Sunday, January 31, 2016

God Loves the Outsiders by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Where are you from? I know you might answer that question Ohio, or Michigan, or New York, or Alabama. But I mean further back. Where are your ancestors from? Mine are from England, Ireland, Germany, and Wales. Where are your from? Do we have any Native American ancestry here? Except for the Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants. 

Of course this country was built by immigrants: the British to start. Then there were waves of immigration: from Ireland, Italy, Germany, China, and Japan, to name a few. Each one of those groups has suffered discrimination as an immigrant people. The Japanese were put in internment camps during World War II. Germans were persecuted after World War II. When I was a kid we told Pollock jokes to make fun of people from Poland. Who knows why? They were just the people at the bottom of the heap during that time.  There are always people at the bottom of the heap at a time.

Today we have a presidential candidate who wants to keep out not only all the Syrian refugees but any one immigrating into this country who is a Muslim simply because he is so scared about terrorism. That same candidate wants to build a wall all along our southern border to keep out immigrants from the south. Yet the refugees from Syria are fleeing a terrible Civil War. And asylum seekers from such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are fleeing oppressive regimes where people are being murdered by the thousands. 

As Christians, I believe we have a responsibility to provide a safe home for the refugee and the immigrant. There are more than 45 references in scripture about how we should welcome the refugee because God’s people, the Israelites were once refugees in a foreign land. This is why many churches work to help resettle refugees. 

Our families, most of them, were immigrants at one time. And we were welcomed into this country. We made a home. Today there are people who are refugees from war torn countries who are begging to come to this country to make a new home. As Christians, it is our duty to support policies that will welcome these people with open arms. Of course we need to be some safe guards and background checks, but for the most part, these are honest, hard-working people who are suffering and need to be given a second chance in a new home. 

Today’s scripture (Luke 4:21-30 (The Message Bible) for those following along from afar) speaks to what is means to be a refugee, or an immigrant. Because, you see, the refugees and immigrants are the outsiders in our world. They are the lowest of the low. No one wants them. 

In today’s scripture, the Jewish leaders are trying to make sense of who Jesus is and what he is doing. You’ll remember last week’s message. Jesus read the scripture from Isaiah in the synagogue. He said: “I come to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the battered and burdened free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.” Then he says that he is fulfilling this scripture today has he reads it. His pronouncement is shocking to the people. And they say to one another, “Isn’t this just Joseph’s son? Who we’ve known since he was a boy?”

Jesus gets a bit defensive and says they will probably quote scripture at him: “Physician, heal yourself;” and that they will say to him, “Do in your hometown what you did in Capernaum.” You see, the people of Capernaum were mostly non-Jews, they were outsiders. The people in his hometown did not like the fact that he was going off and healing foreigners rather than healing them. 

Then Jesus reminds them of two stories from their own scripture. He says: “Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.”
You see, Elijah and Elisha, two of their prophets, were in places where there were many Jews, and yet they chose to care for non-Jews, outsiders. One was even from Syria, like our modern day refugees. God sent Elijah and Elisha to the outsiders, not to the insiders. 

Oh, the people are infuriated when Jesus brings up their own scripture against them. They don’t want to be reminded that God loves those outside their inner circle. They just want God for themselves. In fact they get so angry, they banish him from the village and then decide to take Jesus out and throw him off a cliff to kill him. But he gave them the slip and goes off to another village.

You see, we human beings like our insider clubs. Truth be told, some of us at least partly agree with that Presidential candidate that wants to build a wall in Texas and keep out all the Muslims. We are afraid of terrorists. We are already the insiders in our country. Sure, if we’re honest, we know we were immigrants at one time, but that was a long time ago. Now this is our country, and it’s full. We don’t have enough jobs to spare. We start living from a mentality of scarcity rather than abundance. There is not enough to go around, so we really can’t let any more immigrants in. We can’t let those outsiders in, or our quality of life may start to fall. 

But Jesus came for the outsiders.  He came to offer love and grace to the outsiders: to the refugees and to the immigrants. He calls us to be generous to the outsider and to share what we have so that everyone might live abundantly. Who knows? Maybe our church could even adopt a refugee family and help them get settled in Toledo? 

But this scripture is bigger than the refugee crisis. It speaks to all our life situations. If we are honest, we have to ask ourselves if we have sense that some people are insiders and some are outsiders? In what contexts are you an insider? Where do you have privilege over other people simply because of who you are? Some of us have privilege because we are white. People treat us with more respect simply because we are white. We are insiders in a white only world. People expect us to be more powerful, more intelligent, and more capable than people of color. It’s not true but it’s a perception that is real in our world. 

Some of you have privilege because you are men. Men are still seen as having more authority than women. People listen to men more than they listen to women. In a meeting, a man and a woman can put forth the same idea, but it will only be because the man puts for the idea that people begin to take it seriously. This is male privilege. 

Some of us have privilege that comes with age. Younger people are discriminated against. We don’t think they have as much to contribute because they don’t have enough experience. They can’t be as wise as their older counterparts. So the older person in a situation has privilege. 

Some of us have privilege because we are well educated. If you are well educated you are automatically assumed to be smarter and you are placed in a position of authority. People with less education are put down. It does not matter how smart they are. They are not listened to because they don’t have a degree. 

All of these types of privilege make us insiders. And when we are insiders, we look down on people who are outsiders. We may not think we do it. We may not intend to do it, but we do. 

So, in the places where you are an insider, what would it take for you to reach out to the outsider and be respectful, more loving and more generous? How could you be more Christ-like? What would it mean to treat the outsider as if she were an insider? How would you stretch yourself to include the outsider and invite him inside your circle? 

This is what it means to follow Jesus. We tear down the walls between insiders and outsiders and include everyone in the circle of God’s love. You see, if I believe God loves everyone then I have to treat everyone, insiders and outsiders alike as beloved children of God. It’s hard to treat someone as an outsider if I believe they are a beloved child of God. It’s hard to build walls and keep children of God out of our country. It’s hard to pass laws to keep children of God out of our country. 

It’s hard to follow Jesus and treat someone like they are not precious to God. So let us buck the system. Let us be original. Let us set aside the idea that there are insiders and outsiders, because it’s what Jesus would do. Let’s treat everyone as beloved children of God, and welcome everyone into the circle of God’s love. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good News for Imperfect People by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Last week we heard about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry from the Gospel of John’s perspective. John told the story of Jesus turning the water into wine as a sign of God’s extravagant love. This week we turn to Luke’s Gospel. Luke has a different story about how Jesus’ ministry began. And isn’t that how it is in a family? Everyone always remembers the story a bit differently. One person remembers one story and another remembers another.
In Luke’s Gospel we get Jesus’ first sermon. Some call it his inaugural address. I had the privilege of hearing President Obama give his second inaugural address in person, along with hundreds of thousands of other people on the capital lawn. In the address, Obama laid out his plans and his dreams for our country. His vision was big and bold. He was filled with big ideas that day – no worry about Congress and whether or not they would cooperate. When you are giving an inaugural address it is all about hope and the future and how we’re going to get there together.
Jesus gave the same kind of inaugural address, but all he had to do was read scripture. It was the Sabbath. He was in his hometown of Nazareth and so he went to the meeting place, the local synagogue. He was asked to read the scripture for the day, much like Kristen often reads our scripture for the day. It was an appointed text; he did not choose it. The text was from Isaiah. It was filled with promise, and hope and a bright future for all the people, just like President Obama’s inaugural address. Jesus read this:
God’s Spirit is on me;
    God’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
Now this was a reading from Isaiah, remember, but then when Jesus closed the scroll, he did an amazing thing. He said: “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” What! What did he say? He said that HE was the one who would do these things. He said he was God’s servant, sent to turn the world upside down. That must have caused quite a stir.
So let’s unpack what he said just a bit. He came to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the burdened and battered free. This is the year for God to act. David Lose writes: “What is striking, if you listen closely, is that this good news is only good if you are willing to admit what is hard in your life, what is lacking, what has been most difficult. It is not “good news” in general, but rather good news for the poor. It is not just release, but release to those who are captive, sight to those who are blind, freedom to those who are oppressed.”  (Source: David Lose,
So in order for us to receive these blessings from Jesus, we have to admit that we are not perfect. We are in need of blessing. This is hard for us to do because we live in a culture that calls us to pretend that we have it all together, right? Television, the internet, advertisements, all tell us we are supposed to be thin and beautiful, and fit. We’re supposed to eat healthily and raise perfect children. We’re supposed to have the perfect job and work hard at it and get promotions and raises so then we can buy the perfect house and live in the perfect neighborhood and have perfect friends. Wow! What an illusion. Who can live up to that!
Jesus came to remind us that we are all imperfect. We are all broken and in need of the grace of God. So in his inaugural sermon he talked about those things. He said, “If you are blind to certain things, I will give you sight.” What are you blind to? What do you need to see more clearly? Is it a relationship that is not right? A job situation where you need to stand up for yourself? Are you blind to an injustice that you participate in? Do you have a blind spot that prevents you from seeing something right in front of you that everyone around you is trying to help you see? Jesus said, “I come to give sight to the blind.” So he will give us sight in our blind spots. Jesus will help us see those hard things within ourselves and around us that we don’t want to see. If we just ask, Jesus will show us what he wants us to see.
Next, Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. How are you poor? You might be financially poor. If so, Jesus wants to come and bring you hope. Like Obama who in his inaugural address gave a vision for how we can lift people out of poverty in our country, Jesus does not want people to live in poverty. He wants us to have a fair living wage, health care for all the people, and job training so everyone can provide for their own family. He wants us to help one another so that no one has to live in poverty in this world.
But there are so many other ways to be poor. Are you poor in spirit? Are you beaten down by life? Jesus wants to lift you up. Jesus came to bring us the good news that we belong to God and God loves us.
Are you poor because you are without hope and you are discouraged? Jesus wants to bring you good news. You are not alone. God is with you. God has a dream for your life. God has a purpose for your life, a reason why God put you on this earth. Your job is to discover that purpose and live it out. That is the good news. If you are feeling poor in spirit remember that you are not poor because you belong to God.
Jesus also came to announce pardon to the prisoners. Do you feel like you are living in a prison? What does that prison feel like? Is your prison guilt for something you have done? Or something you have failed to do?    Remember we are all imperfect people. We have all made mistakes. Jesus came to tell us that we are forgiven. This is a big one, my friends. So many of us walk around with guilt and shame. We are prisoners to our guilt and shame. Jesus says to us: You are forgiven. In the name of God, you are forgiven. Leave it behind. Whatever you did, or failed to do, it cannot separate you from the love of God. Let it go. God forgives you. It’s time to forgive yourself.
Finally, Jesus came to set the battered and the burdened free. Do you feel battered by the world? Are you weighed down by your burdens? This is a tough one too. Life is hard. The longer we live, the more time we have to collect burdens. It’s like we have this big sack we are dragging around behind us with all our worries and our woes. Jesus came to take that sack away from us and to set us free. Take a deep breath. Imagine what it would feel like to give your burdens over to Jesus. Just let them go and let him have them. He wants to take them. He does not want us to be beaten down by them any longer. Jesus wants to set us free. So take him at his word. Be free.
Jesus made this inaugural sermon and then he sat down. We don’t know if the people took it to heart. We don’t know the stories of the people who heard it and how they lived their individual lives from that day forward. But we know how we live our lives. The sermon reminds us that we have to own up to our imperfections. We need to stop hiding behind the idea that we can be perfect. God knows we’re not. What a relief. We can let down our guard and allow Jesus to care for us. So that is our gift today. Jesus sets us free from our imperfections.
In the Christian church we have a tradition of confession. In prayer, we confess our sins to God, our shortcomings, and our failings. It helps to cleanse the soul when we name our sins to God. Of course God already knows, but it helps us to come clean with God. When we confess our sins we remember that Jesus came not for the perfect but for the imperfect, he came not for the healed but for the broken, he came not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, and he came not for the saint but for the sinner.
When we confess our sins, we always end our prayers with what we call the absolution. This is the reminder that we are forgiven. Because you see, God always forgives us. God loves us and it is God’s nature to forgive.
So we’re going to respond to the message today with a prayer of confession. I invite you to pray with me. The prayer is on the screen.
Holy God,
We confess that we are imperfect people. We have done things we wish we had not done, and we have failed to do things we wish we had done. We are poor in spirit; we fail to draw near to you. We are blind to the injustice in our community and our world. We are prisoners to our own poor choices. We carry our burdens like a badge of honor rather than giving them over to you so we might live as free people. And now O God we confess our private sins to you in silence.
Pastor: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
People: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

God's Extravagance by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

You can’t out give God. That is the message for today. God will always find a way to bless you with more.
John’s Gospel reports many signs that Jesus offered which pointed to his supernatural powers. Today’s story tells about the first of those signs: the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
So the story goes, Jesus was attending the wedding with his mother. His disciples were there too. The wedding was in Cana, not far from his home in Nazareth. After a while the wedding celebration was still going full steam ahead, but they were about to run out of wine. Jesus’ mother came to him and told him. At first Jesus said, “What do I care? It’s not my time yet, Mother. Don’t’ push.” He was insinuating that it was not time for him to make a show of his abilities. However, Jesus must have changed his mind because right away he told the servants to fill up some large stoneware pots with water. These were pots usually reserved for cleansing rituals. Again, they were BIG pots, holding twenty to thirty gallons of water.
The servants filled the pots with water. Jesus had them fill pitchers from the pots and take the pitchers to the host of the wedding. When the host tasted what was in the pitchers, it was the finest wine. He commended the bridegroom saying that most people serve the good wine first and then bring out the cheap wine when everyone is drunk and won’t know the difference. But this bridegroom, says the host, has saved the best for last. Because of this sign, we’re told, the people got a first glimpse of Jesus’ glory and his disciples believed in him.
What does this sign tell us about Jesus? When he does something, he does not do it half-way, he does it extravagantly. He could have just made enough wine to get through the celebration, but he made more than enough. He made so much wine I’m sure they did not know what to do with it all. They probably extended the wedding celebration longer than expected because they had so much good wine to drink. Jesus sure knows how to throw a party.
We see this extravagance and generosity at other places in scripture, don’t we? Do you remember the time the workers get hired, some at the beginning of the day, and some mid-morning, and some mid-day; others mid-afternoon and then some when there is only one hour of work left? The ones who get hired when there is only one hour of work left get paid the same amount of money as those who worked all day. When the workers complain Jesus says it was a fair wage for a day. Why should they complain if others get paid generously? He is all about extravagance and generosity. This is how God is with God’s love.
We see this again in the story of the Prodigal Son. When the son returns, after wasting away his whole inheritance, the father, who represents God in the story, greets him with welcome arms and throws a big party in his honor. We see extravagant love again.
There is a film that is one of my favorites, about extravagant love. It’s an old film from 1987 called Babette’s Feast. The setting is a small Danish Village, where the people are very stern and dour. There are two old women who spent their lives caring for their father who was a very conservative pastor. He has since died. Babette appears, having traveled from France. She is penniless and asks the two women to take her in as a servant and they do. Babette wins the lottery and offers to make a feast for the women and some friends from their church, in honor of the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. Little do they know, she was previously a chef in the finest restaurant in Paris. She prepares a gourmet meal for the townspeople. As they eat it, these sad, pitiful people are transformed. They begin to laugh and they come to life. Later we find out that Babette has spent her entire lottery winning on this one meal so she is penniless again. But she does not care because she was able to bring joy to these sad people. They are resurrected through Babette’s feast.
Her gift of love is a gift of extravagance. Any sensible person, who had been homeless and penniless, would have taken that lottery money and made a new life for herself. But Babette is the Christ figure in the film. She gives everything she has, her skills as a chef, and every penny she owns, in order to bring new life to these two old women and their friends. She gives them a blessing, a blessing of extravagant love.
What do you need from God? What blessing do you need? Because you see, Jesus came to give signs that God is in our midst. And Jesus can do the same for us. Jesus can give us signs that God is present in our lives.
Do you need reconciliation with someone with whom you are fighting? Jesus can give you peace in your heart. Jesus can heal you of the anger you are feeling toward that person. Because, you see, carrying around anger does not do anyone any good. It just hurts the one who feels the anger. But when we let go of the anger and give it to God, we have a sense of release. Now, we don’t have control over how that person will react to us no longer being angry. She may not have decided to listen to Jesus and to stop being angry. But we can take the first step toward reconciliation by letting go of our anger and making a move of peace toward that person. Jesus would do that. Jesus would make a move of peace. It would be an act of extravagant love and Jesus wants to help us make that move.
What else do you need from God? Are you feeling hopeless? Despair is a hard place to live. Believe me, I’ve been there. But I promise you this, if you are living in the land of despair, you are not there alone. God is with you. God is sitting with you, and weeping with you, and holding your hand. And God is trying to reach in to offer you hope. God is trying to send you a sign: whether it be in the form of a kind act from a stranger or a friend, or perhaps a memory of a better time, God is longing to give you hope. God does not want you to live in despair. When we are living in despair, we have to take action to pull ourselves out. We have to get out of the house. I know it’s hard when you’re depressed, but it’s what we have to do. We have to do something kind for ourselves, whatever you can do to brighten your day: buy yourself fresh flowers, take a class, go for a walk or do something active that you enjoy, meditate, do yoga, do something artistic, even if you’re not very good at it. The act of doing one of these things will help pull you out of your despair and help you find your hope. God can give you the power to do these things because God is right there beside you in the land of despair and God wants to walk with you out of despair into hope.  
What other blessing do you need from God? Do you need relief from the stress you are under? This is a big one. Most of us feel the stress of daily life. God can give us relief when we pray and join God in the quiet. I know it’s easy for me to stand here and say, “The way to relieve stress is to slow down,” but it’s true. When I take time at the beginning of the day to stop and pray and be silent for a few minutes in God’s presence, it is amazing how much calmer my day goes. I get the same number of things accomplished, but I feel so much calmer because I started my day with God. God will bless us extravagantly when we remember to start our day with God.
I could go on. For every need we have, God has a blessing for us. Because that is God’s nature. God wants to bless us. God wants to bless us extravagantly. Because God loves us so much, God wants to fill us with blessing that is overflowing. Just like the wine at the wedding, just like the feast that Babette gave to her neighbors.
But this is what happened at the wedding. The need had to be identified. Someone had to come to Jesus and say: “We’re almost out of wine.” That was his mother. At first he told her it was not his time, insinuating that he would not do anything about it. But immediately after, he proceeded to do something about it. He acted. Because that is what Jesus does when he hears about a need. He acts.
Jesus will act for us too. We just need to let him know what we need. His response will be extravagant. Just like he produced more than enough wine at the wedding, he will give us more than we need. We simply need to ask.
So let us make our needs known to Jesus. Let us pour out our hearts. Ask for what you need, and trust that your needs will be met extravagantly. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Holy Spirit Baptism by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

There is a new film out called Brooklyn, based on a book by the same name. Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish girl, Ellis Lacey, who leaves her family and her village in Ireland and immigrates all alone to the United States. She has never traveled, never done anything risky, never been away from her family, and she goes off on this adventure to find a better life in Brooklyn. She does this because she has more opportunities in Brooklyn, economically, socially and spiritually. 

Nancy Rockwell writes that Brooklyn offers Ellis the promises of Advent: love, joy, hope and peace (source: But Ellis must die to her old self in order to live into those promises. She has to take on a new look in order to get a job. She has to be more assertive in order to keep that job. She has to be out-going and talk to strangers as a shop girl. This puts her way out of her element. She has a chance at love with a young Italian man but this means she must adjust to the ways of a boisterous Italian family with strange foods and customs. 

Then she has to make peace with her mother and with leaving Ireland behind. Rockwell writes: “Brooklyn is a baptism for Ellis Lacey, and it is not a splash, it is a long learning to swim in strange waters” (ibid). It is a baptism because she is totally immersed in a new life. She is never the same after she goes to Brooklyn. She is blessed by the experience. She is transformed by Brooklyn. 

We know with blessings come some level of risk. We know this from our own lives. In order to experience something new that is a blessing, we have to step into a new future, and leave the old behind. Ellis’ character, in order to be blessed, must leave everything behind, her home, her family, and her people. She has to die to her old life in order to be resurrected into a new life in Brooklyn.

The people of Israel learned this lesson from John as he was teaching and baptizing along the Jordan River. The people who came to John in the wilderness were sort of risking their lives because bathing in the sea was not an ordinary experience and people did not know how to swim in those days (ibid). These people wanted to leave their old lives behind. They wanted a new life. They wanted to step into something new. 

Being baptized by immersion, which is when you let the person dip your whole body into the water, well, this was an act of real faith, don’t you think? You had to trust that the person baptizing you had the strength to hold you and lift you back up out of the water.  

For Ellis Lacey, there were many hands involved in her baptism that she had to trust. She was fearful at first, but over time she learned to trust. She trusted the woman who ran the boardinghouse where she lived and the other women who lived there. She learned to trust the supervisor at her store, and Tony, who became her boyfriend. She trusted her dying sister, who did not tell Ellis she was dying, so that Ellis would not get stuck caring for their mother. Ellis must choose to embrace the arms that wanted to help her, the arms of her baptism.  

Christians have several ideas about what happens when we get baptized. John said that baptism cleanses us from our sin. It seems like everything will be fine with us once we are baptized and washed clean, but of course, we know as Christians that life after baptism is not a bed of roses. We will still encounter hardships. 

In some Christian traditions the one who is baptized is wrapped in holiness, with water on the head, oil on the heart and white linen cloths wrapped around and around the one who is baptized as a symbol of holiness.

In other traditions baptism is a symbolic death and resurrection. The baptized one is tied to a future beyond this world.

Being baptized means that we balance ourselves in the waters of life in this world; which includes both death and holy blessing.

Even Jesus had to be baptized. You might think that he was too perfect. Why would he need to die to an old life and be raised up into a new life? But Jesus came to John and presented himself for baptism. When he was baptized, so the story goes, the heavens opened up, and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. A voice was heard that said: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This was God claiming Jesus as God’s own child. This was a Holy Spirit baptism.

We get a Holy Spirit baptism too. Many of us were baptized as infants. We don’t even remember the event, but that does not make it any less important. On the day I was baptized, both sets of grandparents traveled from Texas to our home in Kansas to celebrate. Because you see, when a baby is baptized, we claim the Holy Spirit with that child, forever more. This child has not been around long enough to truly sin, so the child does not need to be cleansed of any wrong doing. But the child is claimed by God, just as Jesus was: “This is my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.”

When you were baptized, God said these words to you: “This is my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.”  Whether or not you were immersed in the water or sprinkled with a few drops or had water poured over your head, it does not matter. The water is a sign. You left behind a life without God and stepped into a new life with God. Just like Ellis Lacey left behind her life in Ireland and stepped into a new life in Brooklyn. She was taking a risk and God is taking a risk on us.

So what does it mean to live as a baptized person? First, we put our trust in God’s promises. We live as people who expect the best out of one another. We treat one another as a child of God. You see, if I believe I am a child of God, then I also have to treat you like a child of God, precious and beloved.

How would this world be a different place if each one of us treated everyone else as a precious and beloved child of God? What if all the people who claim to be Christian would do that? Treat others as precious and beloved children of God? We would have a revolution of kindness.

What if we all believed in ourselves? You see, when we are baptized, we are marked forever as God’s own children. God makes people who have gifts and who have something to contribute to the world. God does not make losers. So what if rather than being so hard on ourselves, we decided to believe in ourselves and live out our dreams? The world would be filled with people empowered to live the calling that God put them on this earth to live out. How wonderful that would be.

What else does it mean to live as a baptized person? It means we live with compassion. We don’t just think of ourselves and our own families. We care about other people. We want to serve God by serving others. We feed the hungry, give comfort to the sick, we show compassion to those who grieve. 

Living as a baptized person also means we are generous. We don’t worry about not having enough. We recognize that God will provide for our needs, and so we give generously to help others. When we have an abundance, we share. We give thanks for God’s blessings in our lives, and rather than hoarding, we share what we have with others who are in need.

I read a prayer this week in Joyce Rupp’s book Fragments of Your Ancient Name that said,

“Jesus…I understand you are more than a name.
To know you is to allow your teachings
To reach into the core of my daily life,
To have your vision be the vital substance
Of what truly guides and rules how I live.”

(Source: Fragments of Your Ancient Name, Joyce Rupp, reading for January 7.)

You see, once we are baptized, we invite Jesus’ teachings into the core of our daily lives. We have his vision guide and rule how we live. This is because the Holy Spirit is living in us and we are paying attention to that Holy Spirit.

It’s like this: once we are claimed by God, we are marked as members of God’s family. We are marked by the water of baptism. Nothing we do can un-do that baptism. We might become terrible people, commit crimes, never go to church, do everything we can to turn away from God, but God never turns away from us. God is always there waiting for us to come back, because we are baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

That spark of the Holy Spirit always lives in us. It may be deep inside. The fire may be a tiny flicker, but the Holy Spirit is always in us. This Spirit is what connects us to God. When we feel a sense that God is pulling or pushing us in a certain direction, that is the Holy Spirit in us. When we feel a sense that God is leading us down a path, that is the Holy Spirit at work.

You see, just as the young Ellis Lacey was immersed in her experience of Brooklyn, and was forever changed by it, we are immersed in the waters of baptism and forever changed. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts and will never move out.

Today in worship, we gave people an opportunity to remember their baptism. We had a bowl of water. It symbolized the waters of baptism. We were invited to come to the water and touch it, remembering that we are blessed by the Holy Spirit. You were claimed in your baptism as God’s beloved child and you are still that beloved child today.  You can do this at home today too.  There is no magic to the water we used.  Pour yourself some.  Then come to the water, touch the water, and remember that you are blessed.   You are God’s beloved child, with whom God is well pleased.  Amen.