Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seventeenth after Pentecost

(Proper 19C2) Luke 15: 1-10
Baptism of Max Henry Kampmeyer

Grace and peace this morning as we roll along now into the last weeks of summer—having made it through all the excitement of the annual Round Up last Sunday and still trying to figure out how to find our way around good old St. Andrew’s in the midst of all the renovations. 

A fun morning especially to celebrate the 14th baptism of the year in the register of St. Andrew’s Church.  A different and interesting way to think about what it means to say we are undergoing  “renovations” around here.  Today with Max Henry Kampmeyer, his mom Jill and dad Mitch and family and friends as we gather at the font to hear again the word of deep assurance, that as we die with Christ to the old self of sin and death and all the powers and principalities of this fallen world, so we are lifted up to rise with him in a resurrection to new life and to the promise of eternal life in his kingdom.  Renovations at St. Andrew's.  A shallow font, Max: but deep water!

And whatever the story is for us as we have come into this church this morning.  All the stories of life that we bring with us through these doors, we would set them down here in this hour of baptism, as we share in the cleansing of the waters and as we are made pure and holy and acceptable in him.   One of the great things about this service, as we can all in our minds and hearts and imaginations be refreshed ourselves. 

There is a lot of rich and poetic language in the Book of Common Prayer, in our prayers, psalms, and anthems.  But for me nothing more powerful than the dialogue that I will share with Mitch and Jill in just a few moments:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

We know what this is about, even if the words aren't words we use every day.  Look at the front page of the newspaper.  Look in the mirror.  Look into corners of our minds and our hearts.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

We sing it in our hymns.  Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  But for it to be not words on the page, but fresh and new and real.  Mitch and Jill, we will all of us be saying them together with you, in the quiet of our own inner thoughts.  A chorus of response and rededication.

The readings this morning an interesting context for baptism.  As the gospel of Luke unfolds the enemies of Jesus are constantly looking for opportunities to discredit him. They try unsuccessfully to catch him up in trick questions or to call into question his own observance of the Biblical Law.  Here in Luke 15 they try a “guilt by association” angle.  “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  And Jesus here as with earlier challenges about healing on the Sabbath doesn't deny the charge. Instead, he reframes the question.  Here with this parable.  “Which of you wouldn't leave your 99 sheep in the wilderness to off in search of one who has wandered away?”

So just think about that for a minute.  Does that really make sense?  If it does, don’t tell your sheep insurance agent.  I mean, nobody would want to lose a little lamb.  But to walk away from the whole flock, leaving them exposed to the elements, to predators, to thieves—to the likelihood that they too are likely to wander off and get lost if you aren’t there to keep them in line.  Which of you wouldn't risk everything, for the one lost sheep?

Of course the answer is, probably none of them, none of us would do that.  In a kind of idealistic way we might admire the Good Shepherd of the Parable, who lays everything on the line, for the one.  But to think about that in the light of day is something else again.   Not prudent.  Not sensible.

Jesus and the Pharisees are in theory operating with the same mission statement.  To share the word of God with those who most need to hear it.  To be ministers of reconciliation.  To make it possible for the sinner to repent, for the broken to seek healing.

But what makes them different, Jesus and the Pharisees, is what they will put on the table.  I think that’s what Luke wants us to see as he recalls this moment.  Pharisees like the rest of us counting the costs, calculating the cost/benefit ratio.  Asking questions about how this is all going to affect me and mine.

But the Good Shepherd.  Hard not to read the story without thinking of that beautiful and poetic meditation and hymn in Philippians 2, as Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

The parable doesn't make sense for the Shepherd’s insurance agent.  But it certainly does for that one sheep.  What it means, lost and broken, to know that he will come.  Even though it doesn't make any sense.  Even though I’m one and small and meaningless in the great scheme of things, and he has so much already.  To know that he will come.  Searching day and night.  For the lost one.  That he will do whatever it takes to pull him out of the pit and lift him up on his shoulders and carry him home.

Which is why the cross is here.   I know I haven’t talked with Wes Rohrer about this but a few years ago I had another friend who had spent some time in Saudi Arabia, and he told me how unexpectedly powerful it was when he came home after some months and was walking down the Main Street of his town and saw the local Presbyterian Church with a cross over the front door. 

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.  And it’s good for us that he does.  Otherwise we have nobody and nothing.  Up the creek without a paddle.  But today we go down into the water to be freed of our old selves and to rise fresh and new.  As St. John says, we love him because first he loved us.  We seek to know him, because he sought us out first.  Putting everything on the line for us.  Not counting the cost.  Because we are his joy.   How great to know that and experience that in our baptism and in Max’s baptism and every day.  Because we are his joy.  His only reason for living.

Each and every one of us.  And now one more. 

Jill and Mitch, if you would bring Max up here to the front of the church.

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