May 15, Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17
Draft text of the homily, please forgive all grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…and if children then heirs… joint heirs with Christ.” How ‘bout that. You are heirs of the glorious reign of God.
Daniel and Rosalind you are heirs along with your parents, and sponsors, and all the baptized who stand with you in witness to this sacrament today…we are joint heirs with Christ of God’s fully realized, but not yet fully visible, reign of justice and peace and abundance.
How does that sound? Good? Great? Maybe a little scary? Maybe a lot? Being an heir to something is not insignificant, is it? Being an heir to God’s realm…is an immense responsibility isn’t it?
Jesus says today, “that we will do all the works that he does, and in fact will do greater works than these.” That’s what the heirs of God’s realm do. That’s what we’re inviting people into when we baptize them. When we welcome them to Communion.When we proclaim and celebrate with them and their families that we are committing with them to living out our relationship with God in a particular way…a Christian way…as heirs.
How do we become the heirs that God wants us to be? Needs us to be?
I’ve studied too much European history, and read too much Shakespeare, and watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones to think that simply being “to the manor born” is all that is required to be a decent heir. There’s a lot more to it.
How do we, who are children of God, become heirs worthy of the glory that God dreams of?
Our Christian journey begins at baptism and never really ends until we have all become like Christ, fully human—fully divine—at one with and reconciled to God.
It would be nice if there were some help along the way.
Our baptismal liturgy contains a brilliant little road map, a gemlike gift of the Holy Spirit, that we hear occasionally, but maybe don’t always recognize it’s power. It’s the prayer we say over the baptismal candidates we process to the font.
Deliver them/us, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.
Open their/our hearts to your grace and truth.
Fill them/us with your holy and life-giving Spirit.
Keep them/us in the faith and communion of your holy Church
Teach them/us to love others in the power of the Spirit.
Send them/us into the world in witness to your love.
Bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory.
There is a deep and profound logic —an inspired structure—to this prayer that reveals the process of transformation from infant to joint heir with Christ.
And it starts with the action of God. And our admission that we can’t do everything ourselves. Our faith tells us that we all bear the image of God (Daniel and Rosalind certainly do, just look at them). And so does every child born. And. We are all born into a world dominated by forces of our own making—forces of hate, violence, death, and destruction (the principalities and powers) forces that distort and diminish that image. We are all good AND fallen, and try as we might we simply can’t fix it all on our own.
So the first step in our journey is deliverance. Deliverance from our own destructive ways and from the systemic sin that infects our world. The good news is deliverance already happened. Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection has achieved that. But delivered is not the same as transformed, just like being born is not the same as growing up. It’s just the first step.
Next is…Open our hearts to your grace and truth. Here’s some truth…Life will break your heart. There’s no doubt. Life is not fair.And that hurts.
The prophet Jeremiah says that that God will write the Word ON our hearts… not in them, but on them. And a wise Rabbi once said the reason for this is because God knows that our hearts will eventually break. The Word is written on our hearts so that when they do break the Word will fall inside, and take root. And our broken open hearts then need to be filled… Filled with God’s holy and life giving spirit.
It’s not that the Spirit isn’t there, it’s more that we tend to fill ourselves up with so much other stuff. We don’t like to admit we’re powerless and in need of deliverance, and we’re often filled up with all kinds of unnecessary stuff.
Do you know the story of the student who goes to the master for instruction and begins by trying to impress the teacher with all that he knows, all of the practices he does, all of the different books he’s read…on and on trying to demonstrate how worthy he is to be a student.
As he’s talking the teacher goes and gets a teapot and two cups. He fills a cup for himself, and then begins filling the student’s… as the student talks the teacher keeps pouring until the tea is flowing over the edge of the cup…out onto the table…and down onto the floor and all over the student’s shoes… Finally the student says,“Stop! What are you doing? The cup is too full.”
And the teacher says, “You are just like this cup…so full of your own ideas and opinions. I can’t teach you anything until you empty your cup.” We are very full of our own ideas …our beliefs…full of ourselves… part of allowing God to transform us is learning how to empty ourselves and allow God to begin filling us…
But this is hard to do…it takes a lot of practice…in fact it takes a community of practice. So, guess what the next petition is…Keep us in the faith and communion of your holy Church… Deliver us, open us, fill us, keep us in faith and communion.
It has been said, over and over and over, that it is impossible to be a Christian by yourself. The Christian journey requires community …requires communion…requires a place to return on a regular basis for solace and strength, for comfort and courage.
The first vow we make in our baptismal covenant is to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” Yes, that means coming to church. Regularly committing to being part of a worshipping community. A community of faith, a community of practice.
The church is a community of practice …a place where together we practice living as heirs of the kingdom…Over the centuries the church as been spoken of as a hospital and a school… those are both appropriate metaphors… this is a place where healing, and learning, and transformation takes place… It is a place where we are taught to love others in the power of the Spirit, the next petition. Like a school…or sometimes a day-care… the Church is a place where we practice our “sandbox skills”… where we learn to share… where we learn to care for one another despite (and even because of) our differences… Where we learn that we’re not all the same, and that’s good and right and a joyful thing…
It’s also where a lot of heartbreak occurs… Yes, the church will let you down and break your heart as well. And that’s why healing and reconciliation are core parts of our mission statement.
Learning to love others in the power the spirit requires ongoing deliverance and breaking open, and emptying and filling, a continual practice in learning how to love …how to really love one another, as Jesus love us. Deliverance, opening, filling, keeping at it in a community committed to practicing love, And then (and maybe only then) we are sent out into the world in witness to God’s love.
Notice how far down the list being sent out is… We’re all aware of how much damage has been done and continues to be done by people who rush out too soon and to try and change everyone else in the world before they’ve really been changed themselves. Franciscan Monk and teacher Richard Rohr likes to say: “Transformed people transform people.” If we’re not transformed we’re just trying to make the world fit our own image. That’s what we’re about.
A monk was asked:”what do you do up in the monastery all day?” He said, “we fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.” That’s a good image for the Christian life. We week after week we come hear and get sent out trying to live whole, compassionate, God-centered lives, we fail, and return, And are sent out again, and fail and return…and are sent out and fail and return… But like they say in 12 step groups… keep coming back, it works.
Because as we continue this process… As we continue to practice… as we continue to journey further and further along this path… we become more wholehearted… And gradually, we’re brought to the fullness of God’s peace and glory… the final petition in the prayer.
That’s the process we are committed to…it is how we become the kind of heirs God longs for, and the world so desperately needs us to be deliverance, opening, filling, remaining in the faith, learning how to love, going out to share that love, and ultimately coming into the inheritance that is all of ours.
That’s the path that in just a few minutes we will set Daniel and Rosalind on. And that we will recommit to walking ourselves. Amen.