Sermon for Year C, Proper 10
By The rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church
July 11, 2010
We have a baptism to be accomplished this morning.
This will be my first time, but God willing maybe not the last,
To officiate the sacrament of baptism for someone whose name I happen to share.
His name is Torrey (!), and he’s one of Chuck and Jason’s wonderful brood of five.
I wonder what we might hear in these words of Christ today
That will refresh and bless and challenge us
On the day in which we remember our baptismal vows …
On the day in which one of us is baptised.
The lesson that confronts us this morning –
This parable of hospitality given to a stranger who desperately needs it,
From the last person you’d expect to do so –
This lesson will cost us the price of our innocence.
We hand over our innocence starting very early in life.
To begin with, we don’t always get changed or fed or burped right away.
Then we slam a finger in a door or pet a dog who doesn’t want to be bothered,
Or we get too close to a stove.
That’s the first shot of pain – the first trading of innocence for knowledge –
And it is traumatic, but pretty tame compared to the first time we learn
That people sometimes do fall into the hands of robbers
(Or that robbers even exist at all),
And that life is generally far from perfect, or that we can’t have everything we want.
That, I suppose, is what you’d call learning to see things for what they are,
And it hurts at the time, but, again, by comparison, fairly tame.
There is more hurt – far more hurt, usually – waiting past that point to be discovered.
We learn that people can be selfish, small, conceited.
We learn that these traits can be dressed up and used to make one’s way in the world:
The way we respond to our families-of-origin,
The way we go about making a living,
The way we feel about God;
And we hand over a little more of our innocence.
We learn that societies thrive on making scapegoats –
That just about every situation with a chance for success
Seems to call for unequal sacrifice –
And we expend a little more of our innocence.
We learn that it’s easier to stereotype than pay attention –
That people can be slotted into easy categories based on superficial characteristics,
And that’s more of our innocence, although that price is often quite high.
This pattern goes on and on,
Little by little, lot by lot, giving away our innocence,
So that by the time we are adults,
We find ourselves completely ensconced in that system –
That economy whereby we trade innocence for information.
We find, often, that it’s easier to work within the confines of that system,
And to make our own demands of our children’s innocence,
Because sooner or later, we say, they’re gonna have to figure out
That this is how life works anyway,
And who would we rather they learn it from;
And much as it hurts, we may as well help them along with it now,
So they don’t get taken in later
By some more complicated and painful confidence scam down the road
And end up cashing in all their innocence
In one crashing moment of terrible pain.
And so it goes, and so it goes.
We begin life with a seemingly infinite capacity for wonder and awe;
Everything is fresh and new, and people appear to us as basically good.
In the end, we know about how things work,
And we become wise.
But at what price?
That’s quite a challenge.
I hear this in the background of our service of baptism today – of every child baptism.
People think it’s cute that we baptise children.
We get ‘em all dressed up, and we quote the Christ:
Suffer the little children to come unto me.
And we take the photos and we cut the cake.
All very well, all very good.
But it’s the beginning – only the beginning of the Christian life.
The great scandal is that if we say we belong to Christ –
And all who have been baptised find themselves in this position,
Unless they renounce their baptism –
If we say we belong to Christ,
Then we have the obligation to do what Jesus says we must do:
When confronted with the fact of pain in the world,
Violence in the world, scapegoating in the world,
Separation from God showing up in the world as sins, both individual and corporate –
When confronted with pain,
I don’t want you to think that means that I expect you
To turn in your 401K and live among lepers,
Although some are given the freedom to do so, and indeed some should,
And indeed many of us should for at least a time,
So that we know what pain really looks like and see how Jesus is crucified still
On the altar of greed and disease.
That is for some.
But by and large, most of us are figuring out how to live our lives and raise our families –
Figuring it out as we go along.
We see Mother Teresa – that beautiful icon of the compassion of God –
And we think,
I just don’t have it in me to be that good or that wise for that long.
And so we stop. Sort of stop stretching, right about there,
Right at about Mother Teresa,
When we imagine we can never measure up.
And because we imagine we can never measure up,
We become contented with pain rather than intercede.
Yet we’ve sworn to try, to do the best we can with what we have.
My dear friends – my brothers and sisters in Christ –
By our baptism, we have sworn an oath, or had one sworn for us.
It’s an unforgettable oath made before God and in the presence of one another
In the midst of an invocation to the Holy Spirit
To come and trouble the waters of baptism
And seal us up in the name of Christ – marked as his own, for ever.
It’s an oath that comes at the cost of our innocence.
And in just a moment we’ll swear it again.
In it, you will be asked if you will
“Uphold the dignity and freedom of every human person”
And “[love] your neighbor as yourself.”
This isn’t lofty rhetoric designed to make us feel good;
It’s the contract our lives become because we now belong to Christ.
In here, it’s seen as ritual action;
In the altar of the world, it’s tangible action.
You’re not called to be Superman or Wonder Woman;
You’re only asked to do what you can, keeping in mind this Samaritan
Who chose compassion over efficiency.
Only let’s not sell ourselves short.
Not even Mother Teresa completely measured up to Jesus.
It was she herself who said,
“God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.”
Yes. And what we can do, with Christ, and in Christ, and for Christ,
Is unfathomably deep and immeasurably good.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, in this act of baptism, you call us to your self (not just one of us today, but all of us), that we might be fully alive in you, with your name clearly marked upon us. We pray to be enabled by your grace to take seriously all the promises we make this day, and then do them. Help us, too, to look to Christ to show us the gravity of your love for us. It is in his name that we make our prayer. Amen.