Revelation & Revolution
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Nils Chittenden
Sunday, JUNE 10th, 2018 - THE BAPTISM OF JOSEPH BUONASSISI
In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that the Bible readings each week are set for us on a three-year cycle. That means I can’t just choose my own readings, where we’d end up with my favorites, and the ones which were easiest to preach about.
Nonetheless, anticipating today, and the fact that we have this wonderful, joyous occasion of Joey’s baptism, with his friends and family gathered together, I really did hope that what we’d be given today as our readings would be, well, at least somewhat joyful, and a little bit feel-good, leaving us all with that inner glow of having been touched by the up-beat loveliness of warm and reassuring readings.
So, with all that in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I looked up the readings. "Oh. Well, that's just great..."
First, a reading from St. Paul where he talks about suffering, afflictions, and the general hardship of existence, and then, second, one of the most confrontational scenes in the gospels, with Jesus being driven to the point of despair by clamoring crowds, being accused of being in league with Satan, denouncing the religious leaders of the day in the strongest possible terms, and then sidelining his family who, deeply concerned for his welfare, had come to take him back home.
“Well, thank you very much”, I (sarcastically) said to myself, “this was not what I had in mind”.
Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was being given an opportunity with these readings. You see, at face value, they seem to be dark and gloomy but dig a little bit deeper, and they are anything but. And, actually, they are great readings to have at a celebration of baptism; I’ll say why in a few minutes’ time.
It’s easy to go onto autopilot in church, isn’t it? The readings. Yada yada. The archaic words. The priest doing his thing up at the altar. It’s easy to let everything pass one by. Myself included, too. Familiarity can breed sterility. We become so used to our expectations of church that it becomes routine, or worse, becomes tedious, or worse still, becomes boring, or even worse than that, becomes irrelevant.
It’s easy to forget that what we are here for today is not only more relevant than almost anything we could imagine, but it is revolutionary.
In a few moments’ time, Joey’s parents and godparents are going to be declaring revolutionary stuff in front of everyone here. I know it might not seem that revolutionary, because we are so used to going onto autopilot here in church. But it is revolutionary stuff, believe me.
Yesterday I was one of the clergy from this town staffing the Armonk Faith Alliance booth at the Fol-de-Rol country fair which, even as we speak, is gearing up for its second day right over the road from where we are sitting.
Our booth was a simple concept – we had some post-it notes, a large bulletin board and some push pins and anyone passing by could stop for a second, write down a prayer request and then we would promise to pray that prayer for that person.
Then, on the table next to the board we had a whole bunch of little jars, each containing sand, the sand in each dyed a different color. So, you’d say a prayer, then scoop some sand and pour it into a tall glass vase. Gradually, as more people prayed, you’d get layers of different colors building up – like geological strata – a record of people sharing their hopes and fears with God.
I once learned a fact about sand. Now every time I scoop sand, I can’t not think of it, as I did yesterday at our Fol-de-Rol booth. In an average handful of sand, there is, roughly, give or take one or two grains, a million grains. A million. That’s a lot of grains. Then imagine all of the grains on a beach on, say, Lake George. An inconceivably large number. But then think of all the grains of sand on every beach in New York, and then all the beaches of the Atlantic coast, and then all the sand on all the beaches of North America. We could not even begin to imagine the magnitude of that number, it is so vast. And then think of all the grains of sand on every beach on every continent on this planet that we live on. I don’t know about you, but it makes my brain hurt to even try to imagine what that number might look like. Trillions upon trillions upon trillions.
And now, imagine you’re lying on the beach looking up at the night sky, and all the stars you can see. And here’s the thing: there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on this planet. And who knows how many universes there are.
And in a moment, all of us will say together something called the Baptismal Covenant. In it we will attest to the existence of an entity, a divine being, a good and kind force of love who created not only every one of those grains of sand, and every one of those stars in the sky, but also created each one of us, who we call God, and if that itself were not remarkable enough, that God arranged it that each and every one of us was totally and completely unique, that there was no other creation in existence exactly the same as each one of us, and…. and… that God knows each and every one of those creations… us….and that each and every one of us is infinitely loved by God.
And then, as if this were not amazing enough a thing to publicly attest to, we will attest that this God, outside of space and time, who created every grain of sand and every living creature on this earth, decided, through his love for us, to be both outside space and time, but also to enter space and time – to become a human being in order to be with us and to show us how much he loves us, and to be one of us in order to arrange a show-down with the forces of evil, resulting in the God of all creation being nailed to a cross in first century Palestine.
When one puts it like that, you can see how that is anything but rote, anything but yada yada. This is revolutionary stuff.
And this is why Joey’s parents and godparents, on his behalf, in just a few moments, will say that they will renounce evil and, when falling into sin, that they will turn to Christ and place their trust in his love.
And that is why, in a moment, we will publicly declare, that we will ‘strive for justice and peace among all people’, and ‘respect the dignity of every human being’.
And, again, it’s easy to go onto autopilot when we are saying this stuff. Easy for us to go onto autopilot when you are listening to me saying this stuff. But let’s never forget how important these declarations are. Because when we strive for justice and peace among all peoples, then the implications of that are huge: implications which are going to affect everything. Striving for justice and peace is going to affect how you behave at school, at home, at work when you get to the workplace, and every day for the rest of your life.
And for all of us, just by coming here today, and by coming to church week by week, we align ourselves with these ideals, and with the ways in which they require to examine ourselves and ask ourselves the question, in every situation: ‘what’s the right thing to do here, what would God want me to do?’ [And in the full knowledge that doing the right thing might well make our lives more difficult, not easier.]
We have the opportunity, every day, to bring God’s light to the world. I know that might sound a bit grand, when our daily existence typically consists of trying to get out of the house on time, looking vaguely presentable, or trying to get a parking spot at the grocery store. But, believe me, in everything, we have the opportunity to be light to the world. And if everyone strove for justice and peace, and not only respected the dignity of every human being, but recognized it, too, then not only would wars, famine and bloodshed not exist, but our everyday interactions would be flooded with kindness too. So, next time you are tempted to cut in front of someone on Interstate 287, or get mad with the sales associate, or barely to notice the person who just mopped the floors of the public restroom you’re in, then remember that declaration we made about the ‘dignity of every human being’.
I know it’s an old cliché, but old clichés are old clichés for a reason. Joey, today is the first day of the rest of your life. And the same is true whether you are about to turn one, or whether you are about to turn fifteen, or turn fifty, or whether fifty seems just a distant memory.
At the end of the baptism rite, I will declare God’s blessing on Joey, but may we all know that God’s blessing is on us, and that his blessing strengthens each one of us to start afresh our commitment to doing the right thing, to seeing the hand of God in our lives, and to seeing the face of God in everyone we meet.
And this is why those readings that we had are just the right ones for today: because what could be more fitting for a baptism than readings that talk about the fact that, despite the sufferings and hardships that life will unquestionably bring to all of us, we know that we do not have to face those things alone and that Christ is with us through them all, and that we know that those things are temporary, passing, and that what awaits us is an eternity of life in all its fullness – everlasting joy and happiness, brought about, as Jesus says in that gospel reading we heard, because he – the embodiment of everything which is good, has once and for all and for ever and evermore neutralized and crushed any power which sin, pain and death had over us. That is truly good news.