In baptism we are washed into Christ, into love that lets us begin anew. And in baptism we are given work to do, our mission in Christ to love God, to care for one another, and to serve our neighbors. We need the bread of life, Jesus Christ, who strengthens us to take on our baptismal call together, following the cross of Christ, and serving in the world around us.
Vicar Erik Doughty, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 19, year B; text: John 6:35, 41-51
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.
Baptism, bread of life, life together, mission and service. That is what the texts and the liturgy bring to us today. Children of God, eating this bread of life you will live forever; and so now how will you live?
We prayed last Sunday for farmers in drought, for the hungry poor, for all those in need. And as we were praying, a misguided man was headed to a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, to do terrible violence. Meanwhile, the Olympics is going on, dedicated to the potential of humanity in sport. Curiosity landed on Mars, sending back data and photos. We are a human family with incredible potential, and with terrible weaknesses.
We understand that combination, that reality of our humanity, not just from the news but from our own journeys in life. Along the course of our lives, including our lives in the church, we know of the absolute transcendent moments of music, of liturgy, of relationships; and we become aware, if we weren’t before, of the faults, weaknesses, and sins within us as individuals, within our congregation as a whole and within our entire society, our world.
We become aware of our fear of other people, our hunger to be in control or our wish to completely abdicate responsibility. We realize our own racism, sexism, we see the assumptions we make about other people and at the same time we see how difficult it is to change; and we experience how slowly society changes – and when society changes, or even when our liturgical practice changes, we get anxious. We get mad. We feel somehow betrayed, we focus in on our fears and wants, and we get defensive, possessive. “Curved in upon the self,” is one apt description . . . of our brokenness. Our sin. Our need to begin fresh.
Our journey together in Christ begins at baptism, then. With Water and Word, we wash away that selfish, control-minded, other-blaming, defensive, shamed and anxious self; we are washed right into the arms of love; Christ’s arms, holding us close with pierced hands. We’re flooded with the presence of the whole Triune God, sheltered under the savior’s Holy Wings. And it is wonderful there, safe and warm, at home with the love that brought us to life, to which we will be borne at death, back to that holy love with all the sinner-saints, Olympians of the faith and average everyday folks too.
But you know, eventually you – we – have to leave that warm nest, to go out on our own road. Once washed with grace and warmed with divine love, we are given a baptismal vocation, a mission, a job to do. As simple as a lemonade stand and as complex as a visioning process, there is always something we are invited to do: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .” Feed the poor. Learn Spanish and welcome the neighbors in their own language. Teach about liturgy. Pick up trash along Franklin Avenue. Give the homeless guy sleeping on the church lawn a cup of coffee. Help somebody afford diapers or a load of laundry. Or maybe Christ will happen across your path as someone who needs a listening ear; as someone who is depressed; as a couple of guys who want to be legally married to one another; as a drug addict; as a friend saying, “Can I talk to you about something?” Or Christ may show up in your path as someone who names your life as a blessing to them, when you did not realize it.
Christ is always in our path in the friends and sojourners here at Mount Olive; and also in our neighbor, Christ asking us to follow, calling us to love and serve; giving us opportunities to practice the sort of life Paul talks about in Ephesians. The sort of life where we live together in love; where we avoid speaking evil; life together where we put away bitterness, wrath, and slander. Life together where we forgive. Life together where we remember we are sealed by the Holy Spirit for redemption, members of one another in Christ.
All of this is much easier said than done. Life together is work!
You and I are on an in-between place; we are still walking together on the journey of life together. We have begun, in baptism into Christ. The end – the homecoming, and the great reunion with all who belong to love, all whom Christ wills blessing and marks with the cross – is sure; but in the meantime, the road does go off into the horizon. Our sister Katie is preparing to teach at Valpo in Indiana; I am going back to school at Luther Seminary, and in the process leading toward ministry of word and sacrament. Your next vicar, Neal Cannon, is preparing for his wedding and his vicarage here, soon. You surely have stuff going on in your own life! And this whole congregation, just yesterday, began thinking and praying and discerning what life on the path together; what mission – what baptism! – means.
Here are the questions before us: What does it mean for us, for Mount Olive, to be a faithful community of the baptized, working at life together, to eat bread of life that is given for the life of the world? What does it mean for us to be those whose lives together are held in love, washed in Christ, bearing the bread of life for the life of the whole world, here at this corner in the city? I don’t know; God knows, you are in the beginning process of discerning it, together. But it will take all of your prayers and all of your service and all of your gifts and all of your failures; it will take all of you, to work, intentionally, cognitively and prayerfully, liturgically and lovingly, to serve Christ in the poor and needy of this neighborhood, to serve one another as you build community on this corner in Christ, to figure it out faithfully.
Now in this visioning process you together can say,”Yes, by the help of God, we will undertake this mission, working for the kingdom of God and the love of God and the love of neighbor,” here, now. Reverently, radiantly, musically, gladly. Life together in Christ, bearing the bread of life to this neighborhood and one another will mean that you cannot be curved in upon the self – the individual self, or the “self” that is Mount Olive.
It will mean you will have to face down the spectre of Death, and hopelessness, and cynicism. It will mean we say to our neighbors in our neighborhoods, and our neighbors in this neighborhood, at least two things:
First, You Are Welcome. And Second, life in Christ, life fed by the bread of life, is life in community – life together.
So we who are in Christ just have to forgive. We have to build one another up. We have to share with those hungry in need of bread; we have to share with those hungry who need the bread of life. We have to check in with, and take care of, one another. We have to serve the neighborhood around us. We do all this because of our faith; we do all this in response to the grace of our baptism; we do all this because the bread of life from heaven has made us strong enough to go out and do it!
There is no other way to accomplish our baptismal call, our vocation as Christians alive in Christ, together in the world. The life of service formed in faithful, forgiving, gracious and welcoming community, centered on baptism and Eucharist – It is what the life of the Church, the life of the baptized-into-Christ, is. It is discipleship and mission, the journey of the communal, baptized body of Christ, which we are washed into at the font. That is the life Elijah John will begin with us today.
All of us, together in Christ, need something to sustain us, or the journey will be too much. So we journey into this holy space, led by the life-giving cross. We come to gather around grace in water, in the Word proclaimed, in bread and wine. We eat the bread of life at this altar, it nourishes us into forgiven and strengthened children of God; and we process back out, still following the life-giving cross of Christ. Following with purpose: to serve the Lord individually and together, one in our baptismal mission in Christ.
Right now, we are, along with friends and sojourners, on that path of life together behind Christ’s cross. Right now we are gathered with all our gifts and needs, with one another. Take and eat, beloved, because you all need your strength; and more important you all need Jesus Christ, the bread of life. This bread of life, Jesus Christ, will nourish you and me unto our next steps, through our next challenges. It will give to us Christ’s own life. It will make us strong enough to enter into faithful mission, together and apart. Christ’s body becomes ours; we become Christ’s body in the community here and beyond these doors. Baptism was the gracious beginning; now Christ’s mission is waiting for Elijah John and for you, too.
Children of God, eating this bread of life you will live forever; and so now how will you live? This bread of life from heaven is for you and for all, Jesus for the journey. Take and eat. Live and serve, together in Christ’s mission and grace. Amen.