Today, we celebrate God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in the baptism of Thomas and Stephanie. God promises in his Word to cleanse them from sin and lift them up to new life, eternal life, in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Of course, they have no idea that this is what God is doing! Their parents, with their godparents and all of us in the church coming alongside, will promise to raise them up both with the bread that fills our bellies—with countless feedings, bottles, diapers, and all the rest—and also with the bread of life, that they may know one day the breadth and depth of God’s love for them, and God’s merciful forgiveness that’s there for them whenever they fall.
We might try to quiet the roar of discomfort in our hearts with liquor or with food, we might try to save and keep hold of things to comfort us, we might retreat into ourselves -- leaving our communities and relationships with just a blank stare and no response. Even these things become false gods, just like more commonly preached-against evils like the love of money or an addiction to security and insulation from anyone different from you.
Here’s the thing about each of those, and any other thing that draws us from the love of God: false gods can only be used, they can never be enjoyed. They’re made to stuff down the real desires and loves of our lives, to silence the injustice and pain that resides in our broken hearts, false gods numb rather than heal. Only God, the God made known in Jesus Christ, is equipped to heal, to transform, to make new, to feed and nourish and quell thirst and bring new life.
The prophet Jeremiah was not what you would call an optimistic man, but he was a hopeful man. In the midst of a dark time when good shepherds were few and far between, he had trust in the God of Israel whose name meant faithfulness itself. We are called to be good shepherds too, to bear witness to the Good Shepherd who cares for us all.
Far from the superficial assumption that “everything goes better with Jesus,” it’s closer to the truth that signing up with Jesus is going to bring us a lot more trouble, loss, and heartache in this life than we bargained for.
There’s a wonderful hymn written by the Mississippi poet William Alexander Percy that sums up the lives of suffering to which Christ called his twelve disciples: Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew, the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too. Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died. Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified. The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.
Being redeemed, forgiven, reconciled to God, we are reminded of this world that God longs to come to fruition here and now. When we gather every Sunday at church, we are reminding each other and ourselves of the good, beautiful, and true Kingdom of God that is in our midst. How ever we become forgetful during the week, the china on the altar table is there to remind us. Whatever isolation or desperation or ill-health or financial worries we face during the week, the words of our prayers and of God’s Word to us jogs our memory and sets us back on the path of his perspective, the road of his kingdom.
At St. Augustine’s, we believe that every person, from the newborn with their special, squishy ministry of gentleness, and family healing, to the elderly with their wisdom and their great sense of peace, to the widow who loves to cook for busy young families, to the hobbyist carpenter who joyfully builds a handicapped ramp, every one is a gift to the community.
Each person, by virtue of breathing is a blessed offering that God has made to his church. Every one of you is a present to be unwrapped and cherished by the people in the pews next to you, by the people in our neighborhoods, and by the people in our city and world.
The wounds that Jesus’s body sustained on the cross weren’t just wiped away and sewn up during his three days in the tomb; Jesus’s resurrected body still had nail marks and the hole which the spear had made. Jesus’s body here and now, the community of the church, cannot in truth just brush off all traces of the dividing walls and begin again as if nothing has ever been amiss.
So we have something to learn from the punks, who do not shy away from telling the truth, from calling others to account, from facing up to their own sins. But we add to it the grace which we read in Ephesians and throughout all of Scripture, that as we face our sins and darkness, as individuals and families, communities and countries, we are redeemed, forgiven, gifted with grace to love well, to turn from our sin and to live in the humble and freeing exposure of God’s great light that is Jesus Christ.