Thursday, February 26, 2009

Less Show, More Grow - A sermon

I’ve decided what I’m giving up for Lent - Winter.  In fact, I’m starting to think about baseball because I’m looking forward to opening day at the Renegades.

You know, the crowds, the hotdogs, the national anthem and the first pitch -- it’s a lot of pageantry.  But could you imagine doing all that only to have the announcer then say, “Well, thanks for coming.  Time to go now.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  The pageantry has a reason -- it makes you feel like the game has importance, like you’re involved in something special.

But without the game itself, what’s the point?  And this coming from someone who thinks the pageantry is much more interesting than a baseball game itself where have have nine guys standing out in a field watching another guy holding a stick.  The game is tedious, but thanks to the pageantry, you understand what it’s about.

That’s sort of what was going on in the Old Testament reading and the Gospel.

Elisha gets to watch Elijah go up to heaven in a chariot of fire -- a chariot of fire!  And the disciples -- well, three of them -- get to see Jesus revealed for who he truly is, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  It’s not every day that your teacher goes all blazing white and starts talking with Moses and Elijah, after all.

The funny thing is, these fantastic events aren’t witnessed by anybody.  Elisha is alone, and Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anybody else, not eve the other disciples.  

So, why bother with them if they did not actually DO anything?  Because they changed the people who witnessed them.

Elisha knew that his calling was as a prophet, a leader of prophets in fact.  Peter, James, and John became more than just disciples -- they became leaders in waiting.  These events made they understand the importance of what they were about to embark upon -- the dull, unflashy work that was before them.

I mean, Elisha went out to work, and for the most part, aside from a few healings, purifying some water with an ax head, it wasn’t that memorable.  But it was the daily drudgery that makes up our lives, and in granting it that special event, God places his blessing on the tedium to follow.

The disciples had very important work after the transfiguration -- but dreary, sad work for much of the time.  They needed to know that it was important so they didn’t lose heart.  They needed to know that their work had meaning, so that when they went down the mountain, they could still press on.

Not much different from today’s baptism.  We like to make a big show out of it.  Maybe nothing quite as dramatic as chariots of fire or transfiguration, but we do water and candles and take pictures…maybe have a party.

Yet, just as surely as the point of Elijah’s ascension or the transfiguration was NOT about the event itself, the point of baptism is NOT this little drama we’re about to play out.  

It’s about the life that will be lived afterward.

Today we will baptize Samantha Haase.  Baptism will not magically change her into something.  No more than Peter, James and John were magically turned into brilliant leaders.

The change happens inside.  And it happens gradually.  Over the long course of a life lived much less dramatically.

The big events in our lessons, like the baptism itself, are the beginnings of a journey.  The people starting those journeys don’t know what they’re doing at the beginning, nor where they’re going.  They just know that they’re on their way, that their journey has meaning, and that they are not alone.

Today’s baptism will give meaning to Samantha’s life in years to come.  It will be tedious at times and exciting and mundane -- but because we now commit ourselves to being with her and helping her grow into the full stature of Christ, all the tiny steps of each day will have importance.

She can’t do it on her own.  That’s where we come in.  Each week, we have this pageantry called church -- but it’s not about being entertained or punching your religious time clock.

It’s about being changed, challenged, transformed.  We come in here at one stage in our life -- and we yearn to leave here different.  Maybe not dramatically, but with a grain of yeast that will grow in us so that we can go on the next steps of our journey.  That’s what we’re here for -- to help each other change -- and be changed into the people God sees in us.

But beware.  This is NOT all about me being fulfilled.  When God transforms us, we find ourselves looking BEYOND ourselves far more than at ourselves.  We look to those who are hurting, and we work to alleviate their hurt.  We look to those suffering injustice, and we work for justice.  We look to God’s creation and work to care for it.

One reason we come to church -- to be changed together -- is to remind ourselves that even as God is changing ME, God is changing you, too.  And that together, we are called upon to change our world a tiny bit to be more like the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s show in church -- baptism is sometimes the only one some folks ever experience.  But beyond the show is the call to grow.  The day in, day out part that isn’t flashy but is the entire reason for being here at all.  Amen.