Into the Life And the Work (6/25/17)
This is Aubrey Jean Couch, and her parents, Jessica and Zach.
On Sunday, June 25th, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism and we introduced Aubrey Jean Couch to her new family at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church. Follow the link to read the text of the sermon. As a bonus, you'll get to see more pictures of this sweet baby girl.
Into the Life And the Work (6/25/17)
Good morning. Today we are going to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. So, it’s an amazing and wonderful coincidence that the Lectionary gave us this reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans on the same Sunday that we baptize Aubrey Jean Couch and mark her as part of this wonderful, holy family. From this day forward, everyone will know that she is united with Christ, she is included in all of God’s covenants, and that she is connected to her church family here at Rehoboth, and also with all other believers in the community of faith.
Before we get into the lesson from the Apostle Paul, I need to tell you that I learned something really important about myself the other day and it relates to our journey as disciples. What I learned—what I came to realize about myself—is that I am at my happiest, I am my most joyful self, when I feel connected.
I had this revelation on Saturday morning, after a couple days of feeling wonderfully and beautifully connected. It began Thursday afternoon, when I had lunch with Wayne and Carol Lewis. Wayne, Carol, you didn’t think you were going to make it into my sermon, did you?
We visited for over two hours. It was really neat to see all of the antiques that Wayne has acquired over the years and it was great to spend time with them. But what made it such an amazing visit was the conversation we had. At one point, Carol mentioned that she knew my great aunt, Eva Knuttila. I mentioned that Aunt Eva only had one child, my cousin Jack, but she also raised one of her nieces, my cousin Arnita.
Then Carol said, “Arnita Rousseau? She’s your cousin?”
“Yes, her married name is Arnita Hawkins.”
“Oh, yes,” Carol replied, “she married Billy Hawkins from Webster.” I didn’t realize this, but Carol knew my cousin Arnita from high school; they had been close friends. I was so glad to know about that connection that I share with Carol. I left their home with an overwhelming sense of joy and peace. Even though I’ve only gotten to know Wayne and Carol a little bit over the last few months, I realize that we really are connected.
My next stop on Thursday was a wedding rehearsal. The groom’s parents, Jeff and Linda, are active members of the church I served in Houston, PA. All three of their kids were raised in that church, but two of them have moved away and none of them still attend that church.
Well, in October of 2015, Becky, Jeff and Linda’s middle daughter, had a son. This was the first grandchild for Jeff and Linda. They wanted their grandson to be baptized at the church in Houston. So, when Becky and her husband came back to western Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of baptizing him on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The wedding rehearsal for Morgan and Grady Paxton
I got to know the family through that baptism. Becky’s younger brother, Grady, was there at the service, along with his girlfriend, Morgan. When they got engaged, Grady and Morgan asked if I would officiate their wedding, and of course, I said yes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was practically invited into their family—and that was made abundantly clear at the wedding rehearsal dinner. The connection that I made with the family at that baptism was affirmed at the dinner table on Thursday night. And I felt good because I felt connected to something bigger than myself.
Baptism is at the center of our understanding of the Christian faith and Christian life in community with one another. This understanding was also central for the Christian congregation in Rome, to which Paul wrote this letter. But Paul goes a little bit deeper into the baptismal waters:
Whatever we might draw from this passage about baptism, one thing is clear: baptism is more than another event that takes place in the life of a person, like graduation, where all the relatives come and celebrate. And it’s more than a religious ritual where church members commit to one another in word but not action. Baptism is very serious business.
Paul reminds the Romans that, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” and through our baptism, we are dead to sin. And if we are united to Christ in death, then we are raised with Christ, too.
The notion that we are dead to sin is tricky. The problem is that we often tend to view sin as a bunch of bad acts or hurtful deeds. We think we’re doing a good job if we’re not busy breaking any of the Ten Commandments. But personal righteousness isn’t the same as being dead to sin. That’s too narrow of an understanding of the nature of sin. And a narrow understanding of sin can lead to a smug attitude of moral superiority. That attitude of moral superiority is destructive and sinful, in its own right.
Certainly, theft and murder and adultery are sinful acts. I’m not denying that. But sin is bigger than a list of bad actions. Sin is anything that can separate us from living into the fullness of God’s love for creation. We share in God’s love when we show love to one another. If I were to steal money from this congregation, it would shatter the love that we share and it could have ripple effects. You might also have difficulty trusting one another after something like that.
Sin has the power to destroy communities and erode our trust in God’s love. When we lose that trust, we place our faith in our own abilities. We build walls. We isolate ourselves. We listen to the voices of fear and greed, rather than listening to Christ’s call to love one another as he loves us.
In the last few months, we’ve spent a good deal of time studying the Gospel of John. That is the gospel of relationship. John’s gospel shows God in direct relationship with humanity through the incarnation, through the person of Jesus Christ in the world. In baptism, we affirm that connection. We affirm that we remain connected to Christ, even though the human Jesus died nearly two thousand years ago! Baptism is the sign and the seal that marks our connection to Christ—as individuals and as a worshipping community. It marks our life in Christ after our death to sin.
Being dead to sin and alive in Christ is much more than simply being a nice person; it is much more than simply avoiding the big sins. If we are to live in Christ, then we must live as disciples. We must participate in Christ’s work of reconciliation. We must work to tear down walls of hostility and reduce separation. We must work to restore relationships and connections in our families, our congregation, our communities, and our world.
Being dead to sin and alive in Christ is an ongoing process. Yes, baptism is a sacrament that we only observe once in a person’s life, but the work is ongoing. The work is ongoing because sin is not merely a collection of bad acts, it is a condition that we experience. We are constantly called to repentance; that is a call for change, always.
It is only through connections and relationships that we can truly do the work of discipleship. Baptism reminds us of our need for connection and our constant need to change. To deny the isolating power of sin and break its hold on our lives, we must change our hearts and minds, constantly. We must work to remain in God’s covenants with humanity. This work is ongoing; it is never done. If we want to preserve this community, and keep Rehoboth as a place where disciples are trained and sent out into the world, then all of us have to be willing and able to change. Thanks be to God. Amen.
After the baptism, I took Aubrey Jean for a little stroll through the congregation.
I needed to introduce her to her new family at Rehoboth.
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember your own baptisms. Remember that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Remember that, through baptism, we are dead to sin. And if we are dead to sin, then we are alive in Christ, who calls us to be the Church, the body of Christ in the world, the world today. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!