Newness of Life (Romans 6:1-11)

Joan MacPherson, June 25, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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Newness of Life
(Psalm 84; Romans 6:1-11)
It is quite marvelous to watch. It is quite yummy to taste. It is quite enjoyable to participate. It is quite amazing to accomplish. A company picnic for 150 people and a few sandwiches for our Dena Talbot as she prepares to open her new business downtown are just 2 of the 43 ordered delivered on Friday. A lawn swarming with people while great music fills the air, crafts are put together, games are played and food enjoyed. Lobster, strawberries, cold drink, chowdah make a summer day of wonder. There is a lot that goes on to make that all come together. Organizing and laboring well before (and through) the event - thank you Cathy Young, Tim and Stacy Lamson. You worked your wonders and got 100 pounds of strawberries here - so that in less then 70 minutes our crew could have them hulled and sliced. While the scent of biscuits filled the air as that crew did their work. I know I am going to get the volume wrong and names missed so I am going to quit the list. There was a lot of muscle, mind and time that were generously and joyfully offered for Strawberry Festival 2017. Thank you to all involved in the various and needed and appreciated ways you were involved.
Good food. Good atmosphere. Good company. These are things that are generally valued so something like a Strawberry Festival would then naturally be an appreciated event right? I think so. I think that is why there are so many strawberry festivals that happen in our region over these couple of weekends. There are but a few precious weeks when we can savor the juicy, red berries. That alone is reason to have a celebratory festival. Locate that festival on the grounds of Main Street Church and it becomes something even more celebratory. Our festival is about church celebrating the gifts of the land (and sea), it is about church gathering people together, it is about church working together, it is about church raising money to enable church to be church.
Church being church. Sadly I am readily able to conjure about some negative images from this phrase - church being church. I imagine others can as well. Where church being church is deadly. Right? I have people fairly regularly point out those weaknesses to me. We can’t and shouldn’t deny those. But, how about the transforming, life changing, love spreading, justice creating, God centered, Jesus following times of church being church? When in the realities and struggles of life and the world, fragile and flawed people have come together, opened to the holy and responded/acted/shared/fed/marched/prayed/written/spoken? When imperfect, uncertain people have recognized that the infinite love and wisdom of God is infusing them and they can let that happen and be what God needs them to be instead of focusing on what they lack or what is not known? When in a militaristic, fearful, polarized, consumer based culture there are people who believe and act with generosity, compassion and for peace? When church being church reflects the light that shines in the darkness to help the scared, hurting, vulnerable find their way and know they are valued and loved?
Church is not the only community or place where compassion and justice are practiced but compassion and justice are the heart of what church is and we practice in a particular and peculiar Christian way. We seek to set our human actions in the way that Jesus spoke, cared, acted as a human. We seek to shape our lives in trust and confidence in the God Jesus loved, the God who loves and welcomes the entirety of creation. In the Protestant practice of church we have two sacraments that are rituals that bind us together, define whose we are and infuse us with grace that we might be changed and we might be love active in the world. Baptism and Communion. Sacraments are not litmus tests in order to label who is in and who is not. Sacraments are not something that we earn or achieve. Sacraments are outward and visible signs of the invisible grace of God. Sacraments are rooted in what Jesus did/offered to people. We have adopted them/use them to ritually remember and experience the inclusive, infinite welcome and presence of God and in our participating we intentionally place ourselves in the story and way of Jesus. The next 2 weeks we will focus on communion - this week we add to the conversation and exploration of baptism which we began last week.
Last week we baptized infant Lark. There is a beauty and awe that comes with the honor of blessing and welcoming the mystery and unknowns that are a baby in our midst. There is a particular gift with that experience. This morning we have what feels like an abrupt shift as Paul talks about baptism in his letter to the church in Rome. Paul’s language and teaching does not engender the oohs and ahhs of Lark’s parents making promises to love and teach her about Jesus. Paul is far more directive and his audience is adults. Adults who have been baptized. Paul goes on to address the “so what” question that I love to ponder. You have been baptized - so what? You have accepted the love and welcome of God. So do you now just do whatever you want because God loves you anyway? Even if you mutter at the guy who cuts you off in traffic, God loves you - so mutter on? Do you now tell the story about what you heard she said/did/wore last week because God loves you anyway? Is that the so what? God’s got you, you got God, love can’t and won’t be severed so just go along knowing that God won’t let you go? No, no, no says Paul in his unique, call you up short rhetoric (that sometimes doesn’t make me feel the loving welcoming of God).
Not that you can’t do that but if you do you are missing out on so much. What you have said yes to in baptism is to join in with the life, wonder, possibility of Christ Jesus. You have claimed and accepted the offer of God to walk in newness of life. You have accepted the invitation to orient your life around a truth of love and hope. You have joined yourself with the church - the imperfect community of people who seek to practice love and compassion in a particular and peculiar way. You have recognized that God loves you and needs you and wants to use you to share/shine/live the truth that love wins, God is close, there is hope. You have received the waters of new life in baptism, yes, but it isn’t like you got stitches that closed the wound and all is buttoned up and perfect for ever. Cuts and brokenness still come but you know that there is a way to heal them and care for them that is about community, connection, inclusion, peace. The world is still hurting but there are people that seek to reflect holy light in the darkness.
There is water up here in our baptismal font. Water of live. Water of acceptance. Water of grace. It is offered to all of us to be cleansed, to be reminded, to be reconnected, to be reoriented. It is offered to us that we might remember whose we are and to know that we are needed to join in in living/practicing/telling that truth of God’s love, God’s future, God’s hope. If you want to be touched by that water today I invite you to come forward if/when you want - (and if you want the water but prefer not to move forward signal - a deacon will come to you)

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
June 25, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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