Scripture: Genesis 2:4-7, 2 Corinthians 4:5-15
When I was just a kid, I have this memory of my parents taking me to a swimming class.
I loved going swimming, but this swimming class terrified me.
The instructor was teaching us how to float, and so to test our skills, he took us out into the deep end of the pool, which I was deathly afraid of. The shallow end was my place. My little feet could touch the bottom. The deep end was the place of nightmares. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t believe there was a bottom there.
But the instructor had us climb in to the deep end and hold on to the edge of the pool. And then, first with very encouraging requests and later with more frustration, he pleaded with us to let go of the edge of the pool, push out into the deep, and float. He reassured me - I was completely safe, and I could do this.
But, I’ll tell you, nothing on heaven and earth would pry my hands from the edge of that pool.
I wonder if you have had any moments in your life or even in your spiritual journey where you clung to the edge, despite being asked and pleaded with to let go and trust that someone or something would be there to keep you safe.
In some ways, this is an image of faith with God.
Throughout the Bible, from Old Testament to New Testament, God’s messengers bring the good news by saying, “Do not be afraid.”
And yet, even as we begin to learn to trust that voice, we find ourselves clinging to the edges of what we consider safe. Of what society tells us is safe. Not able to truly let go and rely on God.
Part of the reason why is what we call sin. Our sins are not just those moments in our lives when we mess up or make bad choices and say or do something that wounds others. Sin is also the narratives at work in our world that misshape us - that misshape all of us. These are the old stories that tell us that we aren’t good enough, that tell us that we aren’t successful enough, that tell us that we should be afraid of others, that give us permission to hate or denigrate or ignore our neighbors. We have fancy words for some of these old stories - like racism, misogony, homophobia, and greed. If we have the courage to look, we can recognize that on deep levels, through our societies, these messages have messed us up.
In this time of division, as our national leaders talk impeachment, as presidential candidates tout their agendas, as our communities experience division, as our own lives are placed under such pressure, we know behind it and beneath are these stories that are bringing us death. They are killing us and our planet. And though we may dream of what life would be like without them, we cling to them, hanging on to the edge of the pool, afraid to let them go.
My mentor, Rev. Lari Grubbs, told me once - “The opposite of faith is not doubt - the opposite of faith is mistrust.”
Our deepest faith struggles are not when we aren’t sure what we believe, but when we do not trust God - when God calls us to let go of those stories that have misshapen us and choose to push out into the deep of God’s abundant love.
The life and ministry of Jesus is about that invitation, over and over again.
Will you let go of the edge and trust that God is going to be there?
In our Christian practice and in this church, baptism is one of the ways we celebrate and invite each other to let go of sin and evil and begin living into who God has created us to be.
The church began, some think, with John the Baptist, who was a fiery preacher, the kind that never got invited to the White House, and Jesus’ cousin, who taught out in the wilderness and baptized thousands in the Jordan River as an act of cleansing and repentance .
Even in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people had been misshaped by all kinds of evil messages.
This act of baptism reminded and restored the people as Chosen by God.
Our church continues this practice along with most Christian traditions. And we recognize that there are many ways to see this beautiful sacrament, but one of the ways I invite us to think about this moment in our faith journey is that baptism is the beginning of our rejection of the stories of evil and injustice that have misshaped us, a letting go, and reemerging as new creations of God.
In our scriptures today, we hear affirming stories that we should hold close as part of our understanding of baptism and how God is working in us.
In Genesis 2, this ancient remarkable story declares that God formed human beings out of the dust, bending down and molding us out of the dirt like playdoh, and then breathing into us a breath of life.
Can you imagine it - we all have the breath of God in us, filling our lungs and feeding into our whole bodies?
We are God’s creation - there is something intrinsically beautiful and precious about each us.
Many of the stories that have misshapen us tell other things - that we are not beautiful creations of God. That our lives don’t matter. That our lives are only as valuable as what we can produce. That our lives are just chance.
But God’s story reminds us that our lives are gifts.
Later, the apostle Paul, one of the leaders in the early church, would write amazing letters to encourage and guide Christian communities who were struggling to survive in the midst of persecution and conflict. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul describes Jesus’ transforming work in us as that which brings life out of the deadness of our world. He acknowledges the immense pressure that so many faithful disciples struggled under. It was hard to live in the way of Jesus when the culture around them and the stories that had misshaped them seemed so strong and threatened to kill them and snuff their faith out. But Paul recognizes that God’s power was greater than those other stories. And God’s power was working in us even if we didn’t always see it. In verse 8 and 9, he writes, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
When we reorient our lives away from sin and evil and to the way of Jesus, Jesus becomes alive in us so “that Jesus may be made visible in our bodies”.
When we follow Jesus, when we are baptized, when we accept this incredible gift, it’s not just God’s breath that is in us - but it is Jesus who comes alive in us.
And with Jesus, we have the presence of God with us.
Our new friend and facilitator for our Epiphany retreat, Rev. Robin Curras, said to us yesterday, that she knows the only way she can get out of bed each morning is because God is with her.
Do you need to be reminded each morning that God is with you?
Are you living as you were created to be, as God made you, filled with God’s own breath?
Are you still clinging to old stories that have misshapen you? Are you ready for a better story for your life?
Even as a church, are we, University Christian Church, holding on to too many things that are killing us, afraid to let go?
With Jesus in our lives, that daily gift is ready to be receive. Baptism is an act of faith that represents our choice to let go of the edge, let go of those old misshapen stories, let go of the same of our mistakes and our past, and sink into God’s love which is enough even in a time of impeachment, school shootings, disaster, division, and hate.
Of course, baptism is the beginning of a journey. One author I was reading described baptism as like the onramp to a highway. Whenever that journey began, whether you were baptized as an infant or immersed as an adult, it can take some time to merge into your lane and get going. Sometimes, you will break down on the side of the road with a flat tire or a blown gasket, or you might even get a little lost. But at any moment, God welcomes you back. You don’t need to be re-baptized or start over. God’s grace invites you back into the flow of traffic, continuing your journey.
As part of our Disciples of Christ movement, one of the values we hold about baptism is that it is an invitation from God for which you have the freedom to make. If you feel God is calling you, you can say yes and ask to be baptized. If you feel you have gotten off track in your faith, you can say yes again to Jesus and renew your journey. Are you in either of those places this morning? I hope you will think about that and pray with me later in worship if you feel the Spirit move you in such a way.
In recent years, Hollywood seems to have run out of ideas for movies. And so, they have chosen to do what seems like an endless amount of “re-makes”. Now, sometimes, these “re-makes” are pretty good, with better graphics and actors and so on. But so often, the “re-make” ain’t as good as the original. The original stands the test of time. The original can’t be beat.
I believe that part of the truth of baptism is that deep down, every human being, no matter the terrible things we have done and need to account for, is loved by God as a precious creation. We are each an original, and no matter how the world might try to “re-make” us into something better, God is inviting us to discover how beautiful we already are and how we too can be a part of God’s story, a story of wholeness and hope.
Take a breath. Feel God moving in You. Say yes for the first time. Say yes for the hundredth time. Let go of the edge, and sink back into God’s love.
(posted November 17, 2019)