Monday, January 13, 2014

Baptism of Jesus Sunday: bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks


My only companion as I prepare for Sunday morning is Rachel. I have to tell her I have to prepare.

Baptism of Jesus by Angelo Romano


Baptism of Jesus Sunday. Rachel wants to help so I send her outside to sweep. I hear the buzzer and it’s Andre, ready to sing. Jeremy arrives soon after and Dion is hard at work getting the sanctuary set up. As we gather, there are four Asian visitors, not quite sure what to make of the service. And a woman visitor, Evelyn, who joins the circle.

Jason and Dion roll our 800 pound florid late Victoriana Tiffany font with its contemporary Occupy basin lid to the front and center of the Sanctuary.

We begin by singing God welcomes all, strangers and friends, God’s love is strong and it never ends…

And I explain that even though Christmas ended on the 12th day last week, Christmastide extends through today and we’ll go deeper into that later. Today is the last day for our tree.

Next follows the classic Wade in the water, by Jeremy and Andre.

And then we begin our scriptures.  First, Isaiah 42: 1-9.
I ask what words stands out and its no surprise that justice comes first from this circle. And then righteousness.

I first mention this passage:
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 
And recall back in Tulsa, Jonathan the street preacher, from the Ultimate Trip Ministry,  who would witness on street corners, strip clubs and synagogues. (As if in his mind they were of the same value.) He enjoyed making  people angry. One day when he hurled a Bible verse my way, I came right back with  He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 

What I’m really drawn to are these words..
….a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; 
he will faithfully bring forth justice….

When I ask what that means to them,  Cara says Like I said the other night, don’t shoot the wounded.. And of course she is right. I explain how Calvin’s total depravity is a mistranslation. What he really meant was that all of us are marred. Imperfect. And that’s OK.

I point to the baptism  basin crafted by Sheryl and explain how when she made it, there was a crack. And that she accepted whether to fix it or not and decided not to. Because for her, it was symbolic of what this  church does, ie, fix the cracks in the world.  And Cara responds that in Japanese pottery, the cracks are gilded because that’s what makes that pot unique.  All of us, broken reeds, dimly burning wicks. 

Next we do Psalm 29 singing triple alleluias in response. And are drawn to
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; 
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 
6   He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, 
and Sirion like a young wild

So the Lord may not break a bruised reed or blow out a dimly burning wick but he can split cedars and make the cosmos skip. And as Dion points out, those dimly burning wicks can be blown on by the Holy Spirit and burst into flame.

Then in Acts 10:34-43, we read that
God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him
And notice it is every nation, every…God shows no partiality…no American exceptionalism, God does not bless America over and above anyone else…every…anyone who fearsand that fears, is not about fear, being afraid, but of awe…

( I mention the perhaps apocryophyl story of John Wayne in the Greatest Story Ever Told as the Centurion who looks at Jesus  and says, Surely this man was the son of God…and how director Georg Stephens was frustrated with John’s line reading and after several attempts said, John you’ve got to say that with awe….and Wayne responded, Ah, surely this man….)

After Arcadia reads the gospel in Spanish, Andre and Jeremy lead us in take me to the water…

And at last we read the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew this year. (3 13-17)I ask who is baptized. Nearly all hands go up. Who remembers? Probably half. Today we seem to have as many former Baptists as former Catholics. Jason was seven and felt a real calling to commitment to his parents wonder and surprise. Are you sure? they said. Dion may have been baptized as a child but chose baptism when for him it became real. Marsha remembers baptism on the banks of a river in south Texas, her brother throwing and skipping stones. Andre explains  full immersion and when I ask him how it was, he says, Wet. 

So why Jesus? John says Because in all ways he was human as well as divine. The reason this ends Christmastide is because Christmas is all about the incarnation. God alive in human flesh. So that when we as bruised reeds or dimly burning wicks talk to God honestly and openly, God can respond Been there….Forget all the debates about sinlessness and all that. This for Jesus is an act of solidarity. Being with us in every way. Being one with us in nature.

I explain how in our tradition we baptize children because we believe salvation is a gift of grace, not earned or a function  of any decision we make. It then somehow becomes , in the popular mind, beyond theology, a kind of spiritual vaccination, a spiritual inoculation. And that after trying to resist godparents out of a theology of collective responsibility, our tradition gave in and now welcomes godparents. 

And that for us, as part if what we believe to be the holy Catholic (IE, universal church) there is only one baptism and we recognize each other’s even though we have not yet recognized each other’s communion.

John and Stephen hold the Occupy basin after I tell its story.  I say the blessings, remembering creation, Noah and the flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus at the Jordan…and add some drops of Jordan water to the basin. One by one people come up and dip their finger in the water, cross themselves, touch their forehead. Then come to me for the laying on of hands, with oil and the sign of the cross. That is who we are former Baptists, former Catholics, one people, one body.

We finish our service with a rousing Down to the river to pray….

As Andre and Jeremy remain at the piano, Wayne comes over and in his sweet and easy voice, sings his own Ode to Joy.

The Session meets. Approves hosting representatives of the Sikh community in February.  And begins to contemplate all that lies ahead. But first we have a sale and a move to get through.

After the meeting, Wayne and Andre are still deep in conversation about the making of music.

I’ve got Gale Brewer’s inauguration to get to and then a long night of packing.

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