Lent 5, Holy Baptism

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Title:Lent 5, Holy Baptism

 April 2, 2017

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"Spirit divine, inspire our prayer and make our hearts your home; descend with all your gracious power; come, Holy Spirit, come!"  –sequence hymn this Sunday, "Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers" – Andrew Reed

Today was a dual baptism – Kathryn Davis, the daughter of Johnathan and Odessa Davis, and Dorian Huffman, the son of Andrew and Felicia Huffman. And we had First Sunday Social to welcome them prepared by Cookie Davis with help from family members which had ham biscuits, barbecue, vegetables and two baptism cakes. (Andrea Pogue contributed peanut butter sandwiches since it was National P&J day.) Cookie also did all the flowers which adorned the congregation – the lilies and the red bud on the altar. Baptism certainly fit the lectionary as we celebrated their new lives in Christ as Lazarus returned from the dead for new life.

A wonderful day for a baptism – warm spring day with abundant sunshine.  The two families brought their extended families so that we had 76 in the congregation! And we had plenty of children to bless the water.

This Sunday’s readings celebrate the new life promised to believers through Jesus, the Christ. Ezekiel announces that, at the word of the Lord, God will restore the people and breathe into them God’s Spirit. In Romans, Paul asserts that those who belong to Christ have Christ’s Spirit living within, enlivening and empowering them. Jesus demonstrates his power to give life by raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.

The sermon  focused on the Gospel in relationship to baptism, particularly the sign of the cross as the new baptized -"you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever". "Think of this sign of the cross on a newly baptized person’s forehead as a doorway into a whole new way of being alive in God’s world, a world which we realize is full of the undeserved and abundant gifts that God has piled around us…Our privilege, as the people in this church, is to encourage Dorian and Katie to keep this doorway open, so that they will know that God’s love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is always be washing through them!"

"Because through our baptisms into Christ’s death and resurrection we have died to sin and grief and risen to newness of life over and over as we’ve traveled through life, so when we pass through the doorway of the grave and gate of death we go with Jesus into our joyful resurrections.

"Death happens all around us all the time. Little deaths happen to every one of us throughout our lives—the death of dreams and hopes, the death of friendships, marriages and other relationships, the death of those we love and the loss of their physical presence with us, the death of jobs and careers, and the death of our physical abilities to do things as easily as we did when we were younger, the death of our self-esteem—this list of deathly things in our lives is inexhaustible."

"People of St Peter’s, I challenge you today to open your own doors—to hear the voice of Jesus calling you to come out and leave behind whatever is death dealing in your lives. Hear the voice of Jesus calling you to come out and play, to enjoy the gifts that God has laid out before all of us—to open the door of your hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit and to God’s love and to share that love with others."

Over the last month in the Gospel readings, we have met a group of characters that brings out Jesus mission from Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind and now Lazarus. Jesus is the life who raises the dead. John places this miracle in a sequence of mighty works that aggravated the Sanhedrin to order Jesus’ killing. Raymond Brown writes in The Gospel and Epistles of John, “The net effect is the supreme irony that it was above all Jesus’ gift of life that immediately led people to put him to death.”

In his book Mystical Christianity, John Sanford points out more parallels. Lazarus was buried in a cave, the place of sacred events in the ancient world. Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born in a cave. Thus, a return to the cave at death symbolizes a return to God who gives life.

The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, the dry bones passage illustrates the transformation of life. The Lord will bring them out of the grave of Babylon to their home in Israel and put the Spirit in them.

This resurrection reality is true not only for Lazarus and for Jesus, but for us. God promises us in the words of Ezekiel that our graves will not stay shut. The letter to Romans assures us that God who raised Christ will also bring our mortal bodies to life. Today we celebrated new life for two children who came to be baptized. Their new life is entering the congregation and the kingdom; our work is to support them through their lives as they do so. 

The passage illustrates that Jesus enters the life of those around him. Although they criticize him for not arriving earlier. He responds to both women with what they most need: words for Martha, tears for Mary. He does not avoid tragedy with denial or mindless optimism. He rejects easy detours because he knows that the only way out is through. He trusts that God who seems to take life away will give it back, restored.

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