February 17, 2019 Theodore's Baptism
Most of you know I have been trying to learn Greek on-line. So far, it has been a lot of vocabulary. I made myself flashcards with the Greek word on one side and its English equivalent on the other. And I've divided my flashcards into 3 piles; one with verbs, one with words I know basically 100%, and third the ones I really struggle with. My most recent test, I got 20 of 21 verbs, 45 of 46 I should've gotten 100% and I got 51 of 61 in my struggle pile; the best I've ever done.
I'm getting to a point here. Two words in my know-well pile come into play today. Theos means God. Doran means gift. Theosdoran-God's gift. Theodore's name means God's gift or gift of God. And we celebrate Theo today as a gift of God.
In today's gospel, we read Luke's account of the beatitudes; we see in them a sense of times of doubt and tears and impatience. Luke's point, if we suffer now, God has blessings in store in the future. All the beatitudes are full of richness and mystery and many books have been written and sermons given on what they mean. Today, I want to look at these blessings that Luke promises in light of what we may face in life that doesn't seem much like blessings to us. These beatitudes in Luke are different than the gospel of Matthew's more well known version and I'd like to compare a bit.
First, the beatitudes Luke gives us are not in any sense spiritualized. If we do a little comparison, Matthew's first blessing says blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke is real world; blessed are the poor. Period. Of course Jesus didn't leave it there, “for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew records, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” In this passage called the sermon on the plain, Luke records Jesus being more direct, “blessed are you who are hungry now.” Again, the blessing is not being hungry, but that Jesus promises “for you will be filled.” Did that mean that very day? No. did it mean soon? Probably not. We should remember that Luke was writing for a particular crowd. I doubt he had any idea we would be studying his words so intently 2000 later. But God's Spirit worked in such a way that Luke's word's become for us the word of God.
Let's consider what type of a congregation Luke might have been writing to. And I quote Fr Michel's blog here to help bring into focus who Luke was writing to using a bit of imagination, “Many of Luke’s congregations must have been desperately poor, most had literally fallen through the cracks. There’s a poor woman just diagnosed with breast cancer in a world that provides treatment only to those with adequate insurance. And two pews in front is a young man with HIV who can’t afford to pay for his medication and is too fearful to tell his family. There’s a young woman with anorexia; she’s unwittingly bought into the lie that to be thin is the ultimate goal for every woman. Near her is a working mother who holds her last paycheck, sitting next to a student on academic probation who just flunked chemistry, across from an alcoholic wondering if he can maybe take a few dollars out of the basket when offertory time comes.
Luke’s Jesus is not only very near to these people; Luke’s Jesus identifies with them. His Jesus doesn’t stand alone on some mountaintop but comes out from behind the altar and walks among the people. 'Blessed are you who are crying right now,' he says, 'for you are going to laugh. You will laugh because God is already at work resurrecting your failures, transforming your sorrows.'
I think Luke's beatitudes work on this day when we celebrate the culmination of 6 years of waiting for a baby. The journey from tears of sorrow to tears of joy has not been easy. I so appreciate the way these two, but especially Katie, shared their pain and their hope. And not only their pain, but the pain of so many with reproductive issues. And we rejoice today, but with a measure of understanding that not every empty womb is filled. Not every couple praying for a baby receives the answer they seek. And the hard part can be to realize that God is every bit as loving, every bit as omnipotent, every bit as invested in those lives as in this miracle we witness today. God is not only God when everything is going good and our prayers are being answered. God is God in the valley, in the bad diagnosis, in the loneliness; with the hungry, the poor, the persecuted. In truth, the beatitudes are eschatological. There is no promise of fulfillment in the here and now. The promise is to be fulfilled when God's kingdom comes, God's will is done. We get glimpses of blessings now, but in truth the full blessing comes in the fullness of time.
Our Old Testament lesson speaks to this same idea. In it, Jeremiah is contrasting two trees, one in the midst of the desert the other on the banks of a stream. Julie and I saw lots of brown shrubs in the desert even though it is the rainy season in Israel. Here's what Jeremiah had to say, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,”
Then he contrasts those who do not put their trust in the Lord with those who do, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
This is another kind of beatitude; woe if we put our trust in human beings, blessings to those who trust in the Lord. For we don't panic when things are not going our way, we trust in the Lord. The Lord can remove fear, the Lord is the source of life, in the Lord's time, blessings come to those who trust. But part of trust is action. Trusting the Lord doesn't mean sit back and do nothing. We are called to live out our faith; to take action to right wrongs and to reach out to others in love. It is so easy to wallow in our misery and then to question why God hasn't changed things. Often, God has provided everything we need to make things right and it is up to us to put action behind our prayers.
There is that second part of beatitudes, the woes that Jesus listed. There is the reality that in this life, most all of us will live in both ends of the spectrum; times of joy and times of sorrow, times of richness and satisfaction, times of hunger and need. Ecclesiastes is often quoted, there is a time to laugh and a time to weep. The difference in how this affects us, whether it is blessing or woe, is our level of trust in the faithfulness of God. Faithfulness that doesn't rely on everything going our way can be full of joy and happiness; faithfulness that says we are blessed when we recognize God's claim on our lives. The claim that says we are children of God; the claim that says we walk in God's care even through the valleys of life and death; the claim that says it is not our goodness that brings us salvation, but God's rich gift of grace in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We celebrate today that newness of life in Christ Jesus in the baptism of a baby who cannot feed, bathe, change himself; helpless-- just as we are helpless in the face of our sin. But God, who is so rich in mercy, even while we were dead in our sins, has made us alive in Christ Jesus. And so we confirm our trust, our faith in the Lord in our witness and participation in this baptism. We acknowledge that “God is already at work resurrecting our failures, transforming our sorrows.”
Our next hymn is sung from an interesting perspective. Usually when we sing, it is in praise or in prayer to the almighty. This hymn is written from God's perspective; viewing us and our lives. God sees us through every season of life. But I also see us singing from our point of view here; we are part of the great cloud of witnesses the writer of Hebrews refers to. We are witnesses of God into the life story of babies presented to God in baptism—witnesses of and for this baby boy. And we are part of his story as we promise to support Theodore in word and deed and by prayer. And we are reminded that we are witnesses at the end of life. We welcome a new baby into God's kingdom as we send Ken to be with God in heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep.
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep...not because those are things we want to experience but because God is with us through them. Blessed because God has chosen us. As Theodore grows, he will experience all of human emotion just as we all do. We are reminded today, in the baptism of a baby, that God chooses us for salvation, Jesus knows each of us by name and loves us. Remember, we are all in this together, members of the body of Christ, children of God, receivers of love and grace. May we know the love that passes understanding and share that love and grace in this place and in the world. Amen.
I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry