This is a sermon I preached on Pentecost. As the semester has ended and we prepare to transition to summer, I wanted to leave you with these words to ponder over the summer.
As many of you may know, we were supposed to have a baptism in the 10:30 service, a service where the body of Christ welcomes a new member. I decided to keep the sermon, because it is too easy for us to forget one of our foundational covenants as Episcopalians. There are several powerful moments in that service, but I want to focus on two.
And this is the congregational participation aspect of the sermon. I want you to open your Prayer Books to page 304 and follow along. The first is the Baptismal Covenant. Not only do the parents and godparents make a covenant with God for the child being baptized, we are all invited to renew our own baptismal covenant.
The Baptismal Covenant
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father? We must ask ourselves, “Do I really believe in God, and if I do, what is God’s nature? Do I trust that God is ever-present? Is God pulling the strings, or supporting me as I deal with life?
Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? How can someone who has a physical body and can be killed also be God? Do I believe Jesus died for my sins, or is there a deeper understanding of his life, death and resurrection?
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? I remember when it used to be Holy Ghost. Scary stuff for kids. And what does it mean, the Spirit is an outpouring of the love between the God and Jesus?
These questions in themselves could take up the whole sermon, but I really want to focus on the next section – the actions of the Baptismal Covenant.
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? If you ask my former parishioners from Christ Church in Biddeford what recurring theme they heard about discipleship, they would say, “Show Up!” How can we live fully into our discipleship if we aren’t continually praying together, hearing and digesting the Word, and sharing in Holy Communion? We can’t. Good theology, growing discipleship, supportive relationships only occur in community. We commit ourselves to showing up each week so we are able to do God’s work the remainder of the week.
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? First, we have to come to an understanding of what we mean by evil, sin and repentance. We sin when we turn our backs on God. We commit evil when we deliberately hurt, cheat, kill, or alienate another. Repentance means that we acknowledge our own egos and insecurity and turn ourselves back to God. Episcopalians are often not comfortable with the concepts of sin and evil. Those words challenge the “reason” leg of the 3-legged stool of Anglican theology. But if we don’t come to terms with them, we are destined to continue to separate ourselves from God.
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? This is also a hard one for Episcopalians. We don’t do the “E” word – evangelization, very well, or not at all for some of us. But why? Why are we keeping the secret to ourselves? We have a powerful story to tell. If we really believe what we say we believe, that God wants to share God’s reconciling love with everyone, why don’t we want to invite people to the table? It has been painfully clear to me as I interact with our neighbors at the Seeds of Hope Jubilee Center, that many or most of them have never had anyone tell them they are precious children of God – that they are loved and forgiven. It’s our job to convey this message. If not us, then who? There are deeply wounded souls all around us, desperate to know God. Be that messenger!
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I have a confession. This is sometimes the hardest of all the covenant promises for me to keep. There have been many times in my life, especially since I was ordained, that it was hard to see Christ in specific persons. One example I can share is the double homicide that happened in Biddeford several years ago just a block from our Center. The convicted killer came to Seeds of Hope weekly, sometimes daily. We thought we knew him. He could be obnoxious, but we never believed he was capable of murder. And as the trial and sentencing progressed, it became clear that he was continuing to inflict as much pain as possible on the family of the victims. I really struggled to see Christ in him. But the beauty of the Baptismal Covenant is the response we give at each promise. “I will, with God’s help.” Some things are too hard for us to do alone. But we are reminded that God will support us when it is too hard keeping the covenant alone.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Again, drawing upon our work at Seeds of Hope, many of our neighbors regularly have to depend on others for basic survival; for food, for clean clothing, for another person to acknowledge their humanity. The very foundation of Jubilee Ministry is Mercy and Justice – partnering with the poor and oppressed where ever they are found, working to provide immediate assistance where needed, and seeking to address those circumstances that keep people in need. A big task, but worthy of our efforts, as we have promised to keep in the Baptismal Covenant.
Any of us who take that covenant seriously have powerful work before us. We don’t just keep the covenant on days of Baptism or just on Sunday. We must choose every day to keep our word. We choose every day to put our faith in front of our interactions with our loved ones, in front of our co-workers and the ethical ways in which we conduct ourselves in business or education, politics or volunteering. What I mean by putting our faith in front of us is that we remind ourselves from where our values, morals, passion come. Taking the Baptismal Covenant seriously requires that level of intentionality.
The second part of the Baptism service I will briefly highlight is this prayer that follows the baptism. I believe it to be one of the most beautiful in the Prayer Book, page 308. It is a guide for us as to how we hope to raise our children in the Church and how we continue to deepen in our faith as adults. What do we need to be growing in our discipleship? What do we pray for?
- Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.
- Give them an inquiring and discerning heart,
- the courage to will and to persevere,
- a spirit to know and to love you,
- and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
Just listen to these qualities we should all strive to achieve. If we can nurture the community of faith in these qualities as we grow in the body of Christ, we will indeed be disciples that will be sustained by the love of God and will be reflections of that love to the world. The baptismal covenant and following prayer will be the part of the sustenance of the community. And today when you receive communion following those holy words, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you…” remember that it too will nourish our journey. Amen.