Sunday, August 14, 2016

Thirteenth after Pentecost

Luke 12: 49-56
Baptism of Zander William Bursick-Brown

Good morning again.  Back in 2012 we recorded 16 baptisms in the parish register of St. Andrew’s Church.  I’m into my 23rd year here as rector, and in my tenure and actually looking back through several of our previous registers up in the archive room I could find no other year that equaled or exceeded that number.  As I recall 12 was the previous high, which we actually had reached several times.  I’m not sure what we’re going to end up with as a total in 2016, but young Zander  William Bursick-Brown has been carried to the font and has made his splash there, passing through the death of his sinful nature and into his new life in Christ Jesus this morning as #8 in our 2016 registry, and on Saturday August 20 Evelyn Rose Noakes has a reservation for line #9, and on August 28 Harrison Moquin will be added as #10.  There are a couple of other families with newborns and younger children and a couple of adults who are at some point in a discernment process about baptism and various calendars and scheduling concerns, and as we know from our weekly prayer list we still have several “players to be named later” getting ready to make their entrance. 

Baptism sometimes an entry not simply for the one baptized but also for a family—as entry or very often as renewal.  It’s not unusual for the rector to receive a call from someone in the neighborhood.  “We haven’t been to church for years and years, since we were kids ourselves, but when our baby was born we found ourselves thinking about whether we would have him baptized, and whether at this new point of our lives something should change for us too.”  Always a very nice telephone call for the rector to receive, I assure you!  Unknown yet whether we’ll get to 16 or beyond this year, though it seems at least possible.   I suppose all part of God’s plan.   In the end numbers are not the point in and of themselves.   

But to say again, for a congregation our size these are quite remarkable numbers—to have in one year a number of baptisms  at or even above 10% of our average Sunday attendance. Someone said to me a few weeks ago as we noted this most recent cluster of baptisms, “hey: maybe Somebody is trying to tell us something.”  (I put a capital “S” on that “Somebody,” by the way!)  “Somebody.”  And that’s really what I’d like to highlight this morning.  “Maybe Somebody is trying to tell us something.” 

Something about what we might call the emerging field of mission and ministry context for our congregation, for one thing.   It’s an interesting observation about our current demographics.  A friend who is a member of a congregation in a more rural part of our diocese commented to me that in his church there would be at most one or two baptisms a year, and almost always of the grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of present members.  He said, “even the younger members of our congregation have Medicare cards  . . . .  And in fact, there really are not even many families around in the surrounding community who are of child-bearing age.”  One aspect of life in parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania, economic and social dislocation in old mill towns and smaller rural communities--but of course not here in the East End of Pittsburgh.  Strollers abound!  Articles in the newspaper about the rising tide of the millennials, Google at Bakery Square and hipster coffee houses on every street corner--and we see that reality every day more and more in the neighborhood and here in St. Andrew’s.   Brandon told me last week that we would need more seating in our new Children’s Chapel, which is a good kind of problem to have, for sure.  A fun problem.

But I’m also just thinking about how we as a congregation are again and again and again this summer being asked to pause in front of the massive and life changing turning point of Holy Baptism—to hear again and again from candidates and parents and godparents the promises and commitments that stand at the heart of all our lives as Christian people.  Somebody trying to tell us something.   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?  I do.  I do.  I do.  As we greet the newly baptized: “ Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”  Over and over and over again.  This year of 2016, this baptismal summer and August:  and Somebody trying to tell us something.   So more than just about neighborhood demographics.  A reminder of who we are, each of us individually, all of us together in Christ.  A crash course in the fundamentals of a deep Biblical theology.

The reading  from Luke 12 sits somewhat uncomfortably over what we might call the most common cultural aspects of baptism.  Much as we love them.  Families coming together from near and far, baptismal gowns handed down from one generation to the next, festive lunches, a new page of photos for the Baby Album.  The baptism Jesus is talking about here isn’t painted in such festive colors.
In these last few chapters of Luke we’ve been following Jesus and his disciples as they move around the outskirts of Jerusalem in the weeks before Holy Week and Good Friday.  The rising crecendo of crisis, conflict, opposition.  A palpable hostility.  The sense of the power of Evil gathering forces for the horrible  and bloody battle that will be brought soon to the very foot of the Cross.  

“This is the kind of baptism I’m talking about,” Jesus says. A baptism of fire!  Fire, stress, division.  Families wrenched apart.  The arid and empty and scorching and killing heat of the south wind.  The gathering storm.   A baptism that costs something.  Remembering the hymn we sometimes sing on the feast days of the martyr saints, “the peace of Christ, it is no peace, but strife sown in the sod.”  Martyrs like our own Saint Andrew, of course.  Perhaps like Father Jacques Hamel, so recently in our news—and I’m sure most have heard this story--the 85 year old French priest who just a couple of weeks ago was attacked and beheaded by terrorists as he celebrated a quiet midweek Communion with a congregation of six or seven in a small town in Normandy.  His last words were “Begone, Satan.”   “Begone, Satan.”  

A man we might say who knew his enemy, who understood not simply the conflicts of our present age but also the great spiritual battle that continues all around us.  He wasn’t so much I think talking about the particular man who was attacking him, but about the dark spirit in the room and surrounding them at that moment, the Father of Lies, the Master of Hate, the source of violence and despair, who would use every power at his disposal to turn us from the One who has saved and redeemed us, who would seek to lure us away from our place at the Cross.  An old priest who knew his enemy and our enemy, and who stood firm, as we hear again and again in those baptismal promises.   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?  I renounce them, I renounce them, I renounce them.  Somebody trying to tell us something.

Zander William Bursick-Brown:  what a blessing today.  Number 8 of 2016!  So much we celebrate: your birth; the joy and excitement of your family.  A fresh beginning, and a really big deal.  A splash in the baptismal pool on a summer Sunday.  From death to life.   And we are invited to keep listening for the word that may be intended here for us.  From death to life.

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

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