Saturday, January 31, 2015

February 1, Epiphany 4, The Mission #8: Sanctuary and Hospitality

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

The public career of the Lord Jesus was about three years. At first, Our Lord did his preaching and teaching in the synagogues. Later on, not so much, as the opposition mounted against him. Already at the beginning is the first hint of that opposition, in the synagogue that welcomed him.

In those days a synagogue was less a sanctuary than a meeting house, a town hall, a union hall. There was no division between the laws of religion and political economy—it was all one. You went to synagogue for training on how to be Jewish in daily life, how to apply the ancient rules of the Torah to current situations, how to get along under the Romans and still be holy, how to share the marketplace with your pagan neighbors and still be clean.

You went to hear the scribes lay out the rules and regulations in the commentaries by the best minds of Judaism from prior centuries, and especially the carefully collected precedents. To keep these precedents in current application was the job of the scribe. What no scribe would ever want to claim was a fresh, new, personal interpretation.

You went to synagogue to worship, for prayer and praise and spirituality. You went to hear the stories from the Torah–of creation, of the patriarchs, of the exodus–the stories that told you God’s meaning for the world, and what your special Jewish place was in the world. You went to hear the readings from the prophets, as Moses had predicted. The prophets told you to hope that your God would remember you someday. You went to synagogue to keep your hope alive.

And here was sudden hope again. This Jesus, this thrilling Jesus giving his new teaching, daring to offer his fresh and unprecedented interpretations with his risky applications—it’s exciting even if it might not work. Maybe he is right. Maybe things are breaking open finally at last.

But that will be trouble for some of them. They will have been compromised. They will have their secrets. Like this one guy, in what St. Mark calls an “unclean spirit”. What does that mean?

Don’t think of it as a demon from hell. It’s natural, because they drew no line between the natural and the supernatural, and they took the natural world as spiritual, so this unclean spirit is relatively natural but it’s nature out of whack. It’s unclean like your shirt is unclean when your spaghetti sauce is on your shirt instead of your plate. Things where things do not belong. Nature made unnatural. Rotten, corrupted, like rotting meat. Pollution, a toxic environment.

This guy is in the power of corruption. Maybe he’s got a toxic boss, or a toxic family. Maybe he’s Sheldon Silver at schul, or Tony Soprano at Mass, or a drug-dealer with his mom at church. He is captive to powers greater than himself, powers human and more than human, powers which pass the boundaries of reason. He is beholden to corruption both natural and supernatural. As most Jews were in Jesus’ day, more or less, intentionally or not, actively or passively. The Roman soldier, the Roman taxes, the Roman imperium, Roman idolatry, and Roman gods and goddesses. Spiritual. Unclean.

So Jesus is a threat, for all of his good news. This guy is threatened because he can recognize Our Lord’s holiness and purity and he can sense the implications for people like himself. So he says to Jesus, “What are we to you? What do you care about us? I know who you are, the holy one of God, and that will be no help to us in our lives here, you’re only going to bring us trouble. If you win, we will be your casualties.” Well, that’s kind of true. That’s insightful.

What you’ve got here is a contest of insight, on both sides. Just as Jesus could see more in the scriptures than the scribes could, so this guy can see more in Jesus than the others can, and when the guy opposes him, Jesus can see more on him than others can. There is a contest here between two spiritualities, the spirituality of the world gone out of whack, and the Holy Spirit of God in Christ.

This guy has knowledge, apparently more knowledge than others in the synagogue, but not enough knowledge. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He does not have the knowledge of God’s love. He can’t, because he’s beholden, and he can’t let go of what is binding him. So he fears the power and authority of Jesus as even more oppression and domination. He cannot see that this power and authority of Jesus is for the freedom of God’s love.

Jesus rebukes him, and silences him, and casts him out, and with the first two actions the author doesn’t clearly distinguish whether Jesus is addressing the unclean spirit or the guy himself. And this, I think, is accurate to our experience of spirituality and its effects. Where does spirituality begin and what does it include? And not all spirituality is good. That’s one implicit lesson in this story.

Spirituality is in. People are wanting spirituality again, certainly in reaction to the empty mechanistic worldview of modernity and its desacralization of the world, reducing everything to physics and chemistry and mere biology.

And I can understand that people like to say that they are spiritual but not religious. Religion looks toxic, violence is done in God’s name, and organized religion is corrupted. This week one of our members told me that she’s the only one who goes to church of all her good friends in Park Slope. Religion? No thanks. Church? Nah. Oh yes, Jesus said nice things, but to consider him having some authority or Lordship, for example, is a non-starter. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” What the guy said—the guy in the synagogue.

How much of it is fear? That member and I were talking about the pervasive fear in people’s lives today. Existential fear. For all of our modern achievements in science and technology we have not been able to solve the problem of fear.

I believe that people are more fearful today than they were when I was young. More fearful for the safety of their children than my parents were. More fearful for our health. More fearful economically. Fearful ecologically. Fearful of what we’re doing to the planet. Fearful of terrorists, fearful of foreigners. Fear is driving our elections. Around the world, people are saying to each other what the guy said, “Have you come to destroy us?” 

The fear is so pervasive that it is spiritual. Indeed, it’s because it is spiritual that it’s pervasive and powerful. And in this crisis we are called to be prophetic to identify this fear for what it is.

It’s easy to be negatively prophetic, as so many Christian voices seem to be today, which advocate retrenchment, and defensiveness, and call for division, and tolerate violence. They may have knowledge. But not love. We need to be prophetic and knowledgeable not in a spirit of fear but a spirit of love. 

What are the pervasive fears in your own life? What fears have power over you to force your choices? What fears compel you, and what fears limit you? What toxic relationships are you in? What deals have you made that are not really clean but you fear they are too costly and convulsive to get out of? I believe that for you to consider the Lordship of Jesus is always an exercise in examining your deepest fears. He challenges you. Can you believe that he is challenging you in love?

You know what I’m afraid of? Whether I have the ability and capacity to lead this congregation through its difficult challenges for the next few years. I fear that our growth and progress in the last few years could all come crashing down. What if the renovation of our sanctuary is a reach too far? What if we fail? What if I fail? What if it divides our congregation? What if I don’t lead us well and keep us together?

That’s my own personal share of our general spirituality of fear. I want to be free from the grip of my fear. I want to accept my fear and be free in my fear. I want to do what Melody said last week and run towards that which makes me afraid. I want to aim for the Lordship of Jesus.

I want to do this because of our mission, the mission of our church. Our mission is not just to gather more people into our church to make our numbers grow. Our mission is not just to worship together and educate each other. Our mission is to witness in public to the character of the authority of Jesus Christ, and how his authority leads to the freedom of love. And we have two practical ways to do that public witness within this general spirituality of fear: Sanctuary, and Hospitality.

Sanctuary and Hospitality are the two distinctive missions of Old First. That these two missions were sort of forced on us by our building is providential because these two missions are so relevant to our public culture within its general spirituality of fear. They are the opposite of fear. They are public works of love. They are prophetic, because they point to the Kingdom of God, and they witness to the character of Jesus, and his authority over you gives you the freedom to love.

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 25, Ordination of Rachel Daley, "A Feast of Rich Food"

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 104

Luke 14:15-24

Hospital food.

Not your favorite cuisine!

What you would not get in a hospital is a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. But why not? Really, considering all the other expense and all the other risky fluids that hospital patients take in, why not?

When I was in my third congregation, in Hoboken, one of my elderly parishioners was a patient at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. She was from India, and so every day my people took turns delivering homemade Gujurati food to her.

Of course hospital food is only a symptom of the dispiriting dehumanization of the health care system in our nation, which is why Rachel’s ministry is so necessary—not for just spirituality, but for plain humanity, to help the patients be fully human beings, whether they live or die. In this connection are the other remarkable images from Isaiah’s prophecy, the shroud and the sheet. The shroud overshadows the patients and even the staff, and the sheet is spread over all the people, the dark shroud and the white sheet that is death. We go to hospital to get well and we go to hospital to die.

And yet this prophecy of Isaiah contains one of the first hints of eternal life in the Bible. Let me remind you that there is absolutely no interest in eternal life in all the books of Moses, nor in the historical books from Joshua to Chronicles. Only one or two of the Psalms hint at salvation from death, and from the prophets, only a couple passages, of which this is the first and the strongest, that God “will swallow up death forever.” 

God will pull back the sheet that covers our dead faces. God will remove the shroud, which means both death itself and the shadow of death upon our lives before we die.

Can we combine these images for the sake of your ministry, Rachel, that even though we all have to die, you have something to set on the table before us which removes the shadow of death? Will you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemy, my final enemy?

The marvelous feast of rich food which God will set before us is for the future, for eternal life, the celestial banquet, but is it not also for now, are we not already in it, partially perhaps, not yet fully so, for God has not yet “wiped away every tear,” so it’s a promise for which we wait, but can you not already set rich food on the tables of those whom you serve, in hospital or in church or the street?

Yes, sometimes we need no more than baby food, or clear broth in times of spiritual sickness, or sometimes simple comfort food, but we believe that a minister of the Word and sacraments can set before the people of God a table rich with nourishment and flavor and spice and delight.

What a shame that we reject the feast of such rich food. You see that in the parable in the Gospel. We are invited to the feast, and we decline the invitation. We’re busy, so we’ll just get take-out. The rich feast means sitting down and waiting. To enjoy the rich feast means you have to give up what you were doing and sit down, and be served, and give in to your host’s agenda for a while. But you’re too busy, or too self-involved, or too proud, or too afraid, or both, and you’d rather keep control and just go where you can get on line and look up at the menu selections and order the happy meal you want for-here-or-to-go. “I cannot come,” they all repeat, “I can’t, I just can’t.”

You can avoid God yourself but you can’t stop God from having God’s own good pleasure, and it’s God’s party. So that God’s house may be full, God invites the uninvited. Okay, so then you go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Do that today and you will find those people mostly in clinics and emergency rooms and waiting rooms and nursing homes and institutions and hospices and hospitals.

I can imagine why they might say, “I cannot come.” I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything, I’m stuck here. They’re stuck, right, for a few days, for a few years? So, Rachel, you’ve got a captive audience. I wonder, does their captivity make them less open or more open to your invitation to come to the table you are setting before them right there in their captivity? In the very presence of their enemy, their ailment, their disability, their death? Well, I guess that’s your mission, to find out.

If this parable has any modern relevance, then it seems to me that a modern hospital is place not just for ministry but mission. I doubt that Rachel has been telling people that she is going to be a missionary, and I’m not talking about her using her captive audience to sign up new Christians. But listen, the Reformed Church in America defines the word “missions” to mean “crossing cultural boundaries to witness in word and deed to the Kingdom of God,” and it is very true that a modern American hospital has a distinct and peculiar culture, and to enter the doors of a hospital is to cross a cultural boundary, and if you cross that boundary to witness in the particular words and deeds of chaplaincy to the Kingdom of God, then it’s mission.

I am saying that a hospital chaplain is a missionary in terms of this parable. Your mission is not recruiting, for your people have already been recruited by their ailments. Their illnesses and disabilities have already gathered them from all the streets and lanes of the town. It’s now your job to set the table before them, lavishly and recklessly. It’s your job to set them a bountiful table of rich food and well-aged wines.

You knew that already, Rachel, or you felt it, which is why you chose these passages. So now, what is this rich food? I mean beyond the obvious food and wine of Holy Communion? How do these rich images suggest your ministry? Well, the images in Isaiah are both positive and negative, the positive offered and the negative removed, the offering of the feast and the removal of the shroud and the sheet of death.

So let me suggest that the offering of the positive is your ministry of the Word and sacraments. You know, the objective gift of the promises of God and the means of grace. The reading of the gospel and the recitation of the Psalter. The Psalms in the ear, the oil on the skin, the bread and wine within the mouth. These all the feed the soul and nourish and strengthen and comfort it.

And then let me suggest that the removal of the negative is your ministry of presence, your person, your body and your soul within the room, your personal light and your personal hope and the example of your faith. You pull back the sheet. Your own hope pulls back the shroud. So you have these two things to offer. The good news and your own life. Your life for the good news.

In just a few minutes, just after we lay hands on you, you will read out loud the Declaration for Ministers. It’s one of the most wonderful treasures of the Reformed Church. We don’t exactly know who wrote it. Some committee. The church wrote it. When you read that Declaration, you will say that you "pledge your life to the good news of salvation in Christ." That is a reckless and lavish and audacious pledge. Your life. It could be said that you are throwing away your life. Losing it to gain it.

If I think about your life, I think about that great and marvelous landscape of your mind and soul inside you. Into that great landscape your parents planted very many different kinds of seeds. Others did too, but your parents mostly. And those seeds have sprouted and grown and are bearing much fruit within you, sixty fold, a hundred fold. And you take that bounty into the kitchen of your mind and then you come back out with dishes of rich food to set upon the tray-tables of your people.

Is it hospital food? Yes, but it’s rich because it is a medium. It’s portions and pieces of God.

I mean, isn’t that what’s at stake, especially in a hospital, the question of God? Why would God let this happen to me? If there’s a God, why is God allowing this? Is this all God has for me at the end of my life? Why would I even believe in God anymore? Rachel, you have to be a theologian in your job. It’s God you represent as much as comfort and hope and healing. The food you set is the pieces of God’s self, it’s the food of love, because if at these times of trial and sickness, if people can still believe in love, then they can believe in God, and if they believe in God, then they can believe in love.

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 18, Epiphany 2, The Mission #8: Listening to Listening

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Twenty years ago I was leading a youth group on a backpacking trip in the Adirondacks, and we saw this beautiful, rushing mountain stream, say fifteen yards wide, and I asked our guide what it was, and I was taken aback when she said it was the Hudson River. That’s not how I always pictured the Hudson River.

But the Hudson is like that for its northern half, rapid and tumbling in the mountains, then winding through the hills, until just north of Albany. There already it hits sea level, and the tide reaches that far north, so from Albany south the Hudson is essentially a tidal estuary, and the southward flow of its water is in a constant back-and-forth with the rising and falling tide.

Then between Newburgh and West Point the estuary becomes a fjord, like in Scandinavia, a sunken valley reaching inland from the sea, and the water begins to get salty already at Peekskill. Is the Tappan Zee a river or a sea? Where does the river end and the sea begin?

Why this illustration? A couple years ago, one of you asked me the question why God doesn’t speak to us anymore like in Bible days. A very good question. And my answer is that in Bible days God spoke to us like the upper Hudson and in post-Biblical days like the lower Hudson.

In the Old Testament and up through Jesus, God spoke rarely but directly, like a small swift river, clear and definite, and then after Jesus, God speaks to us like the lower Hudson, with its mixing of waters back-and-forth, and you can’t tell where God’s voice ends and our own minds begin.

Look, in our First Reading, God spoke directly to little Samuel. What God said to little Samuel was one thing, and what Samuel thought about it was another. There was no mixing. And when Samuel reported it to old Eli he recited it, word for word.

But in the Gospel we see the Lord Jesus beginning something else, setting up a new way of God speaking, the way of conversation. He gathers a group of companions, who will engage in conversation, and it’s in the conversation that God will speak, in the back-and-forth, in the mixing of God’s word and our own thoughts, so thoroughly mixed that you can’t tell where God’s voice ends and your own thoughts begin.

Do you want God to talk to you? Maybe not. God might tell you something that will tingle your ears and keep you awake all night. But if you do want God to talk to you, then you have to become a companion in the community of Jesus and join the conversation. Not just the easy conversation at coffee hour, but the conversation with the Lord Jesus at the center, who says, “Follow me,” which for us means “Follow me into the Bible,” and as you follow his stories and follow his teachings and talk about it all together, then God will speak to you.

It will be God, although you can never neatly distinguish God’s voice from your own thoughts or separate God’s voice from the back-and-forth of dialogue, and though it will not be the clear, sharp voice of a mountain stream, it will be God’s voice. That’s the way that Our Lord Jesus began to set it up with his companions.

It is worth contrasting to our sister religion of Islam. The Holy Koran is absolutely a recitation, word for word, from the single voice of the angel Gabriel. It is not a conversation, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not mix one of his own thoughts in. He had companions, who are important in Islam, but they did not contribute to the Holy Koran.

 But the Lord Jesus let his companions share in giving the revelation and he speaks to us only through their artfully written-down memories in the gospels and their thoughtful reflections in the epistles. Into this conversation between the four gospels, and them with the epistles, and all of them with the Old Testament, Jesus says to follow him.

This gives us room, and room for us to have our own conversation with the Bible. The Bible is like your lover, not your boss. There is play in your relationship with it. Like with our Gospel. Did you notice the playful banter between Jesus and Nathanael? What’s going on here, we ask?

Why did Nathanael insult the natives of Nazareth? We don’t know. Why did Jesus call him "an Israelite with no guile"? Was he teasing him or giving him credit as a very innocent man? When Jesus said that he had seen him sitting under the fig tree, the natural reading is that Jesus had spotted him along the road as all the pilgrims were heading home to Galilee, and he drew his conclusions about Nathanael from the circumstance. Or did Jesus see him with prophetic sight? We guess the latter but are not told so.

Why does the skeptical Nathanael now suddenly make the improbable leap from rabbi to royalty, that a rabbi should be the promised king of Israel? We are not told. Is this meant by the author to anticipate, at the beginning of his story, the greater leap of Doubting Thomas at the end of the story? And then what does Jesus mean by his very strange image of the angels going up and down to heaven on him? Are we to imagine him stretched out and elongated like he himself is Jacob’s ladder, or does he carry the angels piggyback on the stairway to heaven? What image is this?

The Word of God pushes us off a bit, it makes space in us. It pushes you off a bit so that you can’t get close enough to God for you to have God to yourself, but also to make room for community and to require that community for you to hear God’s voice. This means that one of our missions as a community of Jesus is to offer each other the active space that we can hear God’s voice together. Not some distinct angelic voice, but through the medium of our mixed-up back-and-forth conversation around the word of God.

Your part in this is to host each other’s listening, to make space in your life and in your opinions for you to host other people listening for God. And what I mean by this is not so much that you listen to what they are saying, as that you listen to them listening. Yes, you listen to them listening. In the community of Jesus you are companions who listen to each other listen for God.

We treasure the right to freedom of speech. But more important is your obligation to listen. That’s what love does. I’m thinking about the latest cover cartoon of Charlie Hebdo. In secular terms, the magazine has every right to publish a caricature of the prophet Mohammed. But in Christian terms, I would hesitate. As St. Paul says in our Second Reading, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” Freedom of speech has no value if the community is not obliged to listen, always to listen, always to give space to listen. It’s safety of speech as much as freedom of speech. That’s what dictators do not do and what tyrants will not do, they will hear but they will not listen. Freedom of speech is a precious right. The obligation to listen is more precious, but it cannot be enforced, and that’s because it depends on love. It’s an obligation of the community of Jesus.

This community is textured. We have our various roles within it, and I have mine. When I was in third grade, in the St. John’s Lutheran School over on Myrtle Avenue, I was Samuel in a school play, and so my mother made me a yarmulka and a robe, and I had to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant heareth.” That's what I do all week when I prepare my sermons. And in my preparations, when I listen for God to speak, I don’t wait for a distinctly heavenly voice, but I depend on God to speak through my using the tools of historical and literary analysis, and from my thinking about you all and the give-and-take of what you need to hear.

Tomorrow night is our consistory meeting. Our job is to discern God’s will for our congregation. We cannot and we should not try to separate that from the all-mixed-up experience of our church.

Neither should you in your own life. You hear the lessons and the sermon and you use your head to apply it to the give-and-take of your own life. God’s voice in you will not be clear and direct, but rising and falling and mixed-up in your thoughts and conversation. So I want you to listen to the listening of others as you all deal with these strange stories from the Bible. In their very strangeness is their freshness and their room.

What is God up to, since Jesus, to speak in this indirect communal way? God’s mission is to turn you into a certain kind of people, a people less passive than the old priest Eli, waiting for God to say what God will say, and more like Samuel, ready to get up and answer with your lives, and more like Nathanael, making leaps beyond your certainty.

"Come and see." See what? You won’t know till you see it.
"Follow me." Where? You won’t know till you follow.
Follow him into your own life, but not your life as self-contained and independent, rather your own life within a community who listen to each other listening. That takes love. God speaks this way that to hear it requires that you practice love.

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

January 11, First Sunday after Epiphany, The Mission #7, "Walking Wet"

Baptism of Jesus, Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

We know that the earliest Christian movement was not monolithic. There were various groups and doctrines and it took some time to sort things out. As you would expect.

To begin with, there had been a larger renewal movement going on in Judaism when John was baptizing, and around him one part of that movement coalesced. Not all of John’s movement went over to the Lord Jesus. John’s disciples saw Jesus as an ally, but not all them followed him. He had disappointed them. He was not fiery enough, and not saving Israel in the political and economic way they expected of the Messiah.

We know that even after John’s death at the hands of Herod, his movement continued in the Jewish diaspora of the Roman Empire. These disciples of John continued to repent so that God would forgive the sins of Israel and give it that political liberation which they could go back home to.

The movements of John and Jesus sometimes overlapped, and some of the John groups evolved into Jesus groups when they heard the news that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and so they had to adjust their beliefs and expectations, such as whether they should expect to meet the fullness of God’s saving presence only in Jerusalem or maybe right there where they were, in pagan Ephesus, for example.

To get close to God, don’t we go to the Holy City, or does God come to find us here? Is the temple in Jerusalem the dwelling place for God’s Spirit or dare we think that God’s Spirit may fully dwell in us? And then, is God’s Spirit like a fire or like a dove? Is it the Spirit of judgment or the Spirit of peace? What about what John expected? Do we have to lose John to gain Jesus?

There is always both losing and gaining in religion. In Holy Baptism there is losing and gaining. The losing is in the repentance, in the surrender, when you give up, when you lose yourself. The gaining is in the Holy Spirit, that God has come to find you to dwell in you, and the Spirit is in you to help you find yourself. You gain enlightenment, when within you God says, “Let there be light,” you gain illumination for your vision of yourself.

You gain your new creation of yourself and the beginning of an evolution in you, and it will take its time, because God is very slow. Not millions of years as with the evolution of God’s creation, but months and seasons and decades with you, and the rest of your life of discipleship is always both your losing and your gaining.

For the disciples of John in pagan Ephesus there was losing in the gaining. To be able to speak God’s word in any language now implied the loss of the special privilege of their Hebrew. To be full of God’s indwelling Spirit implied they must let go of their patriotic dreams for the temple in Jerusalem, and even the privilege of their Jewish ethnicity. They will have to adjust their ethics from preservation to participation. Do we have to blend in now?

Is that what it means for the Holy Spirit to speak in any language indiscriminately? Is God just blending in? Is that God’s mission? Where’s our edge? Religion needs an edge. Where’s our boundary, religion needs boundaries. Is this how it will feel, from now on? Will it always feel so fluid, so liquid, like walking on water?

Well, yes, or if not on the water then in it and through it all the time. You’re always kind of wet. I mean, if you’re in Christ, then you’re as wet as he is when he comes out of the water. Maybe that’s why the Spirit came as a dove, because the Lord Jesus was too wet for the fire which John expected.

This dove above the water of the river evokes the dove that Noah sent out from the ark to fly above the receding of the Flood, and bringing back to Noah’s hand the olive branch of peace. The water evokes the waters at Creation, that ancient deep, which God blew upon, and the warm breath from God’s mouth brought life into the void.

In another way of translating the Hebrew of Genesis 1, the Spirit of God brooded upon the face the deep like a bird upon a nest, so that the warmth of God’s Spirit softened up the formless void enough for it to hear God’s Word and obey, and suddenly the darkness of the deep was illuminated by the light. And God saw the light, and it was good.

The creation story gets recapitulated in the baptism of Jesus. The voice that said, “Let there be light,” now says, “You are my son.” The breath of God over the face of the waters is now the dove above the river. Creation begets the new creation, new life rising out of the water, the Light of the World, and God saw his light, and God saw that he was good, and God said, “In you I am well pleased.”

Your own baptism means many things, even if you don’t remember it; it is the sign of many wonders. You are adopted as God’s child. You are incorporated into Christ, and included in his death and resurrection. You receive the Holy Spirit, in which the whole of God dwells in you as God’s temple.

It means your new creation, the creation of the new you, your second nature, never separated from your old nature, always together, the new one always converting the old one and forgiving it, even loving it as it slowly dies away, until you die and only your new one will be left. That’s the losing in the gaining. It means enlightenment, so that you recognize God’s Word for you and for the world. It means illumination, that you can envision your way in the world. And it means repentance, when you lose yourself, but you lose yourself in God.

You are baptized only once, for all of your life, but no matter how far off it was, the reality of it is not maintained by you or by your faithfulness, the reality of it is maintained by God. It doesn’t matter that you don’t remember it, because God does, because God, outside of time, is holding that sign in sight. God sees you as wet.

I’m not the first one to describe the Christian life as “walking wet”. The phrase combines the New Testament image of baptismal water with the Old Testament image of halakhah, the Hebrew word for walking, for life with God as a “long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson).

We are calling our new adult discipleship program The Walk, which we initiate today, by welcoming our eight new Walkers. It’s our modern version of an ancient practice called the Catechumenate, and our eight participants would be called Catechumens. It’s ancient in the mystical way that it integrates the mysteries of the sacraments as well as the holidays of the Christian calendar which connect us to the life of Christ.

On this first Sunday of Epiphany is the Rite of Welcome, when we rejoice in what we gain. On the first Sunday of Lent they will come before us again for the Rite of the Cross, and Lent is when we look at what we lose. They walk towards Easter, actually Easter Eve, when we will initiate the ancient worship service of the Easter Vigil, the time for baptisms and for confirmations of previous baptisms. That service will be quite wet. The Christian life is “walking wet.”

Thirteen years ago, when I came here, I told the search committee of my vision for The Walk. Well, now it’s time. God is slow, but God is always on time. I envision it as not just for these eight, but for the benefit of all of you who are hosting them, for the benefit of our congregation, that it may enhance the passionate spirituality that we have long desired. You will welcome them today and you will bless them. Enjoy them, project yourself on them, pray for them as they will pray for you, and let their walking wet encourage you in your own walk with God.

On them you can see God’s mission. I have been saying that God’s great general mission is to save and renew the world, including the creation that God made, and that you have your own part to contribute to that. At the same time God’s mission is to save and renovate each individual one of you. Each one of you is like the whole world to God.

I don’t mean that you are at the center of the universe, sorry. That’s what you have to lose. What you gain is the presence in your life of the God who is at the center of the universe. What you gain is light in your life, so that your life is not a formless void, nor deep darkness, but everything in you gets illuminated, so that you can see God’s purpose in what you thought was the void of your life, and God’s meaning in what you worried was the formlessness of your life. You gain peace with yourself.

It takes a while. You know it took billions of years for God’s creation to evolve the eye to see God’s light. God is slow, but always on time. It is God’s light that makes you able to see God’s light. It is God’s voice that makes you able to hear God’s voice. It is God’s Spirit that makes you able to believe it when God says this to you: “You are my child, my beloved, and in you I am well-pleased.”

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.