Monday, January 11, 2016

We Could be Saviors

Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
January 10, 2016

You all know how much I love baptisms. I love introducing people, no matter what their age to the body of Christ. I love standing together as a community of God’s people. I love promising to walk alongside anyone who dares to come to the baptismal font.
And I love, love, love naming a person, no matter what their age, a child of God.

In the sacrament of baptism, God’s promise to humanity is realized: “I have called you by name, you are mine!”
From Isaiah again: But now thus says the Lord, the One who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.

Our creator does not create us and then leave us to go on our merry way. It isn’t as if God, our creator treats us like machines, turning us on and ignoring us until our motor runs out.

God has given us, in the sacrament of baptism, a clear sign that we are not just God’s creation, but God’s beloved ones whom God knows by name and calls by name.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus baptism there are a few differences. Mark is very short and succinct. Jesus was baptized in the Jordon by John. In Matthew John and Jesus discuss whether or not John is worthy to baptize Jesus. In Luke’s gospel John the baptizer isn’t even mentioned. Jesus is baptized ‘with the others.’

Each gospel writer has a different idea of how to communicate the story of Jesus’ baptism.
But there is one constant in each of the Gospels. One thing that happened at Jesus baptism without a doubt:
The heavens were opened, the spirit of God came upon him and a voice said: This is my beloved son. This is my beloved son.

Before Jesus does anything in his ministry, before he heals a single person; before he turns water into wine, before he walks on water, before he calls his disciples, before the cross, before the resurrection, before Jesus did anything that would mark him as the Savior of the world, God said: “this is my son, my beloved son, I am well pleased.”

I have called you by name, you are mine.

This is, of course, why I particularly affirm infant baptism. Not because I don’t want a child to die before being baptized. Not because an infant is more pure or less sinful. Not because I want to capture a child for the church early in their life.
No not any of those reasons.
The reason I affirm infant baptism is because before the child can do anything that would make them seem worthy of baptism, of being called a child of God, they are named forever and always, a child of God. In whom God is well pleased.

We very much need infant baptism to remind us that nothing we do or don’t do gives us the privilege to be called children of God.

Jesus didn’t have to prove his worth as savior of the world. Just being who he was at that very moment; that was enough for God to rip open the heavens and proclaim, this is my son the beloved one.

Now here is something I want us to contemplate. No matter what changes might happen in our lives, God’s naming of us is the one constant. The one thing that doesn’t change.
In God’s eyes, we are always the beloved one whom God names.

We might get married, divorced, earn a degree, get a job, get fired, have children, never have children, never get married, never want to get married, wander away from God and the church, go to church every Sunday possible and then some. We might die our hair, tattoo our ankles, pierce our bodies; lose a leg or an arm. Need a new heart or liver, donate an organ.

We might go from being liberal to conservative and even back again. We might learn to love something we never thought possible, or someone... We might like red best on one day and find that we hate it the next.

People may think we are something we are not, or may not realize who we really are...
None of this changes what God calls us: You are mine, I have called you by name.

I read of an interesting social experiment this week.

A photographer hired a man for a photo session with 6 different photographers. The man came into the studio with theses six different photographers dressed in the exact same outfit: an un-tucked light blue oxford shirt over a clean brilliantly white tee shirt, blue jeans with conservative black shoes. He was himself of average build, mid 40’s, bald but in a distinguished without being pretentious way.

He came into the studios with confidence. He told each photographer a different story about his life. The photographers where to photograph the man trying to capture his essence.
His stories ranged from a self made millionaire, to a psychic, fisherman, recovering alcoholic, ex-con, lifesaving hero.

None of the stories were true. Each photographer reacted to the man with a different manner. Each one took a photo that reflected what they thought he was. The ex-con photo was roughish and unsmiling, the millionaire was standoffish and smug, the psychic was sparse and modern, the fisherman was relaxed, casual.
This is how the world reacts to us isn’t it. Their picture of us often reflects the part of our story they think they know. Some of which might not even be true.
They even have different names for us depending on our role in their lives: friend, acquaintance, neighbor, mother, daughter, beloved, partner.   

And we perceive of ourselves differently in all of our different personas. Some we are comfortable with, some we tolerate, some we grow into and some we grow out of.
Some make us cringe and some make us proud.

And we call ourselves all sorts of names, brilliant, stupid, talented, inept, beautiful, homely, We know that we shouldn’t but we do, no matter how many articles we read on self affirmation, we will call ourselves all sorts of things. Good and not so good.

But God always and only calls us beloved. I have called you by name you are mine. As baptized people of God, that is our identity. Today, tomorrow, always.
Hear these promises: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you, and I will call you from the north and the south. I will gather you, nothing will keep you from me.

Nothing, will keep you from my love. 

I truly believe that Jesus could have abandoned all of his ministry. He could have gone back to carpentry in Nazareth. He could have become a rabbi in the synagogue. He could have ended up a beggar on the street corner.
No matter what, no matter what his future held, God still would have ripped open the heavens and proclaimed: This is my son, my beloved one. In him I am well pleased.

Because I believe God rips open the heavens at every baptism and proclaims: this is my child, this is my child, I love her, I love him. I am well pleased.

And I also believe. If you could really believe this about yourself.

That if everyone could believe this, could really believe this. I believe we would have a lot more saviors in this world.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Is it a walk or a pilgrimage?

Epiphany 2015-
Matthew 2:1-12
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

We are talking about pilgrimages today because of the journey the magi took as they followed the star. This journey to the cradle of the child Jesus, is a metaphor for our own journeys toward discovery.
In my readings for today I learned that during the Middle Ages, European pilgrims were given the right by law to take time out of their lives to make pilgrimages – up to a year for those travelling from anywhere to Jerusalem…

Most of us have trouble just getting two weeks off for a vacation. I can only imagine if we would ask for a year off to go on something called a pilgrimage. And even if we could, who has the budget or room in our calendar to go on a pilgrimage for even a few weeks?

But the idea of a pilgrimage sounds pretty great. Maybe not the walking for miles or the sleeping rough or the food. But the idea of getting away for a time of enlightenment and new connection with God. That sounds pretty nice. Don’t you wish you could do something like that?

Well you know me; I always say that we can do the work of connection with God everyday. Without a great deal of output of special energy or money or time. That our spiritual health shouldn’t have to depend on our bank account, amount of free time we have or even our ability to be disciplined.
It is mostly about paying attention.

I was on a birding trip in the northern part of MN looking for boreal winter birds. It was a group experience. We were being driven through the Sax Zim Bog in school buses. Now the Sax Zim Bog is just west of Duluth. It is a vast area of frozen tundra with a few gravel somewhat maintained roads snaking through and around the bogs and stands of tamarack. In the middle of winter it is beautiful in its starkness.
It was the middle of February. It was cold, it was bumpy, it was a long way between bathroom stops. I was with my Mom and two other women from Arkansas. I had tried to warn them about the depth of cold they would experience. I supplied them with extra socks, even boots. I stocked up on chemical hand and feet warmers. And passed them out to the ladies like candy.
I had tried to warn them but they were not prepared.
I can say with assurance that they were miserable.
But yet, they will tell you it was one of the best trips of their lives.
They got to see birds they would never, ever see in their life unless they went far up into Canada. The Owls: Boreal, Northern Hawk, the Great Grey. The crossbills and grosbeaks, the boreal chickadee and northern shrike.
They were checking life birds off their lists left and right.
During one of our stops to look at a bird, a reporter from Duluth climbed on the bus with us. She was asking THE question. Why do you do this? What makes bird watching such an attraction?

Why would you get up before dawn on a deeply cold winter day when you are from Arkansas just to see a bird you have never seen before?

Well, I can’t answer for my mom and her friends, but I can say for myself, it changes that deeply cold day from a miserable walk in the woods to a pilgrimage.
And my practice of bird watching turns almost every walk I take into a pilgrimage.

Because the difference between a walk and a pilgrimage is the level at which you pay attention.
You cannot be a good bird watcher without paying attention and the practice of bird watching trains a person in the art of paying attention, to the smallest of things.

The branch that moves from something other than a breeze.
The shadow that passes just above you against the blue sky.
The rustle in the grass just at the edge of the path.

The promise, that every day there might be a new or even an old discovery in your next glance up or down. It is rare that a bird watcher who has been doing it for some time, discovers something new. Yet, it is even more rare that a bird watcher ever walks without looking and experiencing the landscape around them with acute attention so that even the common becomes a discovery.

So to answer the reporter’s question: why birdwatching. It is because it has trained me in paying attention. Acutely paying attention. So that every walk, or even drive I take has the potential to become a pilgrimage.

Most of us take journeys everyday, to the store, to Rochester, our daily walk, a visit to a relative, to work.
So what is the difference between these journeys and a pilgrimage? It doesn’t have to be much. It just has to be about paying attention. Because the difference between a pilgrimage and walk is not in what you discover, or encounter or even gain by the walk, but the level at which you pay attention.
We all need help in the art of paying attention. For me it is watching birds. For you, what could it be?

The point of chalking your doorways is not to perform a ritual but to help remind yourself every time you leave the house that you go with the blessing of God and the potential to make this particular journey outside your home into a pilgrimage where you once again experience an encounter with God.
Good thing the magi were schooled in the art of paying attention to the stars. They would have missed the journey to the child Jesus. What is your star?