RCL Proper 21C ~Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Alina Adair Malecki
Oliver Rieley Ward
Good morning, and always grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. On the calendar this is actually the first Sunday of the Fall, which I believe technically began last Wednesday night. We’ve been noticing already the shorter days, and even though the weather has been pretty mild, no question but that we begin to feel the last turn toward the final quarter of the year. Certainly in the context of planning around the Church Office we’re well along toward St. Andrew’s Day and Thanksgiving and Advent. Seems like it was just Labor Day—it was just Labor Day!—but already we might begin to imagine a hint of frost in the air . . . .
A turning point, a time to refocus, gradually beginning shift away from the summer wardrobe. A reminder in any event in the ongoing rotation of the seasons that things change. Time marches on. Thought about more widely, metaphorically, as the seasons of our lives also change, a reminder of the passages of our lives, and of the evolution of family and community, one generation to the next.
The first Sunday of a new season, and in what a nice way it is, a Sunday of baptism. All of us today, youngsters and old-timers, to gather around the font. With a welcome I know to friends and family of our baptismal candidates who are joining us today. The dedication of this particular font, Easter Sunday, April 15, 1906, and so to imagine not just those of us here this morning, but all those for over a century, good people of St. Andrew’s, gathering with family and friends in this place to celebrate the Sacrament of New Birth, the holy pattern for every Christian, dying with Christ in his death, sharing in his victory over death, rising with Christ in his resurrection.
The pattern of the service this morning, and the pattern of our lives as Christian people, as this baptism happens not just once, but again and again and again, day in and day out all our lives. Dying to the old life of sin, joining ourselves to Christ, celebrating and living day by day a renewal of life and spirit, living in our lives now the reality of his resurrection. All this today, for Alina and Oliver, and for us all, in the mystery of baptism.
In these deep waters. A new season of life. A season as we would read this morning in First Timothy, of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace coming into our lives and lifting us up and restoring us. A season of healing. A season of hope.
The lessons appointed for this morning are all rich and deserving of more exploration than we can enter into at this service. All three of them suggestive in different but similar ways for a conversation about how our inner authorities, our values and priorities and hopes and fears give shape to our manner of living and reveal our true character. But we have these exciting baptisms this morning, so I would simply and I hope briefly pause over this moment in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.
It’s a fascinating story. Jeremiah has spent so much of his ministry warning the people of the disaster that is about to fall upon them because of their unfaithfulness, and now that disaster is very much upon them. The Babylonian armies have encircled the city. The brightest and best young men of their generation have died in their futile efforts to break the siege. There is beginning to be starvation and civil disorder, fear and despair.
And at this moment, Jeremiah, the one who among all the prophets seems to have been about the only one to have had a clear view of what was coming, the one to whom now the people looked with new attention—Jeremiah walks down to the county real estate office and puts down the wealth of his household, gold and silver coins that certainly could have come in handy in the exile to come—he puts down a major portion of the wealth of his household, to purchase a piece of real estate in the Jerusalem suburbs. Real estate at the moment very much under the control of the occupying enemy army.
And the message, not so much in words but in action, putting his money on the line. Not just talking the talk but walking the walk: the message: this coming disaster isn’t the end of the story. The enemy may carry us off this day in chains today, the city may be put to the torch and reduced to a pile of ruins, but tomorrow will come. And we can trust, know, believe with all our hearts that God is not going to forsake his people or forget his holy covenant. We will return. We will come home again. To our houses and fields and vineyards. We ourselves, perhaps, or our children, or our children’s children.
It may not be soon, but it will be so--and today, says Jeremiah, today what I’m doing is beginning live, right now, in that reality. God’s future. It is a message of trust in God’s mercy and God’s steadfast character. The same God yesterday, today, and forever. A message of hope. No matter how troubled the present hour, no matter how dark the night. A message of hope.
The word that Jeremiah had in this dramatic prophetic action for the people of Jerusalem turns us as we would turn in all of the history of the universe to the message of Jesus on the Cross. God acting in the midst of our world and of all our lives to heal what was broken, to bring forgiveness, to bring new life. Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Houses and fields and vineyards. Grace and peace.
So the message for us of this baptism. God’s continuing faithfulness. It’s good news, and a great message, for the first Sunday of the Fall, or anytime, at all times and in all places. No matter where we are in the working out of our lives, which can be messy and difficult, challenging, even heartbreaking. As this congregation gathers at the font this morning, as we join the generations of the people of St. Andrew’s who have stood here before us, and all the generations and centuries before us of Christian life and ministry.
This morning to celebrate with the Malecki family and the Ward family, and to let this day be a sign of healing and renewal, forgiveness, joy, creativity, new life. Our hope for the good future God has in mind for us. As we see in the faces of these two children and the lives of their families and in one another. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord: great is thy faithfulness.
And so now I would invited Alina Adair Malecki and Oliver Rieley Ward, and their parents and baptismal sponsors, to come forward for the celebration of Christian baptism.