Sermon for 7-14-13
Text: Luke 10:25-37
Welcome to the world and to the waters of baptism. Today promises to be a hot summer day and we’re enjoying a stretch of beautiful sunny weather after a long, cold, wet spring. It's so good to celebrate your baptism today.
Today’s gospel lesson is a parable of Jesus—a story. I find it appropriate because so much of life is about story. Madeleine L’Engle says in her book Walking on Water, “We cannot Name or be Named without language.” We need language and stories to tell us who we are. You’ll learn your name, Annika, connects you to your mom, your grandma, and other women in your family who share the middle name Ann. It’s also a Scandinavian name, which is a nod to your family’s heritage and traditions. Your middle name, Roselle, connects you to your other grandma, whose middle name is Rose. So from the start, when your parents named you, they wove you into the ongoing story of their families—as you begin the story of your parents’ expanding family. No doubt you’ll hear, learn and repeat countless family stories as you grow—stories of vacations and long car trips and hiking in the mountains. Stories of great-grandparents, recipes passed down for generations and relatives who walked to the beat of their own drums. Maybe you’ll visit old family cemeteries—full of stories and memories—or places where your parents and grandparents used to live. All of these stories will become your story, and you’ll learn and claim the language you’re given.
Stories will be told about you, too. Stories of how you’re attached to your mom and don’t like to be far from her for long. How you like to be held close and nap with your mom and dad. How you like—demand—to be stimulated and don’t like to sit still, which connects your parents’ story to the story of so many other parents around the world who know what it’s like to walk a baby for hours around the house, bouncing and talking and singing until they’re ready to fall over. There’s a reason why once you’ve spent a lot of time with a baby, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve held one, you’ll immediately start to bounce once a baby is put into your arms. The story stays with us and becomes a part of us, and your parents will do this too.
In baptism you receive another story. This morning you received the waters of baptism, connecting you with the story of our God who walked with God’s people through thick and thin until God’s salvation plan had to expand to the unthinkable. God's word was spoken over the waters and you were named a child of God. God’s love was so deep that God came as a baby—like you, Annika—to save the world. God in Christ endured the cross and gave salvation to all through the resurrection. And today God continues to save, to give faith and hope and life in the waters of baptism. So God can write in God’s book of life, “today I baptized Annika.” You’re now a part of the story of the baptized, those who can say, as Martin Luther did when he felt attacked by the devil, “Stop! I am baptized!” I am a child of God. I am loved and precious. I am adopted and grafted onto the tree of life. I am part of the story. I am baptized.
Story will be a big part of your life from now on and will be the way you learn and make sense of life. L’Engle also says that stories, like music and art, make cosmos (the Greek word for world) out of chaos. We live in this big, crazy world full of unpredictability and suffering and vulnerability. We live with so many unanswered questions. Yet stories help us make sense of the chaos around us. They give us a framework to live, a way to express ourselves, and a guide to follow. Stories help us process all we see and hear and witness around us and sense an even bigger world. We learn and witness the possibilities of God in story.
Your parents will read you books and before they know it, you’ll be reading books to yourself. You’ll learn about Bible stories. There’s a reason Sunday School is all about Bible stories. It’s the place children absorb, learn and make these stories a part of their own story. Many adults today haven’t heard the stories, and they miss something crucial. To have Bible stories as part of your life from the beginning—so they become a part of you and your story—is a true gift. It's why your parents' and sponsors' baptismal promises to you include placing the Scriptures in your hands.
This is why Jesus used stories (parables) so often. He used them to connect ideas and concepts of God to everyday life. The familiar story we hear today—about the Good Samaritan—leads us to question how we’re living our everyday lives. We hear of a man left beaten in the ditch, passed over by a priest and a Levite (a dedicated temple servant). A Samaritan—someone who was considered outside the realm of a good Jewish neighbor—is the one who tends to the man’s wounds and pays for his stay in an inn while he heals.
This story leads us to ask questions of ourselves. What kind of neighbor are we, and who do we consider our neighbor? The lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is in order to limit who he is responsible to. Yet Jesus turns it all around in this parable, when he ends it by asking the lawyer, “Who was the greater neighbor in this story?” It’s an easy answer. The Samaritan helped his neighbor in need.
Your baptism today brings you into a greater story—a story of humanity and the Christian faith. From now on, the gift of baptism will change you. You won’t be able to walk by a hurting stranger without feeling a pull in your gut or see difficult images on the news without wondering if and how you can help. You may not always be able to act on it, but you will feel it in your bones, because that's what faith does to us. God’s gift of faith will shape how you see everyone else in your life. You’ll see all people as children of God, loved and cherished like you, and this will guide and direct you as you seek to live according to God’s will. Anyone in need—despite cultural, religious or ethnic distinctions—will be your neighbor. Jesus’ stories are now your stories, Annika. Hear them often and well.
Jesus’ parables almost always have surprise endings. The man who wonders who his neighbor is ends up questioning his own identity and ability to be a neighbor. The rich man is asked to forget the commandments and give all he has to find salvation. The one sheep who is lost—despite many other sheep still hanging around—is sought and found. An all-powerful God becomes a vulnerable baby to save humanity from the powers of sin and death. This flesh and bones God becomes ultimately vulnerable at the cross, giving his life for ours, and out of this powerlessness comes the power to change the story of history. Today, the story continues as we baptize babies—those who can’t choose or even accept God’s love—knowing all we need is God’s love to make a baptism work.
This is your story, Annika. May it make cosmos out of your chaos and guide and direct you as you grow. You will always be baptized. Amen!