A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Flooding the World with God’s Love: Don’t Water Down Baptism Mark 1: 4-11, Year B January 18, 2015

We love baptisms, or at least I do! I love the joy, the families, the special outfits, the fun pictures, the pretty napkins, the beautiful quilts, the crafted faith chests. And let’s not forget the cuteness of babies! Babies who squirm as we sprinkle cool water on their warm heads while being held in the safety of mom or dad’s arms. It’s a sacred and joyous day! It’s a day that as families we plan for, grandparents and sponsors fly in, sometimes a party is held and it makes a nice page in our children’s baby book. Now, we know that it’s so much more than that as well. Baptism is a common thread that weaves directly from Jesus to us today. It’s a public proclamation that God names and claims us. Baptism is God’s action of love, grace and forgiveness towards us, the children of God. It’s also about the promises made by family and the community of God’s people to journey together and share with one another the tenets of our faith. It’s also a ritual that connects us to the ancient Christian church. We tell the story of faith from generation to generation. But, please excuse the pun, I wonder if we’ve watered down baptism.  God uses this very destructive, untamable and unpredictable element of water, to declare that God’s activity is loose in the world through Jesus and through us.  I wonder if by focusing on just the day we’ve diluted the wildness and the adventurous journey that baptism really is. I wonder if we really understand why Jesus’ baptism and our baptism matters.

The gospel writer of Mark, begins his entire witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ with the baptism of Jesus. Not with serene stories of an adorable baby, angels singing or special gifts from foreign visitors but with Jesus going to the wilderness, leaving behind the town in which he grew up. Jesus didn’t go to the temple or to a nice clean synagogue to begin ministry or even do much ministry at all. But, instead, he headed to the middle of nowhere, with a large motley crew of people from all walks of life, to a swiftly flowing river; a river that during the spring runoff can be volatile, a river that served as a border that divided people and cultures. For Mark, this river running through wilderness is where the story begins. Jesus at the Jordan, submersed completely under the water, holding his breath, being baptized by a rough and tumble looking guy (no pretty albs or stoles), trusting that John will pull him up from the destructive waters, emerging to the sky tearing open and the Holy Spirit of God dive bombing him like a kamikaze dove. Then the words of acceptance and inclusion booming “You are mine and I love you.”

This moment for the writer, is not about just this day but about the rest of Jesus’ life on earth, how Jesus’ baptismal day shaped all of the rest of his days and how it reveals the promise for everyone of eternal life to come. Jesus’ baptism is not about a pretty gown, a party or a certificate for Jesus’ scrapbook. This near drowning experience was the first day of a risky journey that began out in the middle of nowhere, progressed to a cross on a hill outside of the city, and then to a tomb that would be empty of death, yet full of life and hope. It seems that risk and God’s love go hand in hand.

Each and every episode of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, flows from this one. Jesus washes people with healing, love, forgiveness and grace. Jesus tears through the clouds of people’s lives with the words that they are God’s beloved children and God is pleased with them just the way they are. Jesus goes to the wild places of people’s lives and declares God’s loving activity in the midst of chaos, disease, hunger, poverty, loneliness, division and fear. Jesus’ baptism is not a once and only experience that is a nice story for family reunions, but his baptism is a launching point that set into motion his journey of now and forever revealing God in the world.

Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because God didn’t claim him before the water touched his head, because God did, Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because it made him part of a special club, because it didn’t, but Jesus’ baptism with wild water mattered because God wants us all in the flow of God’s radical, unpredictable, untamable and always risky love for us and to us. In baptism, the human and yet divine Jesus brings us all into the living water that floods out the world’s truth conditional, “if-then” clauses of acceptance and fills us God’s truth of unconditional acceptance of us no matter what.

Our baptism matters, not because it’s a marker of who’s in or who’s out, but because God launches us from the shore of the font, so that we flood the world with love, mercy, and forgiveness everywhere we go so that all people will know that God splashes them too. God offers the world the freedom from drowning in the rigid “in or out” systems of the world: consumerism, elitism, divisions, and all of the ways that we separate ourselves from one another. Jesus’ baptism matters as it is God’s action that flows through Jesus to us in our baptism so that, every time we walk out the doors of this church or our homes, we are a flood of God’s love for all of creation. Our baptism into the revelation and flood of God’s love for the world, matters when we feed people through The Action Center or Denver Rescue Mission; our baptisms matter when we act with integrity at our jobs, at school or with coworkers; our baptisms matter when we speak out against injustice and hate for someone of a different race, social class, religion or sexual orientation; our baptism matters when we can stand in the complexity of solidarity with people who have been victims of injustice as well as the people who bravely live to protect others, keep peace and promote justice. Our baptism matters as it is a revelation of God connecting all people through common water to be one people of God.

Every day is our baptismal day. Every day God’s activity is loose in the world-through the love of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit and through each of us. Every day we participate with God in the journey into the wilderness and uncertainty with the words of being God’s beloved child ringing in our ears. Every day we risk to live out our story of faith, revealing to our neighbors what it means to be submersed in the waters of God’s promises of unconditional love and eternal life for us all.  Everyday Jesus’ love, hope and mercy matters to the world and so does our participation with God. Every day we are all God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God.

*Another way that we talk about being God’s hands and feet in the world is to say that we reflect the light of Christ. We offer a candle to the newly baptized to remind them of this fact. We will now remember that our baptism matters as we reflect what God is already doing in the world, by lighting a candle and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

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Welcome to the Twilight Zone January 3, 2015

I’ve written before about the female clergy experience so, if you’re bored or over that topic, then I would move on from this. But if you’re still here, indulge my ramblings for a bit and I promise I move beyond gender towards the end.
It’s a well known fact that the vocation of clergy can be a lonely one, regardless of gender. You just quite don’t fit anywhere. I don’t want to diminish or negate that experience for my male colleagues as it is true and is difficult to navigate. But in conversations with other female colleagues (including an extensive one with my best friend who is also clergy), as well as watching and experiencing what can happen on-line to female clergy, I offer that we have an added unique layer to our experience. What makes this particularly challenging is that God’s very vision for humanity, the vision that many of us daily participate in, espouses radical equality and relationships. Yet, for many, our experience is anything but that. (I want to say up front that I think these challenges exist for women in the secular workplace as well.)
You Don’t Quite Fit in with the Women’s Groups
If you assume that as female clergy, we would have this whole set of people who would welcome us to be a part of their circle because women are so much more relational than men, you would be wrong. Reality is that many of the parishioners have been in the congregation for years, decades even, they have a fairly tight bond and so adding this “new girl” in isn’t on the radar. After all, we are the pastor so our main role is to pray or lead worship at the Women’s Retreat, right? Who wants the pastor at their Bunco or dinner out nights? We get it. But don’t assume that we would say no to an invite. Many people make friends at their jobs….need I say more? Many clergy, of any gender, have few if any opportunities to make friends outside of church.
Now, we don’t want to bust up bestie girl times, but just be aware that your pastor likes that too, and probably really likes you!

You Have Other Colleagues to Hang Out With
Yes…..and no….Whether we like it or not, clergy is still a male heavy vocation. (In my denomination, ELCA, only 20% of clergy are female.) Now, female clergy do get together and I, for one, want to give a shout out to all my sisters in ministry who love and support me everyday! But there is still a “good ol’ boys” club that exists and, again, we’ve noticed. Men have had the seat of power for essentially 2,000 years and we still live a in a primarily patriarchal culture, in and out of the Church. Many men are simply unaware that they, just by being male, possess more power than women. So their behavior matters-a lot.
There is still a stigma associated with hanging out with female colleagues-you might get labeled as “feminist,” “weird,” or it might raise an eyebrow that opposite gender colleagues can hang out. Sigh…are we all still in Jr. High? So, the men will go for beer with each other or they will go out together with their wives and not even consider that it might be nice for the pastor and her husband to be part of the crowd. Once again, we get it. A pastor and a pastor husband doesn’t fit the cultural norm or paradigm. Our lives and way of being in ministry are very different and frankly, new. Now, in fairness, what the church expects of pastors wives is ridiculous. They think that they are essentially getting two employees for the price of one. Interestingly enough, no asks or expects my husband to bake cookies for Sunday morning, arrange altar flowers, lead a ministry or teach SS. Which is good, as he has a job. I don’t volunteer at his job (can you imagine?) and he volunteers only sporadically at mine.
And Then There Are the Haters
Oh yes, there are men (and sometimes other women) who “believe in the Bible” and assert that women can’t and shouldn’t be clergy. After all, we are missing very important anatomy that enables us to be rationale and intelligent. On social media, it’s not uncommon for female clergy and particularly female clergy of color to be personally and professionally attacked for following God’s call for their lives. I witnessed this just yesterday and when I offered support to this colleague, a male colleague cautioned me for being to bold and outspoken about my support and own experiences with this same issue! Can a girl get a little overt support from her male colleagues? They all talk a great talk about affirming their female colleagues ministries and give great private pep talks. But when the rubber meets the public road? Crickets. What if the “guys” see that they might support any aspect of the “feminist agenda”? Will they lose some power?
Welcome To the Twilight Zone
Here we are, caught somewhere between our deep love for our call to ministry, the context in which we serve, and the people with whom we serve and the brokenness of human relationships as a whole. The Twilight Zone of female clergy is that we have even fewer places in the Church and in society where we fit in. I often wonder if the addition of female clergy in many denominations is a microcosm of how the Church is or isn’t adapting to changing culture and norms. In my more philosophical and theological moments I can theorize away how being and living part of the change in God’s Church and being a part of what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world is a gift and a privilege. I can convince myself that all of my colleagues, male and female, are doing the best we can and it just is what it is. I can reassure myself that all of my, and my sisters in ministry, uncomfortable moments are part of change, part of revealing Christ at work in us all and in the world. Change is hard, change is scary, change is unsettling. Change questions power, personal identity, and status quo.
This is not just change for the male clergy, but change for the female clergy too. We are just as complicit in all of the above challenges and uniqueness as the other players. We don’t always handle the situation in the best way and let our humanness get the better of us. We don’t speak up for ourselves for fear of not being liked. We don’t remember that the only person we can change and control is ourselves. We don’t practice the 8th Commandment as often as we should.
How can we as the intentional people of God name these pieces in healthy and productive ways for conversation? How can we finally move beyond conversation to self-examination and truth telling about our own fears: fear of loneliness (as the common human experience), fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of power, and fear of the unknown? How can we truly live with one another in our primary identity as children of God?
I am hopeful, honestly. I think we will together wrestle with these questions and realities and then realize that it’s our commonalities as people and people of God that has the power to over come these challenges. This is not just about those on the “inside” of the Church-this is about God’s mission for all people to know the love of God in their lives. What if we as “being the Church” could really live together in such a way that people were naturally drawn to this community of faith? What if we let go of our need for power and control in our own lives and gave into the power of God’s radical love?What if the only power we need to consider is that of the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, make us new creations and move us from where we are today? What if we all truly believed in God’s promises that we all fit in?
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28