An Anchor against all the Ambiguity, Sermon 01.22.12

An Anchor against all the Ambiguity, Sermon 01.22.12

I Corinthians 15.51-58 and Revelation 3:20-22

One of you admitted once, you’d considered going to seminary, “BUT”… There came a formidable list of arguments against such a move, but one I remember today: “I don’t know if I could come up with something to say each week.” My experience is quite the opposite: there’s too much to say. No that’s not some lame excuse for a long sermon! Rather, in a busy city church, preaching to people whose lives include all sorts and conditions of challenges and accomplishments… there’s usually too much I want to I say.

Take this week:
It’s Partnership Sunday. The Markusgemeinde — 6 hours ahead of us — finished worship before most of us woke up, now they’re getting ready for Sunday dinner, their Abendbrot. But can we sense them here with us in worship this morning?

And there’s Freja’s baptism. It’s always a great blessing when the church gets to gather around a family, when I get to hold a wiggling baby, when we baptize.

But when it’s a child whose family is already a central part of our community, whose birth we awaited, and whose growing we’re watching, whose joy at church makes us all smile, there is a special blessing…

As well, these days, so many are so unfamiliar with the Christian tradition, there is always much to be said about the sacrament of baptism or the faith into which Freja’s being welcomed on this day.

But sometimes a need shows up unexpectedly and takes precedence. My sermon this morning is for a friend who’s struggling, wondering about life, worrying over all that hasn’t been accomplished, and where to find the will to go on.

I suspect there’s more than one of us here this morning whose’s considered such questions. Has felt their weight at one time or another, though I hope not as acutely.

These questions get to the issues of baptism and life’s struggles and resurrection faith too. May the words of my lips, aided by God’s holy spirit, speak to our lives and needs and questions and give us confidence.

Before I go further, let me attend to Partnership Sunday.

How many of you before I read the Letter from Hartmut at the beginning of worship knew we had a sister congregation in Bielefeld?

A few of us have developed and maintain personal relationships with people from that congregation. But most of us, I wonder how much we know about the Markusgemeinde? Are we even informed enough to keep them meaningfully in our prayers?

I’d like to challenge Old to make more of this mission partnership… We’re a mission-oriented congregation. But mostly, our focus is in our own backyard, on the needs urban poverty drops at the curb and the people who knock on our door. Amen. We should be proud of that ministry and the difference it makes.

But I worry, we fall short of God’s whole world. How often do our prayers of the people get past our inner circles? Of course, let’s lift up loved ones and neighbors and their needs and celebrations. But were it not for Jean and her whale pods, and Farley and his concerns for Liberia, and Junior and his prayers for the flooding in the Philippines, would our Christian concern get us much further than the boundaries of metro. Philly?

I was head-hunted by a congregation once. I don’t remember all that much about the church. But I do recall they had church partnerships on every inhabited continent: a relationship with a Waldensian congregation in Argentina, an aboriginal congregation in Australia, a house church in China, an interracial congregation in South Africa and a United Reformed congregation in England.

But more to my point. The people of that local church knew about each of these churches. Their joys and sorrows. Their struggles. Their mission commitments. When you entered their building, the first thing you saw was a world map. And plastered all over it, they had pictures and articles and stories about each of their sister congregations.

But what really hooked me: when you talked with people about the partnerships, you’d hear, in effect, these relationships get us past “American eyes,” and help us begin to see the whole world more as God might…

On Partnership Sunday, I challenge Old First to get started by thinking what could make our partnership more real, compelling and transformative… If anyone is willing to help think, strategize, and move us towards a more compelling partnership, or more compelling partnerships… let’s talk.

Before I close, a brief word for my friend caught in the struggle:

Grant read the end of one of Paul’s lengthier, headier and more apologetic passages answering the doubts of his day. Not that those doubts are that different from the doubts of our day, but the religious or philosophical competition was. Paul’s argument is about the centrality and the promise of resurrection in Christian faith. Those ancient words took on new significance this week as someone was asking me how to go on.

Yes, death often rages all around us, sometimes seeps deep inside us. We try to keep it out of sight and out of mind. Ironically, maybe that makes our fears all the more haunting? We’re afraid of being overwhelmed. Fearful of needing help. Frighted at the prospect of watching our years ebb away before us and before we have achieved what we hoped. Our dreams were great, but the realities of our lives, the container of our years, often undermines what we hoped for. Shattered expectations. Unrealized dreams. Added to our physical decline. Despite all our feigned ignorance, we know where this is headed.

But the Christian Gospel promises, insists that death never has to have the last word. Even dying is not the cessation of our being. It’s more of a stage. A passing through. A moving on. That’s why this morning, we celebrate in baptism, the death of such a one as this little child, that she and all of us might be born again…

That effects a lot of things, but one of them is surely that we’re no longer faced with the need to “get it all right now.” It’s ok, even to be expected to have messed up some of it. God can work with that. In resurrection faith, the quality of time itself changes. There’s no longer “now or never.” Our time here is just a moment in eternity. The first stage. Schooling for an eternity to come.

Yes, my goals often get ahead of my performance, but I don’t have to be captive to all that I have failed to achieve. In my one little moment, I’ve gotten a start…

Beloved, mine what we can learn from our pasts. But never let what has happened trap us. Because we’re not yet finished. God’s not finished with us. Rather than be shaped — or tortured — by lost opportunities, by what you have not done or achieved …rather: focus on the time that remains. New lessons to be learned. Service yet to be performed. Live for what’s still ahead…

In this sense, our faith gives even the oldest among us a chance to experience life like baby Freja: we’re always changing, the world around us is always new. We grow older, we feel differently, see differently. Shapes about us change, the cycle of life moves on. Every moment has purpose, even if that purpose may not be discernable to us.

No longer condemned to our past– that is forgiveness. We rise with Christ. Can experience his renewing work in our own lives and in our world. Can participate in God’s mercy and love as we too take up the work of renewal, for ourselves, others, our world.

The dark nights, the shadowed valleys, the disappointments aren’t the end. They’re just pauses on the journey, our much longer journey toward Christ.

Beloved — you who I am talking to — stand firm and work. For our resurrection faith gives shape to each and every day, assuring us that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.