Sunday, August 7, 2016

Twelfth after Pentecost

Proper 14C1:  Luke 12: 32-40
Baptism of Henry Edwin Nachreiner

Good morning.  Wonderful to be home after a couple of weeks with family up in Massachusetts.   And wonderful to return for this occasion--the baptism of Henry Edwin Nachreiner.   

Eric and Jennifer, just to say as a prelude: you and your family have been so much in our prayers this year.  In the gestational season of preparation for Henry’s birth, of course--and as you have met the challenges with big brother Nolan and his experience with transverse myelitis.  Certainly if there is one foundation and ministry that we share as members of Christ’s Church it is to support and encourage one another with sincere and constant prayer in the love of Jesus-- and all that love and prayer surrounds you today as we celebrate with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven the new life in Christ that is Henry’s as he passes from death to life through these baptismal waters.  With thanksgiving for God’s presence and blessing and continued healing and strength in your home and family.

The passage in Luke 12 is a kind of commentary on the affirmations and promises that we will soon repeat .  I’m going to pause on just the first three verses of this morning’s reading, verses 32, 33, and 34, and we can all of us then on our own can reflect on and take to heart the two short parables that follow, as they both encourage us to be alert for what God is doing--not to sleep through the critical hour of decision, not to find ourselves still standing on the platform as the train pulls away from the station.

So our context again, as we have been following the story.  Jesus and his disciples the Galilee, the rural villages like Cana and Capernaum and Nazareth, shortly after the dramatic moment at the top of the Mount of the Transfiguration, to journey to Jerusalem.  After the incident of rejection in the Samaritan village and after 70 of the disciples get their first real taste of evangelistic mission, they arrive at last at the outskirts of the Holy City, perhaps staying with Martha, who’s still out in the kitchen,  and devoted Mary and their brother Lazarus in the nearby town of Bethany.  Jesus is continuing his ministry of preaching and teaching, healing and casting out demons.   But on a way bigger stage now.  The crowds gather:  the high festival season,  and with pilgrims not just from Judea and Samaria and the Galilee but from Egypt and Persia and Syria and Turkey, all in these weeks before Passover--and as Jesus is now nearer the centers of religious and civil power he is encountering considerably more opposition from the authorities, who are worried about what impact he and his movement might have on the restive crowds, on the institutions and officers of synagogue and temple, and on the uneasy equilibrium with the occupying forces of the Roman government.   Their security is on high alert.  The last thing they want or need is some new messiah from the Galilee!

As the opposition of the authorities builds, Jesus’ teaching also begins to become more focused on how the disciples are to live as his body the Church after Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter and Ascension.  He knows there isn’t much time.  How they are to continue in ministry and mission themselves, and with a vision as well for those who will come after.  Jesus is laying the foundation, building his Church, looking with love on his dearest friends, and then lifting his eyes above them to look out across generations and centuries.  All the way to Pittsburgh and Highland Park, to this font, to the hand that is laid upon Henry this morning.

Earlier in Luke 12 Jesus is surrounded by a multitude, but his words are really directed to his disciples.  In verse 22, just before our selection this morning, he told them to live fearlessly.  He reminded them of God’s love and provision: “consider the lilies of the fields, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”    Don’t be anxious.  Don’t be afraid, no matter what stresses and distresses befall you in time to come.

And then this morning in verse 32 our reading begins with a great assurance, a great promise.  And certainly just right to hear on the day of Henry’s baptism:  “Fear not.”  “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Wow.  O.K. , then.  Take a breath.  Despite all the evidence around us right now.  We may be few, we may be weak, we may be threatened by very strong forces in the wide world and culture around us that confront and undermine the gospel entrusted to us.  Up against principalities and powers, deep and dark forces of opposition, social, political, spiritual enemies.  But in the greater reality of God, all of that is passing away.  The good news is that the battle is already decided.  Fear not!  We may appear weak, even broken and defeated.  But just as the defeat that Jesus would know at the Cross would become in that same hour his great triumph, so our weakness and brokenness and loss here and now is about to be transformed into the greatest of victories.  The Father’s good pleasure:  to give us the kingdom.  To be known by him, to be grafted into his body through the awakening of faith, to be lifted with him and through him into glory.  That is his promise. 

With a promise like that, we would live now less as citizens of this world that is passing away, more as people who are already alive and taking our place in the coming world of God’s kingdom.  It’s a case of “dual citizenship,” in any event:  life in transition.  At the turning point between what we have been and what we are becoming.  So the instructions in verses 33 and 34.  To let go, to loosen our grip on what we may think is most meaningful in this world.   Sell your possessions, and give alms.  Don’t think that your bank account or your diploma or your professional title or your social status is the plan God has for you.  Lift your eyes higher.  Live now as though the kingdom that is about to come is already here.  Have treasure not bound up in an earthly purse, but one made from the fabric of the new age.  Live not for an abundance of earthly rewards, but invest all you have and all you are, your deepest hopes, in the promise of heavenly treasure, the fullness of God’s presence and grace and blessing.  Choose wisely and rightly, because where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is, your true self.

We’re talking here about questions of behavior and identity.  The process of moving, again, from what we have been to what we will be.  We’re in the midst of that process of the conversion of our lives.  We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.  And Jesus encourages us to move ahead with confidence, not holding back, giving ourselves entirely to what lies ahead.  And of course the font this morning and Henry’s baptism is a key milestone and landmark.  A turning point.  Crossing the river into a new land.

J.T. Ryle, the famous 19th century Bishop of Liverpool, said this about this pattern or process of conversion in a great quotation I ran across a couple of weeks ago.   A word about what it begins to look like even in this world, even now, to begin to live as citizens of this new kingdom.  Signs that it is really happening.  What we begin to see that our new life is becoming, now reflected in these waters of baptism.  It struck me as especially meaningful in the context of the stressed and polarized and increasingly conflicted political and social environment—an external environment that if we’re not careful can begin to be absorbed by a kind of osmosis into our own psychological and emotional and moral and spiritual character.  And just to use Ryle’s words as a reflection of what would be in our minds this morning as we welcome Henry into the fellowship of Christ’s body.  Ryle from his long pastoral journey and experience sketches this out, about a person who is experiencing conversion in Christ and beginning to live in the kingdom.  He says, you will see that person “hating sin, loving Christ, following after holiness, taking pleasure in his Bible, persevering in prayer.  You will see him penitent, humble, believing, temperate, charitable, truthful, good-tempered, patient, upright, honorable, kind.  These, at any rate, will be his aims,” Ryle says, “—these are the things he will follow after, however short he may come of perfection.”    To highlight those words again: “hating sin, loving Christ, following after holiness, taking pleasure in his Bible, persevering in prayer . . . penitent, humble, believing, temperate, charitable, truthful, good-tempered, patient, upright, honorable, kind.”

In the midst of crisis, in a moment when evil, sin, death seems to have the upper hand, Jesus tells his disciples: Fear not.  And he points in his Word and in his flesh the way to our new homeland.   We’re headed there now.  Henry Edwin Nachreiner, a great morning, for you and for us all:  we receive you into the household of God.  Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.

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