Sunday, April 08, 2007

Becoming Who We Are: An Easter Homily

It's not exactly the Easter Homily of St John Chrysostom, but it's what I have to offer on this Queen of Feasts. (And, no, I don't usually give nine-point sermons.)

Even though we live an ocean and a continent away, I would venture to say that virtually everyone in this church at the moment could tell you who the Queen of England is, and a great many could go on to name several of her relatives, both living and dead. You can hardly buy groceries anymore without seeing their faces splashed all over the tabloids as you wait in line at the checkout. That’s just the thing though: The royal family’s actual significance these days lies more in their entertainment value that anything else, both here and even in the U.K. Of course, one could argue that they are still symbolically important, representing the historic continuity of the British nation and people, but even that symbolic importance is probably on the decline. And it has been nearly 200 years since a British monarch tried to behave like a proper king or a queen and throw their weight around by sending somebody to the dungeon or something—you know, exercising substantial political power.

So, even though the significance of the British monarchy may have been effectively reduced to a matter of entertainment value, one does have to admit that being part of the royal family is still a uniquely privileged lifestyle. It’s a job that comes with a whole lot of fringe benefits, and, yes, some quite peculiar responsibilities as well. Think about it: What must it be like to be born into that family and spend the first, oh, five or six years of your life thinking of your surroundings as completely normal and then have to learn—slowly but surely—how utterly special it is? Most children have to pretent that they’re a prince or a princess, but some actually are! They’re born with an extraordinary identity, and then take years to form an awareness of that identity, to appreciate how extraordinary it is, and then learn to behave in ways that are consistent with that extraordinary identity.

Some of us here today can remember when we were baptized. I can; I was ten years old when it happened. But most among us were baptized before we were old enough to form enduring memories. Yet, in that event, whether we remember it or not, we were given a quite extraordinary identity. I can think of at least nine very special changes in identity that happen to us when we’re baptized:

First, we were adopted as children of the most high God. You know, we toss around the expression “child of God” way too casually. Yes, all people are infinitely loved by God. But not all people are automatically children of God. We become God’s children when we are born again in baptism, when we are received into God’s family.

Second, when we were baptized, we were washed clean from the guilt associated with any sins we had committed up to that time. Now, in the case of a little baby, that’s not a lot. But an older child or an adult comes to the font with a very long list. In the waters of baptism, those sins are erased off of God’s hard drive, and no IT help desk computer geek in the universe can recover the data!

Third, we were marked as belonging to Christ forever. To use a cowboy metaphor, we were branded. We were bought and paid for by the shed blood of the now risen Christ.

Fourth, we were endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, made a home in your heart, and in my heart! Our very bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We not only bear the image of God in a general way because all human beings are created in that image. We bear the image of God in an utterly special way, because we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, when we were baptized, we received gifts from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who came into our hearts as a gift also came bearing gifts. The Holy Spirit is the true “gift that keeps on giving.” All of us who are baptized have been given gifts that God wants to use for the building up of his Church and the advancement of his Kingdom. Our job, as we grow in our faith, is to discover those gifts and put them to use.

Sixth, we were united with Christ in his death, and also therefore united with him in his resurrection. St Paul lays it out for us in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans:

Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Jesus’ experience of suffering and death redeemed by resurrection and new life becomes the pattern for our experience as well.

Seventh, when we were baptized, we were grafted and incorporated as member of the Body of Christ, the Church. One of the euphemisms for Baptism is “Christian initiation.” To be baptized is to become a Christian, and to become a Christian is to become a member of the Body of Christ, and to become a member of the Body of Christ is to become a member of the Church because the Church is the Body of Christ, and to become a member of the Church is to become a member of a particular church. It’s all a package deal. It’s part of our identity.

Eighth, we became disciples of Jesus, called to follow him faithfully in every area of our lives, in this world and the next. To be baptized is to commit one’s life to Christ. The way I explain it to children is “Jesus is the boss of me.” I can’t really think of a better way than that to explain it to adults! If the Church is a ship, as it is sometimes compared to, then all who are baptized are crew members, and Jesus is the captain whose orders we constantly await. Any important decision we make, we run it by the Captain first.

Ninth, and finally, when we were baptized, we were destined to share the glory of the risen Christ for all ages. Once again, St Paul, this time writing to the Colossians, puts it this way:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. … For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ.

When we join the family, we become heirs of the family fortune.

When a man, woman, or child comes to the waters of Baptism, everything changes. That person is given a new identity. The work of Christian living is to unwrap that identity and live in a way that is consistent with it. Now, maybe you know everything I’ve just told you, and are acutely aware of your baptismal identity in Christ—Praise God! Easter is an opportunity for you to reaffirm you commitment and drink from that well one more time.

Or maybe you know it, but it’s faded from your awareness. If that’s the case, Easter is an opportunity for you to re-connect with you “second birth,” to re-dedicate yourself to walking daily in the power of the risen Christ.

But perhaps you were, until today, shall we say, clueless! Maybe you are grasping for the first time through this sermon the utter specialness of your baptized status, your extraordinary identity in Christ. You are like someone who discovers a rare jewel tucked away in the attic of your grandmother’s house, in an old trunk that you never new was there. You’re like John Goodman’s character in the movie comedy King Ralph. (If you’re actually familiar with that move, I’d recommend keeping the information to yourself.) Ralph was a third-rate Las Vegas lounge act who suddenly became heir to the British throne when the first 35 or so in line for the throne all electrocuted during a portrait sitting. (Like I said…) It was one thing for Ralph to discover his identity as the King of England—that was traumatic enough—but it was quite another for him to “live into” his identity, to learn to behave like the King of England. It was so hard that, in the end, he decided not to, and gave up the throne. If you are only now discovering your extraordinary baptismal identity in Christ, this Easter presents you with an opportunity to make a different choice, to claim who you are, and to grow in all ways into Christ. Christ is risen! Alleluia and Amen.


Anonymous said...

Awesome Service and Sermon. The Baptisms were so moving with the age range of 2 mo old Eve to 12 yr old Keaton. Brenda, the choir and the music added so much to the liturgy. The clergy were beautifully vested as we see a great picture of our priest here in his gold chasuble!

Thank you for a moving Holy Week. The Lord is Risen!!!

Lee said...

It was a wonderful sermon at the Vigil Service and a wonderful sermon on Easter morning...and it is still a wonderful sermon to read! How blessed we are at St. John's to have such a marvelously talented priest and choir director as you and Brenda. Thank you for bring the richness of the liturgy into my life. I am most fortunate!

Joe Raganit said...

All of Holy Week has been a moving experience for me. I have never been so involved. The most moving experience that I had, was having my feet washed. Tears of joy came streaming down my face when I was told how much I was appreciated and how much I have grown. By the grace of God, I am who I am. It is a great feeling to be a servant of the LORD and a servant to this congregation.