I want to thank you all this morning, truly, deeply, and fully. You have been instrumental in a great thing and I just wanted to take the time today to let you know that it has not gone unnoticed. Caitlyn is turning out really well, you should all be very proud. She is strong and assured and you helped her out a lot along the way from the joyful little girl twirling up here near the organ to the thirteen year old I am going to confidently send off to Europe with the Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus. She’ll be fine. She knows who she is and she knows whose she is and in great measure she is part yours.
She is also Christ’s but part of the reason why she knows that is because she has been raised in church. She has received a hundredfold brothers, sisters, mothers in this age and persecutions, they were the kind of persecutions a young person needs to grow so she was cool with them. Limitations make room for wisdom, push-back makes you stronger so it was all good. But like Jesus promised in Mark 10, she who goes where we go, lives where we live, loves the Lord always is blessed by the family she receives here, among God’s people.
I did some work with the North Bay Organizing Project a couple of years ago, working to end zero tolerance discipline policies in our schools. I’m a data driven guy and the data said that schools hadn’t gotten any better or safer in the years of Zero Tolerance so we thought it might be time to try something else.
I did a bunch of research, like I said, I like me some data, and a great number of studies all pointed to the same thing. Positive social engagements, schools and families and churches, the things that teach kids how to handle the world, how to handle disappointment and loss and success and joy in the context of our society? Well all of those things are waning in today’s culture, dinner table conversations are at an all-time low, schools have little enough resources to teach the things kids need to know to progress to their next school let alone try to teach kids how to behave, that is where zero tolerance came from. Church attendance is down as well.
On the other end of the scale are the discipline problems plaguing the schools in this country, and the criminal justice problems that grow out of them. As the positive social engagements decline, the problems increase, it is practically a one-to-one correspondence.
Now that could be a coincidence.
But Jonathan is a fine young man, and you folks can take a portion of the credit. Caitlyn is a strong young woman, and again, thank you. Katalina has a good head on her shoulders, she looks forward to her future with gusto and that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Garrett, Seraphina, Jaleah, Sabin, whoever they are, when they walk through those doors, they are immediately family.
God’s family, Christ’s family, your family, my family.
We care for them, we watch over them as a hen watches over her brood, gathering them under our wings until they are ready to fly on their own.
When they step out of line, one of us leans over and reproves them. When any of them succeeds at something, we are all here to celebrate with them. We have cheered and wept with them and for them and all for no other reason than that is just what people do when they are drawn together by the love of God.
Well, that’s not all they do. They also squabble and raise idols and they whine and they complain and when they hear the word of God, they go their own way anyway. I’m not saying we’re perfect. Plenty of rotten kids come out of churches each and every Sunday.
But not this one.
We’re not perfect either, but we seem to have come to a kind of silent consensus on this one thing.
Like Paul is apparently trying to tell us in the letter to the church at Philippi, we can see past what is and see into what might be. God opens our eyes and see what God has put into the kids, their potential, the hope inside of them. We’re not dreaming, we’re not even scheming, we’re following.
God leads us forward, into the future Christ saved us to build.
And this rambling, shambling, magnificently imperfect instrument called the church is the tool we use to build that future. We are not more blessed than those outside simply because we have faith, no less prone to error and sin, it is simply that we serve a different master, not our bellies, as Paul would imply, but God and God’s vision for a world made better.
When we see Jonathan grown up, faith shows us Jonathan grown up and not Jonathan as a reflection of us, grown up, he is not our project, he is not our lump of clay to mold according to our wishes, he is not ours. Through the eyes of faith we are allowed to see him grown into what God has placed inside of him, to see his gifts blossoming, to see him strong and filled with promise.
This place in particular seems capable of seeing them grown up not as our projects, but as God’s children, right there alongside us, laboring in the Lord’s fields, feeling the Spirit’s presence all around us.
Don’t get too proud, you’re just blessed to be able to surrender to the will of God and surrendering is not something most people look for on a résumé.
We teach them that God is not to be found only in fun things, only in the trips to the park and to the concert and to the ski slopes. Sure God is there, but you’re already having a good time there. We seek to show that God is also in the places where you might not expect, in the dark places, in the cold places. God is wherever we are to be sure, but God is also where God needs to be, where God is most needed, transforming and redeeming even the darkest hour, the coldest heart.
In the dark of night Abraham was given the gift of knowing God’s presences as the flames danced between the bloody parts of his offering, glory and pain, infinity and the grimness of death mingling in that one scene as if to say, “I will be with you always, nothing can keep us apart, there is a future for you.”
Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we all yearn for the promise that there is a future for us, a home, a refuge from the storm, a meaning?
Even Jesus, this morning going about the future he has before him short though it may be, understands that there is a tomorrow, and another and another after that one and that getting down to business, being about the work given to you, the gifts given to you, is living in the love of God, and that this is a great joy.
So He lives that life boldly, telling Herod, who seeks his life, “Here I am if you are looking for me, if you dare, I am not hiding, I am living the life God has in store for me and that is what matters.”
If we are seeking to impart any particular idea, if we are trying to communicate anything from the bible it is probably that. God made promises in the long, long ago and God’s word is true, so much so that the Word became flesh and the promise came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and that His life and ministry and death on the cross point to one thing and to one thing only.
You are the child of God, the one God was making the promises to. You are the child of God, the one Christ came to save, fulfilling those promises. You are the child of God, whose life has been redeemed from death and the grave for better things. You are the child of God, live the life God has given you, not shyly, not meekly, but boldly, giving glory to God while you’re at it.
The length and breadth of the universe doesn’t seem particularly suited to you for on accident. It was purpose-built for you, fitted to you to live in and learn in and love in and thrive in because it is all of a piece.
Creation. Promise. Redemption. Salvation. Eternity.
We mark the transition points, the moments of particular clarity with ceremonies, with rituals meant to point to what is occurring and to show us God’s hand in that day.
Abraham made sacrifice, a bloody ritual signifying that his life was laid before the Lord as promise just as his life had been given to him by the Lord. With the wealth of his life and the work of his hands he set himself before his God and said, “Today. Today I set myself before you in offering and in thanksgiving, what would you have of me?”
A couple of weeks ago we lined up a class of confirmands and bestowed upon them nothing more than our prayers and our congratulations. They were not more saved, they were not more holy on that day, but they all stood up here and faced you, having learned what it means, not to believe in God but rather to live as if you believe in God.
Together, as a community knit tightly together with the bonds of love and faith in Christ Jesus we said, “Today. Today Lord we set these people before you, in offering and in thanksgiving, bless them, be with them as we will be with them always.”
Today, we are gathered around the font to again take hold of the mantle or the faith community. We sing songs and we dream dreams and we lay a little water on the foreheads of Stella and Colby, enacting a ritual as old as the faith itself.
But we are not just going through the motions. Like Abraham we invest not just the time and effort it takes to put a baptism together. We invest ourselves. We pledge to care for, to nurture, to bless and to pray for Stella and for Colby, for Joe and for Jenny for Linda and all the rest of the family as a new chapter is begun.
Today. Today, Lord we pledge to see into the future. We set ourselves on a path this morning to be your hands and your feet, nurturing and caring and supporting those gathered here this morning. Today, we will speak the promise and show its fruition in our lives.
Today we will try to live up to the faith that is in us in all that we do, serving not the god of our bellies but the God of our salvation and in as much as we succeed, it will be to your glory and not ours.
Today we spread our wings over them as you have spread your wings over us and we will be a community of faith, worthy of the trust they show us in bringing their children to your baptism.
We turn our kids over into the hands of God and God’s people and when it works out well, as it has in the children of this congregation, then God is glorified. Every member of the Body of Christ, a hundredfold brothers, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, all seeking nothing more than that they should thrive.
Today we mark that fact with a little water, a little oil and a lot of love and faith. God will do the hard part as we ask ourselves and God, What would you have of us?