Sunday, May 10, 2015

Can Anyone Withhold the Water for Baptism?

Note to the reader; The news that a baby was refused baptism in the Episcopal Church because he happens to have two dads boggles the mind. Here is how I approached the subject in today's sermon.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”

So begins today’s Gospel. And the love of God continues to flow like the very River of God itself, from God through Jesus to us and from us to one another. It is in the nature of God’s love that it shall flow forever and build in strength and power as its flow builds within every human heart, and as its flow conquers every evil.

It is Mother’s Day; a day to honor all the moms of this congregation and elsewhere, and of course their moms and the moms who came before them; all of them gathered together into one great cloud of witness together with all the fathers and grandfathers too, who loved them and loved us. As the Scripture says; "Honor your father and your mother". 

The gathering; this notion of gathering is central to our understanding of the Eucharist. The word “gathering” is a word I use to begin teaching our First Communion class about the nature of the Eucharist. After all, without the gathering of the people of God, there can be no Eucharist.  It is in the very act of gathering that we learn the central teaching of Jesus; “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. And so this is my commandment; that you love one another”.

When a church and a family are doing their work well, this very love is the cornerstone out of which we build our lives. It is the very cornerstone upon which God builds our faith.

Today is Rogation Sunday. The word comes from the Latin “rogare”; to ask as in the English “interrogation”. Rogationtide is a time to “ask” God for a fruitful earth so that we can make provision for ourselves and all God’s creatures. Coming with that request is the ethical mandate that we in turn, are responsible for caring about Mother Earth.  She who bears us and nurtures us also requires that we care and nurture her in return. Such is the nature of love’s reciprocity.

The clarity of the Gospel’s mandate for love is unmistakable. For it is out of the Father’s love that Jesus is born, and more particularly, it is because Mary became the handmaid of God that Jesus came to us, in human form.

In Christian circles Mary is honored in the East as the “theotokos” the “Mother of God”. She is honored in Roman Catholicism. She is honored in Anglicanism in the frequent and joyous singing of the Magnificat.

God’s love finds a special focal point in Mary whose song is of God’s universal love for all without regard to any human classification. She sings at the Annunciation “My soul proclaims the greatness of God” or in the Elizabethan rendering “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. 

A mother’s love for her child is intense. God knows you don’t want to get between a mother bear and her cub. You could find yourself in a world of hurt if you do. It is in the nature of things that a mother’s love can be intense, sometimes bordering on ferocious. Many of us are all too familiar with that dimension of a mother’s love.

John puts an interesting twist to the notion of the love between a parent and a child. As he explains in today’s Epistle, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ of God also recognize the love between the parent and the child, and of course Jesus takes the matter to its logical conclusion; there is no greater love than this “to lay down your life for your friends”. That love is not coterminous to a mother and child or even a father and child as Jesus articulates it…but this love goes well beyond familial lines to kind of friendship bears toward us.

“Sing of Mary pure and lowly virgin mother undefiled”. I love the hymn. Mary understands the price she will pay for the love she bears. After all, Jesus will be the one to lay down his life for his friends. 

Knowing what we know of the love of God as revealed to us in the person of Jesus, particularly as we see it articulated in today’s scripture, let me ask you this, to whom may we deny baptism? 

Let’s say I bring a baby to you and ask for a baptism. Lets say I have been been gathering regularly in church with my spouse. On the face of it all seems well. The church seems welcoming. We come to the priest and ask for a baptism. Can you think of any reason to say “No”?

I find it delightfully appropriate that today’s lesson indicates with crystal clarity what the answer will be to such a question. Peter says, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

When Jesus tells us to love one another as he loves us, obviously we know he means everybody whatever race, ethnicity, class, or gender. Do we have to specifically add the word “orientation”? I thought that when Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch, we covered that issue. 

But apparently we have to come out and say so. It came as a total surprise to me to find out that when a same sex couple joined the Cathedral Church of St Luke in Orlando Florida, they were told that their baby’s baptism would have to be postponed since there were those in the congregation who objected.

Can you imagine such a thing in this day an age! I thought we had pretty much settled this issue in the Episcopal Church. And furthermore; a baby! I cannot imagine, even in my most cautious days refusing to bring a baby into the gathered community of faith. In fact I cannot imagine denying the love of Christ to anyone. For heaven sake, in recent days, even the pope said that no priest will deny baptism to a child. One would hope we could get that part straight.

God knows that when Jesus stretched out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross, he did so in order that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

And there can be no exceptions to that love; not for God and certainly not for us and most certainly not for God’s Church.

Well, the news that this baby was refused a baptism hit the social media and raised a firestorm of protest. The matter became something of an embarrassment to the bishop of Central Florida, and thankfully the baptism has been scheduled. 

There are those who wonder where we shall draw the line. There is a funny story I heard years ago of a young curate serving in a small Texas town. When the rector went on vacation in July that year so did most of the clergy in town. The young curate was left in charge. One day the funeral director called to ask if he would bury a Baptist. The curate was unsure of himself. After all he was fresh out of seminary and he just didn’t know where to draw the line. He put in a call to the Bishop who was also on vacation at the time, but after some difficulty the call was put through. 

“Bishop can I bury a Baptist?” asked the curate.
I think the Bishop was a bit taken aback by the question, but he couldn’t contain his sense of humor and replied to the question;
“Young man, you may bury all the Baptists you can!”

Where shall we draw the line? For me it is here, (making the sign of the cross of myself) It is within my own heart and soul where I have encountered the love of God living and true. Here it is where I have discovered how much God loves me and loves you too, without exception and unconditionally. It is not where I judge anyone else. After all, as Jesus so succinctly put it, “Judge not, let ye be judged”. Be careful therefore where you draw the line.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
“This commandment I leave with you; that you shall love one another.”

Such is the love of a mother for her child, such is the love of God for us all, that one thing we can say with resolve and courage; we shall love one another as Christ loves us.

And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

Fr Paul

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