Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twenty Second after Pentecost: Baptism

Proper 28A2
Zeph. 1: 7, 12-18; Mt 25: 14-30
Baptism of Cole Alessandro West

A hint of winter in the early morning air, and the leaves mostly down, and the afternoon turning toward night earlier and earlier, and so all the signs of the year coming to an end. Almost as though the turn of the season is trying to echo thematically the weight of this season of the Church Year, which is informally named “Pre-Advent.” Before the wheel can begin its next upward arc, it all will need to complete the cycle and fall at last into the point of rest.

The lessons this morning look to the end. The Final Accounting. The Last Judgment. Dies Irae, the Day of Wrath. When the lights come on, and when there is no place left to hide, and when we are seen and known exactly as we are. No costumes, no make-up. Zephaniah talks about those who say to themselves that “the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.” He’s just going to leave us alone to do as we please. Well, we’ll see. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps that echoed as we think about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. To think about how in our own sense of stewardship and accountability and trust we also may live in deep denial. In the fourteenth chapter of St. Luke Jesus says, “from him to whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Yet it does seem like we live all our lives, most of the time, as though that master will never return. As though there will be no last chapter to the story. As though we will be able to keep kicking the can down the road forever. It’s hard not to make some connections here to the horrible story out of Penn State in these last days.

As they say in the Twelve Step groups, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” It is a deep and broad river, and one we all do a fair amount of swimming in . . . . If you think he isn’t coming. Well, think again.

At least that is the perspective of the Prophet, persistently the word of scripture both Old Testament and New. A call to wake up, before it’s too late. To get our act together. To put our relationships in order. Relationships to one another and our relationship to God. With honesty and integrity. Walking the walk if we’re going to talk the talk. There is a day coming, says the prophet. There is a day coming, says Jesus in the parable, when the one who returns will call us in and take out our books and check the accounts. If there is a sense of urgency that we can feel in that.

The contrast for us is pretty dramatic. Fall turns toward winter and our thoughts turn toward last things, and then all at once there is a splash of water in the font and a prayer and a dab of spiced oil. And we are drawn especially here at St. Andrew’s to turn our eyes up over the High Altar to see that lovely window by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and to hear the words of Jesus. “Bring the children, don’t turn them away.” And to see him take them up into his arms and bless them. And to hear a promise in that, God’s promise, in Jesus.

I love the T.S. Eliot poem East Coker, part of the Four Quartets series, as it begins.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth.

And the last few lines:

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Can we hold it all in our minds? Contradiction and mystery. Beginnings, endings, all folded in on one another. Birth and death. Decay and renewal. And this morning, God bless him indeed: Cole West. What a mystery and contradiction he is. Each one of us are. Brother, son, grandson, nephew, cousin, new Christian life here today, mid-November and not just the end but in the end the beginning, and the journey to Bethlehem and already if we can hear them in the distance over the bagpipes of St. Andrew next Sunday, the angels singing to shepherds on the hillside about this new thing God has done. And already if we can hear them from here, in all that distance, the soldiers laughing and talking among themselves, without a care in the world, as they lift their hammers and begin to drive in the nails. Contradiction and mystery. Endings and beginnings.

As Jesus asked us to do. A splash of water and a prayer and a dab of spiced oil, and a November morning. May the whole story of our salvation open in our minds and rest in our hearts. Call us to an awareness of our brokenness, stir up in us our desire to repent and be reconciled, bring us to himself in all refreshment and renewal beyond all beginnings and all endings.

Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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