have been wondering about the idea that we are really naming our burdens, and need to put them aside to be open to fully feel the water! To be open to our callings! And oh my goodness. The gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prophesy. Which is the naming of reality. How things really are. Opening our eyes to the systematic evil in the world and being the prophets that call it out. The Holy Spirit gives us the words and the courage. Also, giving us the ears to listen when it might mean I will need to give up some privilege or some comfort that has been the cause of deprivation for others. The Holy Spirit moving us to do a new thing. Especially those things that seem impossible. Calling us to critical vision, what could be… “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Prov 29:18. Brueggemann (Journey to the Common Good) calls this “venturesome imagination.” Always risky. But he says, “These risks are not as great as the risk of flat, one-dimensional reiteration that does not connect.
The early church affirmed that the practice of worship and particularly the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist formed us to live morally in the world. How we pray and how we worship is linked to how we live. The reformers also connected the sacraments and our daily living. Calvin taught that baptism served as the foundation of all Christian life. It was the root, the anchor, and a sign of assurance when things are not going well. Martin Luther: The sacrament of Eucharist so changes a person that he is made one with the others. All self-seeking love is rooted out and gives place to that which seeks the common good of all. Luther insisted that vision of how we are to live in accord with faith is obscured when sacramental practice is ignored or distorted.
Today, we remember, through the gentle mist of the waters (you might want to take off your glasses!) or for some, the drenching of our dryness—ask for it! The sacraments are Ways of God getting through to us, in opening our eyes to face reality, to bring us faith, hope, and love. Open our eyes to reality, even when it is too painful to face.
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s book: Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. My goodness, what a title, and what a book. Confronting evil. Not just saying no to evil, like in our baptismal vows, but calling it out. Isn’t that part of what we are doing in the “after talks?” And I am sure the Holy Spirit is working through it all, giving words and listening ears. Later, in our Reaffirmation of our baptismal vows, we will get a chance to hear the realities of what these vows might mean in our everyday life. Calvin would have been proud, I think.
This week a beautiful thing happened. SPU music department has a series of inviting folks from all parts of the music industry to come and share their work with the music students. This week they invited Lou Magor and Pat Wright to talk about working in music and worship arts. Lou is a Minister of Music in a Methodist church in town, runs Kenyan Hall in West Seattle, works with kinder music, and used to direct the Bach Choir in Seattle and the opera chorus in San Francisco. I sang with him several times, doing soprano solos in Bach B minor mass and several Messiahs. He was great fun to work with and I had not seen him in many years. Pat Wright. Do you recognize her name? Director of Total Experience Gospel Choir and a minister. Pat and I worked together over 25 years ago doing Show Boat with Tacoma Opera. It has probably been that long since I had seen her. Well, these two had come together and formed a ministry and toured with the choir all over the country. They were amazing.
Lou talked about the gift of watching babies from three months old grow up with the gift of music and how music formed them and helped them think and learn. Pat shared how she commits herself to helping young people see the world and envision a new way of living. Both of these folks were walking wet right before our eyes. And I thought to myself…look how far we have all come in the last twenty years…continuing to grow into this call…growing into our baptisms. And then this amazing thing happened. They were asked to sing one more song. Lou began to play the piano, and Pat sang somewhere over the Rainbow. It became a sacred song of hope for every one there. All of her “why can’t I”s became “why can’t you and I”…These two saints of the church were bringing it all to their entire lives. And Pat sings with such wonder and grace…I never thought of Somewhere Over the Rainbow being sacred before I heard Pat sing it on Thursday.
It reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle’s response to a young writer who wanted to know how to write Christian Stories. L’Engle said, if you are a Christian, your stories will be. Doesn’t matter if you mention God or Jesus. It will come through.
So in our doubting times, in our times of assurance, let the waters name you and hold you. May the Wellspring of life be your anchor and your nourishment. May the table feed you with the Goodness of God and make you one with all, bringing you to share the Good News, whether you mention God or Jesus or the Spirit. The Triune God will shine through, and the voice of God will say, “It is good. Beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
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