Sermon for Sunday, August 26th, 2010 || Proper 16, Year B || Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34: 15-22; Ephesians 6: 10-20; John 6: 56-69 ||
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“It is the spirit that gives life,” Jesus tells us quite plainly. “The flesh,” he adds, (meaning the material, temporal world of the senses) is useless.”
Jesus wants us to know in no uncertain terms that the spiritual life is what makes the rest of life possible. That only the spiritual life has the power to give our temporal lives real purpose, meaning, and value. That the spiritual life is the only firm foundation on which to build our temporal lives. And for Christians, baptism is our initiation into that spiritual life.
This morning, in just a few minutes, we are going to baptize Phoebe Johanna Bunge, formally welcoming her into the Body of Christ as an official member of the Church. Not just this church we call St. Stephen’s, and not just this denomination we call the Episcopal Church. We’re going to baptize and welcome Phoebe into God’s Church. Christ’s church. The invisible, universal church (with a capital “C”) of all baptized Christians, collectively known as Christ’s Body. That spiritual body whose individual members serve as stand-ins for Christ—the material manifestations of Christ’s presence in the physical world. And as Christians have been doing for centuries, we’re going to vow that by our prayers and our witness we will do all we can to help this baby Christian grow into the full stature of Christ—just as others vowed they would do for us when we were baptized—because we are all members Christ’s Body.
You see, Phoebe doesn’t know it yet, but today she is becoming a part of something much bigger than herself. Today she is becoming a member of a special community bound by something far more powerful than dues or fees or secret passwords—because today she is becoming a member of a spiritual community. A spiritual community bound by what our prayer book calls an “indissoluble bond”; a bond that connects us with one another for all of time once we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Mind those words: “Marked as Christ’s own forever.” In our baptismal preparation, I always tell parents that those are the five most important and comforting words in the English language. Because as our children grow up in this “unsteady and confusing world” to remember they are marked as Christ’s own forever can be a source of great solace. But as they used to say in the old spaghetti Westerns, “them’s fightin’ words” too.
Because whether we use the first century terminology of St. Paul and talk about “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces of evil” or whether we use more contemporary language and refer to “social, political, and economic forces beyond our control” the fact remains that there are powers in this world that effect our lives in ways that are decidedly opposed to Christ’s agenda. There are forces at work in our temporal lives that are a direct threat to our spiritual health.
“The world,” as William Wordsworth once observed, “is too much with us.” We have too many pressures, too many choices, too many commitments; we have too much stress, too much stimuli, too much stuff– and we have way too much non-stop news and information.
In fact, the world is so much with us, that many of us are convinced there’s never been a time in modern history when it has been as radically counter-cultural to try to live a spiritually-grounded life as it is today. Our media-saturated society conjures up idols out of conspicuous consumers, narcissistic natterers, and shallow socialites. We live in a time and a place in which the gods of self-reliance, independence, and material success reign like 1st century Roman despots; personal privacy, pride, and outward appearances are their sidekicks. We are over-scheduled, over-worked, and over- whelmed. And to add insult to injury we live under a constant barrage of temptation to get the latest, the newest, the fastest, the coolest, and always—of course—the very best.
Yet as the Church—each of us baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever—we are called to a completely different way of life…a way that calls us to put more value on people than on products, on relationships than on results. We speak the truth in a world of deception, denial and spin-control. We follow One who chose the way of a servant and a peacemaker, rather than a “master of the universe.” One who consistently teaches us to value above all else total dependence on God, vulnerability and reliance on one another, personal transparency and openness, and relationships of deep connectedness, compassion, and meaning. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Church. We are a “we.”
And we all know how difficult it is to hold on to one’s spiritual life in the temporal world. We all know how challenging it is to claim one’s Christian identity in a world of atheists and agnostics. We all know how daunting it is to live into the values Christ teaches– when everything we see, hear, read, and watch outside of church seems to oppose those values head-on.
So we come here week after week for spiritual fortitude. We come here week after week to be reminded that we’re not alone, that there are others on this journey with us. We come here week after week, because in the bread of life and the cup of salvation we reconnect with who and whose we really are. We come here week after week to remember– and because we know there is strength in numbers. We are the Body of Christ.
The truth is that like little Phoebe we are all baby Christians. And the world in which we live can be pretty hostile to baby Christians. We need each other. We need to know we’ve got the support of this community. We need to know we’re being prayed for. We need to know we’re a part of something much bigger than ourselves, that we’re bound together in a spiritual bond that is indissoluble.
Because together we can do astonishing things we might never do alone—from fulfilling our promise to help Phoebe grow into the full stature of Christ, to promoting Christ’s agenda of justice, mercy, and compassion, of healing and reconciliation, of life built around the eternal truths and spiritual realities he teaches.
In the coming week, when you’re struggling with a particular challenge, I invite you to remember that you are marked as Christ’s own forever; I invite you to remember that you are a part of the “we” that is Christ’s body, connected to all of us through His life-giving spirit. And I invite you in that moment to pray for this community, and in so doing know that this community is praying for you.
Because we are the Body of Christ. We are the Church. We are a “we.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.