Acts 10:34-48 (The Message)
Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel – that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again – well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone. “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him. And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him – he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand – us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and the dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.” No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsiders” non-Jews, but there it was – they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God. Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.
Here these words from our liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism:
Send your Spirit to move over this water that it may be a fountain of deliverance and rebirth. Wash away the sin of all who are cleansed by it. Raise them to new life, and graft them to the body of Christ. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon [your people] that they may have the power to do your will, and continue forever in the risen life of Christ. To you be all praise, honor, and glory; through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who, with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever. Amen. (Book of Common Worship, 2018)
Do you remember your baptism? Perhaps you don’t remember the exact moment, but maybe you’ve been told stories about your baptism. Many of us who grew up Presbyterian, or in a similar tradition, were most likely baptized as infants. Though I imagine that there are some here this morning who haven’t yet been baptized or gone through the renewal of those vows in their confirmation, or I am sure that there are also those who aren’t sure what is so significant about the Sacrament of Baptism…
In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are told and reminded that God claims us and seals us to show that we belong to God. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are made members of the Church, the body of Christ, and in the Sacrament of Baptism, we cast off the ways of sins, evil, and death and are commissioned to live life in anew in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And as those who have been charged to live life anew in the Holy Spirit, and as those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, we are given the great responsibility to be active and full participants in Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice in the world.
We find this morning that those in the early Church couldn’t believe that this sacred sign could be passed onto those who were not like them. But the Spirit of God, the Spirit that surpasses all human understanding, was present and bestowed the gifts of God upon them. God cannot be contained within the boundaries of a church building, a tradition, or a group of people, but that didn’t stop the early Church from trying… You may ask yourselves, “Wasn’t the church supposed to be a blessed and open community, “Didn’t they know that Christ came for all people, “Could they not see how the Holy Spirit touched the lives of those who were thought to be ‘outsiders’”? These are all legitimate questions, yet they are also questions we still wrestle with today.
How do you live into the promises, the vows that were made at your baptism? How do you live into the promises and the vows that you make when we welcome the newly baptized into the Church? These are questions we should be asking ourselves on a daily basis, because at the moment of our baptism, and at the moment we decided we wanted to be a part of this thing we call the Church, we should have realized that our faith is something that takes place not only on Sunday but wherever we go… But we haven’t always done that as a church… We haven’t always lived out our baptismal vows… Sometimes we’ve failed to connect our faith in God with Christ’s ongoing ministry of love, peace, and justice. Simply put these vows, these holy vows have been broken on more than one occasion.
I want to share a few short stories with you this morning… I believe that these stories capture the urgent need for Christians to live out the charge we were given in our baptism… Because what we will find is that this symbol, this sacred sign of God’s love, has been defiled by the Church in the past and in the present, and by the world in genuinely horrendous ways. And if we as a church are not willing to wear our faith on our sleeves wherever we go then maybe, we need to ask ourselves who the Church is really for? Is it for ourselves and our own comfort? Or is it for God and the productive work that we participate in? A God who asks us to live out a risky faith?!?
Down at the border, there is a great tragedy where thousands of children are being separated from their families. Regardless of where you place yourself on the political spectrum, I would hope that we would be able to see how atrocious this is and how devastating and life-threatening it is to thousands of innocent children. The stories that get me the most are the ones where border agents tell mothers, tell fathers, that they are taking their children away to bathe them with water… Can you imagine how heart-wrenching it is when an act that should be pure and sacred turns into a moment of fear and dread? It should make us angry! How can we as baptized people, and as people who follow a Lord and Savior who said, “Let the little children come to me” let acts such as this occur? Are we living out the promises of baptism in those moments?
There was a young adult who was a part of the worship group I led at previous Church. This individual was phenomenal. They played an instrument for the worship group, they were active in their small group, and they were mindful of the needs of the elderly members who attended the leading worship service. But one day they pulled me aside and asked if we could talk outside of Church. So we went to get some coffee, and as we talked about the life, they told me that they are gay and that they were worried about people in the Church finding out because they didn’t think they would be accepted or welcomed. This was a weight, an unfathomable weight, that had loomed over them… It was hard to believe that the Church wouldn’t take them for who they were… I mean this Church had baptized them, had walked alongside them through thick and thin… But the sad thing, the thing that broke our hearts, was that I couldn’t give a reassuring answer… I couldn’t tell them that everything would be okay because I knew there would be people who would try and force them out of the Church. Are we as a church being faithful to the promises we make when we baptize children and bring them into the family of Christ?
At a Presbyterian Church, there was an infant baptism… And as the baptized person grew, the Church walked alongside them. This Church didn’t have all the answers, and they weren’t perfect, but nevertheless, they walked with this baptized person. There weren’t many people who were like them, but that didn’t stop the Church from finding ways that they could be active in worship… They invited them to join the choir and even asked them to be a member of the session. Throughout their life, this Church walked with them up until the day they went to college. While the baptized person was still forming their beliefs, they could always look back at the community of faith that nurtured them and loved them… They could see how they wore their religion on their sleeves, how their faith pushed them to go out into the community to be God’s hands and feet, and how it was okay not always to have the answers to the tough questions that life often presented.
We find that in the passage this morning is that faith is something all-encompassing, it permeates and works itself into all areas of our lives. That is why the vows we make in the Sacrament of Baptism, and the promises we make to God to follow Jesus Christ, are so important! Because these things are not some abstract confession to a far off cosmic entity. These things are important because they remind us that our faith is reflective of a God who came down to earth, who took on human flesh and walked around the earth to be with those who are hurting and putting his teachings into action.
Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations boast that their Church had the most people sitting in the pews… Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations make the Church a place for people who were just like them… Jesus asked the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations so that all people could see how this gospel message that Christ brought to us is life-changing. And if it isn’t life-changing, then the faith we’ve cultivated for ourselves is founded on self-pleasure rather than an eagerness to have the Holy Spirit be the flame that fuels our work in the world! I don’t get flustered about many things in life, but I get do get flustered when people say the Church is irrelevant, mostly because the Church isn’t irrelevant, but the passion to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world has been extinguished within the Church. Will we let the Spirit ignite that passion within our hearts?
So how am I, how are you, how are we, living into our baptismal vows and the promises that we make to God when we choose to follow Jesus Christ? How are you nurturing your soul? And I know that I’ve said this before, but the spiritual endeavor is not done alone. Peter even says in this mornings text, “ But we’re not alone in this.” We are not alone… Out of the three true stories and experiences that I mentioned before I hope you have a sense that the final one is where we should be seeing ourselves going as a church. We may not be perfect, we may not have all the answers, but Jesus is there! Jesus is there… And if we are willing to take a risk, a risk that dares us to expand our vision of the Church really is then we might find some unexpected friends along the way. And while they may not be like us, we can be united in the Holy Spirit as we together follow the will that God has for us. It is then that we will be living out the promises and the vows that we say during the Sacrament of Baptism. It is then that we will laugh, cry, and grow together as we journey along with life and faith together. It is then that we may genuinely remember our baptism. Amen.