Sunday, May 6, 2018
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Prayer of the Day
O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 10:44-48  The Spirit poured out on the Gentiles
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6  The victory of faith
John 15:9-17  Christ the friend and lover

Sermon:
Title:  Joining in God’s Radical Wet Welcome

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Isaiah Jeremiah – soon this shout that we just can’t say enough in this joyful Easter season will be your shout, as, through the gift of baptism, you are joined to Christ’s resurrected life.

And so, Isaiah Jeremiah, with great joy, we who gather around you today, and who are joined by billions around the world who make up the diverse church of Christ and family of God, and who are joined by countless believers who have gone before us in other times and places, this vast and immeasurable people, of all shapes and sizes, all colors and cultures, all identities and genders, (have I covered it all?) well, all of us say welcome!  Welcome as you are baptized into this family.  Welcome as God, the creator of all life, makes promises to you that God has made to each one of us at the time of our baptisms.  Promises you can put your trust in.  Welcome into life with Jesus Christ who, as we just heard in the gospel, loves us so much, so deeply, so unquestionably as friends, that he has given his life for us, for the sake of our joy.  A better friend you will not find.  Welcome into the work of the Holy Spirit who will bless you and fill you with light and life so that you might help others see the love of God through all that you say and do.  How wonderful it is to welcome you, on this spring day, in the midst of our Easter celebration.  Life abounds for you and all creation.

However, in the words of Isabella Rossellini, from the classic film Death Becomes Her, now a warning.  For as priceless as God’s gifts are, and as loving as our friend Jesus is, and as delightful and surprising as the Holy Spirit can be, the church, that you are becoming a member of, doesn’t always get it right.  But then again, you and your moms have found that out.  You have heard and seen firsthand that the church does not always practice the radical welcome of God, the profound love of Jesus – the perfect friend, and the evolving inclusivity of the Holy Spirit.  And yet, here you are.  The faith of your moms was so strong that they knew not to take “no” for a final answer.  In their loving care, I pray that you, too, will grow strong in faith.  It is clear they possess wisdom that you will be wise to learn.

Now I wish I could say that this bump in the road you all hit, this blindness that you encountered, was just an isolated instance, a momentary mistake of the church at this time.  But if we look to the first reading that we heard this morning, from the book of Acts.  This story from the very first days of the church, as the followers of Jesus were trying to live out what they had witnessed in their Savior.  We see that the challenge of inclusivity has been going on for a long time.  The struggle has made for some tough going and some horrible chapters in which the love of God was overshadowed by the paralyzing fear of the church – the very institution that has been entrusted with the message.

Now what we heard in the reading is just a brief clip of a much bigger story, and that story is part of a much larger epic.  Quick summation – Peter has been sent (by a heavenly message) to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Now, not only was this man Cornelius part of the enemy and an officer of the occupying forces, he was a Gentile.  And at this point in the life of the Church, there was a dominating assumption that Jesus had come for the sake of the Jews and that salvation through him was for the Jews.  (In the reading, this is what is meant by “the circumcised believers.”)  As we see in this story, this limitation placed on the gospel of Christ is chipped away, bit by bit, by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Soon after this story of Peter and Cornelius, this great epic will turn to Paul who, to the dismay of James and other leaders, will be taking the message o Christ’s love and salvation to other peoples and other lands.  The message is going global and the Holy Spirit is providing the wind that is sailing it far and wide.

In our story today, the work of this unpredictable Holy Spirit is causing Peter to ask the same question we heard from the Ethiopian eunuch in last week’s episode of the Inclusive Church.  Remember – he asked Philip, what is to keep me from being baptized? And of course the answer was that there was nothing keeping him from being baptized and next thing he knew Philip was baptizing him in a roadside pool.   And today Peter asks his fellow believers who are seeing the Holy Spirit at work in the home of Cornelius: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Notice there is no response to his question.  In both stories there is only baptism by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah Jeremiah, on your behalf, I echo Peter’s question:  Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing this child?  And again, we are silent (if we are wise), and the Holy Spirit is acting.  As it should be.  As it is.  And is it will be.

And so, here we are, 2,000 years later.  The names have changed, the places have changed, the labels have changed.  But the Spirit is still working in us, through us, and in spite of us, so that all might hear the good news of our risen Savior, so that all might live into what Jesus wants for all his friends, JOY!  As my mother (a pastor’s spouse herself, warned Scott before we got married, nothing in the church changes quickly.)

Too often, in too many places, in too many times and eras, the church as behaved too much like those Tribeca neighbors who were recently exposed for putting a lock on a public dog park and then created their own dues system.  Jesus our friend and savior, through his life, his teaching, his passion, death and resurrection has shattered every lock that we have created, including that lock on heaven created by our sinful rebellion against God.  This great and perfect friend is always a great and perfect bridge, giving us access to God, eternal life, and even one another – though we in our self-centeredness try to build walls, lock gates, and create codes of exclusion.

Isaiah Jeremiah – there will always be work to do in the church.  There will always be need for corrections, reformations, revivals, and calls to justice.  You bear the name of not one by two great spokespersons of God, I pray that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you take up that mantel and join us in proclaiming God’s love to all creation.

For those who have been participating in our on-going conversation focused on how to turn Christ’s resurrection into our daily practice, into the living of our lives as Jesus’ disciples – today our focus is beginning to shift.  Pentecost is coming – just two weeks away.  It is not just what we do as individuals in the light and life of Resurrection, but what we do as community.  As God’s people gathered in this time and place.  And so Maria – we also welcome you today.  You are one who is already part of the baptized family of God and is now joining this diverse community of faith in our life together.  We rejoice that you have found your way to us.  And we look forward to growing together in Christ’s love and in the discernment of our mission through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Life together is always a challenge.  On earth there is no perfect expression of community – not even the church.  But knowing that full well, we still open our hearts and ears and minds to the call of our good friend Jesus, who is the Christ.  We hear the love and mercy of God proclaimed in his teaching.  We see the radical welcome of the Holy Spirit in his living.  We join him in his death and resurrection through the gift of baptism, so that we might live a new life in him, a life we live more fully when we come together as the family of God, the body of Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit.  Welcome Isaiah Jeremiah.  Welcome Maria.  There is much life to be lived is the risen Christ.  So join our shout…

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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