Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, January 30

In a few hours, I will be facilitating a discussion among my peers.  It hinges around a book that some of us have read, about y'all (youth and young adults) and how you search for (and sometimes find) community.  It talks about the role of cell phones and social media.  I sorta just fell into the role of leading this discussion.  

This morning, as I was praying my way through my day, I connected that discussion and this practice of sending you  short note in the morning.  I don't get that many replies (and there are already 116 unread messages in my morning In Box - so go light on replies), but those I get and the comments I receive make me aware of the community which receives these and thus becomes united for a few moments each day.

I want to tell you how much I depend on this community.  I want to let you know that without this community I wouldn't be able to keep it going - and I don't mean keep these notes going, I mean keep going in ministry.  These few moments at the start of each day are what makes each day and each act part of a cohesive whole.
Sorry for getting overly-sentimental.

Paul writes in Galatians 4 how accidental it was that he had time and opportunity to preach among them.  He also acknowledges the mutuality of the mission experienced among the church in Galatia.  He speaks of the things they came to believe, but he acknowledges that it is the relationship which makes the message possible.

However your generation chooses to define what it means to be a community, you are teaching my generation to expand our understanding of community.  And I thank you.  And I encourage you, to think about and give voice to how important it is to have a community which is open and welcoming and which does not set entrance criteria.  To be part of this community, you only need to be part of this community.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Devotion - Monday, January 30

I beg of you to read Mark 7:24-30 this morning.  It is the appointed Gospel text for today, and it is extremely pertinent to the matters we face this day.

Jesus is on the move.  He is in the otter regions of his comfort zone, the region of Tyre and Sidon.  While there a woman who was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, approaches him.  She asks him to heal her daughter.

Jesus responds with one of the things we don't expect.  "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

His response is very, very similar to some of the comments I have read on FaceBook or heard as clips in news reports.  "We care, but we care starts at home."  "Our first obligation is to protect our own families."

The woman's response also reminds me of comments I have heard. She says, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

I want to honor the differences among us - regarding our response to the closing of US Boarders to persons from certain regions.  And maybe this story from Mark 7 isn't as strong a parallel as it seems to me.

I ask you to read the passage.  And ask yourself whether it say something to us and to the current events swirling around us.  As you discuss these issues with friends and classmates, discern where you are arrive at your core convictions.

Here is a link to the reading - http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=352776580

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sermon - 4th Sunday of Epiphany

 Matthew 5:1-12

The Wisdom of God

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain;  and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them saying….”

Jesus teaches a great many things.  The content of his teachings has filled university libraries and lecture halls around the world.  Jesus teaches a great many things – and most of what Jesus teaches is view of the world and of our neighbors and of our lives which runs contrary to most of what the rest of the world would have us think and belief.  Remember, it is Jesus who tells us to never put ourselves or our own families first.  Remember that it Jesus to insists that the Kingdom of God is inhabited by good Samaritans – the sort of persons who attend to broken bodies left lying at the borders of our world.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain;  and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them saying….”

Time will not allow us to examine each of the beatitudes, but the first three are enough for us to begin to understand how different are these lessons which Jesus teaches.  Jesus says blessed are the poor, those who mourn, and the meek.  It is important to note that his words are not addressed to those who once were the poor, the mournful or the meek.  Jesus speaks to those for whom these adjectives are a current reality.  Conven­tional wisdom, the general flow of our society, would say you can't possess these qualities and be blessed at the same time.  Religious talk often leads us to believe that poverty, mourning and meekness are the pre-conditions to receiving the blessings of God.  Pre-conditions but not present reality.  Too much of popular piety would have us believe that once we are blessed; our status in life will change.  We will become rich, we will be filled with happy thoughts and we will become heralded heroes in Christ’s spiritual warfare.  But that isn't what Jesus says.

Jesus says Blessed are the poor

The poor are blessed because unlike those who are self-sufficient the poor understand the tenuous nature of their existence.  The poor, because they can never relax and assume things will be alright, must live every moment searching for that which will bring salvation. 

"Have you been saved?"  is an often asked question.  Those who ask are usually looking for a resounding "YES!"  The expectation is for those questioned to express a sure confidence in the fate of their eternal souls.  Such confidence is often lacking in the way the poor speak of God.  Not that they lack a confidence in God’s grace, rather they are not so brazen as to speak for God or to say what it is that God will do.

Those who spend each day trying to find food for their family are more inclined to respond, "Yester­day, God was gracious enough to save me.  This day I lift to God my prayers, asking that salvation may again come."  Such is the response of the poor.  It is a humble dependence upon God which brings them blessings.

Those who mourn are those who understand the value of relation­ship.  Mournful are those who are aware of their need for another and find themselves separated from the object of their love.  Mourners are folks who cry out with their desire for more; more time together, more love, more appreciation of the other's gifts.

Joseph Sitter, a professor I had the chance to encounter during my years at the seminary in Chicago, once commented that hunger is the strongest possible testimony to the reality of food.  It is our mourning which heightens the awareness of our desire to be united with God.

Those who mourn are blessed – blessed with assurance which comes from searching for that which is lacking but has been glimpsed.  Blessed, because they know how empty their lives will remain unless and until they find God. 

Blessed are the meek.  I can never read this beatitude without remembering an old cartoon.  There is this wimpy looking man making his way out of the church.  As he shakes ­hands with the pastor he asks, "Exact­ly when will the meek inherit the earth?" 

The meek are those who have no pretense of power.  They are the powerless.  As weaklings, they have to find their hope of salvation somewhere else.  They place their trust in one who does have the power to care for them.  "Blessed are the meek," because they have no option other than to turn to God.

That old cartoon exposes the misunder­standing which too quickly surrounds this beatitude.  The false assumption is made that I may have been meek at one time, but now I am meek no longer.  The meek inherit the earth and become the dominant.  Meekness is considered to be a pre-condition, not a current status.  Once the meek inherit the earth meekness is replaced with something else.  No longer meek - I am confident of what I am able to do.  When this happens, self-confidence replaces confidence in God.  Personal power replaces the power of the cross. 

Jesus does not address persons who once were poor, mournful or meek.  He speaks to those who are hungering, thirst­ing, and merciful. 

The blessed are not those who have it made.  The blessed are those who spend their days searching, striving, and hoping for the bless­ings of our God.  Jesus reveals to us the blessings which come to those who learn to depend not upon themselves, but upon God.

Jesus teaches us a great many things, but mostly Jesus teaches us to look at the world differently.  Jesus would teach each of us to see the blessing which comes from turning to God and depending upon God.  Jesus would teach us that to trust in our own might or strength or worth has the effect of separating us from the blessings of God.

It is way too popular, in our world, to project a rough and tough and non-wavering identity.  Such a goal for strong individualism may be popular in our current culture, but it is not the way lifted up by the traveling preacher who walked the dirty and dusty roads of Palestine.  Might we follow that traveling preacher closely enough that we do come to be covered with the dust kicked up by his footsteps.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, January 26

We make it a habit during the Christmas season to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" at least once.  There is a scene in the movie, in the Bailey Building and Loan, the day of the 1933 bank run in Bedford Falls.  Folks come insisting they be able to withdraw their money.

The first couple of folks want all their money.  Disaster seems to be looming.  The next person, however, only asks for enough to buy her groceries for that week.  

It is called the fear of scarcity.  We are afraid there isn't enough, so we horde or accumulate.  When we are not fearful of running out, we find there is enough to share and to spare.

I was reading Mark 6 this morning.  It is this Gospel's recounting of the feeding of the 5,000.  There are only five loaves and two fish - but it proves to be enough.

Read the story for yourself.  Be impressed at the miracle that happens.  But allow yourself to consider the mechanics of that miracle.  One option lifted by those who study these verses is that the willingness of one person to share their food creates a pattern for everyone.  Is it any less of a miracle if what happened that day was Jesus making known what is possible when we share the few loaves and fish we have?

I worry that our society is tilting ever more powerfully toward a fear of scarcity.  Such fears and the resulting actions moves us away from Jesus instructions to give away a coat if we have two coats.  Such ideologies conflict with the story of the Good Samaritan who risks his own safety and spends his own money to care for the foreigner in need.

Few folks take a firm stand against God and in opposition to the things Jesus taught.  They just sorta start giving in and going along and moving on a path that integrates them with the world around us.  But giving in a bit here and going along some there eventually blinds us to the calling of Christ.

There is enough room to welcome everyone, there are enough houses to shelter everyone, there are enough loaves and fish to feed everyone.  

Why do i believe this? Because the bible tells me so.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, January 25

Within the last 12 hours, I have been confronted with the two poles of my calling as a follower of God.

This morning, as I continued my reading from Galatians, I got to the verses in Chapter 2 where Paul scolds those who would place obedience to the law above grace as a gift from God.  He warns, in those verses, that if we claim salvation by works that we are asserting that Jesus' death means nothing.  Rather strong words.

This comes the morning after I sat in bible study, looking at the first three chapters of Micah.  While we are quite familiar with Micah 6 (What does the Lord require.....justice... kindness... walk humbly...) we are less familiar with the words of the prophet which lead to this summary.  Micah pronounces God's displeasure at the unfaithfulness of the people.  Micah speaks the word of God in telling the leaders and prophets and priests that their failure to lift up the word of God will result in the destruction of Israel.  Rather strong words; words in which the failure to do as God has commanded is the reason for their doom.

I lift up this series of readings in order to make two points:  First - it is way to easy to only read the parts of the bible which are pleasing to us.  It is easy to read the parts which challenge our particular belief structure as a reinforcement, without being challenged.  Be challenged.  Second - while the Lutheran mantra is and always will be "Justification by faith," we cannot ignore or overlook the appropriate actions which flow from such a faith.  The justice which Micah did not see in the land is the end toward which all followers of God are to strive.

No simple answers this morning.  But much to consider.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, January 24

The next section in Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia wrestles with the appropriateness of his mission "to the Gentiles."  It is a significant development in the history of the Church when it was considered okay for Gentiles to become Christians without first becoming Jews.  This development surely figures into the understanding of Christianity as a religion which stands on its own, even though it emerged from Judaism.  

It was universally understood this way during the years of Paul's ministry.

I wonder if we have gone too far, in our times, with the separation.  Failing to remember the debate allows us (perhaps even causes us) to move into an us-them way of viewing Jewish brothers and sisters.

There is something unique and precious about the revelation of Jesus.  And, as I wrote yesterday, we are to pay attention to fine lines which distinguish differing theologies, but the other side of this is to remember all that we share.  There may be points which pull us into our corner, but the center of the ring is where the action occurs.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Devotion - Monday, January 23

My devotional guide has turned to Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia.  I will be reading from this book for the next week or so.  This morning I read Gal 1:1-17.

In these opening verses, Paul is concerned that some have forsaken "him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel." It seems that some have begun to follow a similar but not authentic presentation.  

These words are a reminder to me, as a person who speaks in favor of a wide range of theological perspectives.  These words are a reminder that accuracy does matter and that we do need to be attentive to whether what we are following is authentic.

We don't know what the alternative gospels were advancing.  We might infer it as something to do with justification by grace, since this will come up over and over again in this letter to Galatia.  Our readings over the next several days will surely help us understand what concerns Paul.  What I want to take away from this morning's prayer time is the reminder to be vigilant.  I will never stop being considerate and open to others, but I will remember to evaluate and test what I hear - not by a single line in my Bible - but by what the Gospel teaches me.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, January 19

This morning's Opening Prayer proved to be very powerful for me.  Of late, I have found myself facing some challenges.  My prayers have too often been requests for God to aid me, or sustain me, or provide for me that which would make the challenges seem manageable.  

This morning, I realized my prayers could (and maybe ought to change).

Here is the Prayer:
Show us, O God, as much of thy purpose, because we have it, as shall steady us.  We do not ask that the way be made smooth, or even that thou wouldst bestow upon us now the strength which thou hast promised.  We ask only for the grace to use what thou hast already provided in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Let me insert that some challenges do need to be lifted to God.  Let me assure you that I do not believe that we are never justified in asking God for strength or guidance or insight.  But, maybe, you are like me and realize that what God has already given you might be all that you need.

Depend upon the Lord, and trust in God's presence.  In most instances, we don't need something more, we need to be mindful of what we have already been given.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, January 18

Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  This week is a joint effort of the denominations which participate in the National Council of Churches.  Our ELCA is an active member; we are continually striving for greater unity among the various expressions of God's disciples.

In order to strive for unity, we need to set our hearts and minds on a particular orientation of priorities.  We find it possible to strive for unity when we orient higher in our priorities feeding Jesus' sheep and tending Jesus' lambs.  This is not to say theological and doctrinal points are unimportant - merely not as important as doing what Jesus would do.

There was an interview on NPR two weeks ago in which the person spoke of "following Jesus and letting the Bible follow you."  It was her way of saying that she had oriented her priorities such that the fine lines of confession were placed lower than responding to the joy of Jesus' acceptance of her.

The speaker at last night's ML King Commemorative Service spoke of the "Unenforceable obligations".  These are the necessities, essential to our survival, which cannot be legislated or mandated.  They must arise.

Jesus prayed that we might all be one.  Let us be one.  We can lift up those things which symbolize our unique contribution, but those things which are distinctive about us are given us so that the whole of God's familyi might be stronger.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, January 17

In Mark 3, Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister."

In a discussion over coffee yesterday, a student shared his frustration with those who are so pre-occupied with works righteousness that they fail to see the opportunity set before them.  It is not to merit God's favor that we are loving of our neighbor; we are loving of our neighbor because we don't need to worry about our own future or fate.  We can love our neighbor without worrying there is something else we need to be doing.  Christ has saved us!  We are united with God!  Our whole existence is a life of leisure!

What are we going to do with all of our time?  Well, maybe, we could love others with a small portion of the love with which God has first loved us.

Doing the will of God is not obeying some rigid code of ethics or following some ancient food laws.  Doing the will of God is loving brothers and sisters.  Doing the will of God involves being the one who  tells the downtrodden that there is a reason to lift their heads.

Mark 3 reminds us of the deepest of bonds we can possibly have.  Being blood kin is a strong bond, but stronger still is the unity which comes from perceiving the joy of doing God's will in the world.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Devotion - Monday, January 16

While I typically don't send out a devotion when Clemson is not in session, ML King Day is an exception.  The significance of this pastor and community leader demands that we remember his message and recommit to sharing in the dream which he outlined.

It is an ongoing discussion as to whether race relations in the US are improving or on the decline.  There is no doubt that there has been an increase in horrible events and in the reporting of overt and subtle discrimination.  This may suggest a decline.

But others (myself among them) would see in the increased visibility of topics too long ignored as a sign of progress.  We have not solved our problems, but we have brought them forward from the back pages of our news reports.

So much of what we are learning makes us aware of something which ML King was seeing clearly in the months before his death.  Race may not be the root of our unease so much as poverty.  Many of the painful exchanges between citizens and law enforcement expose the ways in which those with less economic power are disadvantaged.  It is those caught in the cycle of poverty who too often feed on one another in violent acts and drug distribution.  Because of this nation's correlation between poverty and race all of these issues get mingled and mangled together.

ML King reminded us that in God's eyes, we are all loved, valued, and valuable.  If we were able to see others as God sees them, surely many of the subtle and overt acts of racism would disappear.  Surely we would no longer be willing to tolerate the notion that poverty is an inevitable reality.  

On this day off from classes, do much to catch up on your studies and your rest.  I would ask you to spend at least 20 minutes reading some of the writings of Pastor King.  I suggest his  
https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/swensson/king.html - particularly the section which address "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism". It is not an easy read, and his depiction of the Vietnam War may challenge your generation's knowledge of history.  But we all need to be challenged with King's linking of the price paid by the poor (who are often black and/or of lower economic status) to maintain the lifestyle of the powerful.

Christian piety should motivate us to civil action.  A faith without works fails to reveal a commitment to loving neighbor.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, January 12

I promise I will stop talking about the Football Championship - after today.

This morning I was reading from Revelation - the part which contains John's letters to the seven churches.  He warns against clothing ourselves with robes which might be flashy, but are not the garments of the saints.

It has been extremely heart-warming to receive emails and texts and facebook messages from seldom heard from friends saying, "Go Tigers," or "Congratulations!"  Everyone brings a warmth to my heart and into my life.

I am proud to be a Tiger.

But that pride is not rooted in a football championship.  It arises out of the experience of having lived ministry in this place for 23 years.  The pride I feel is a product of knowing the goodness of all of you and the ways in which you are making the world a better place.

The football team has turned on a spot light.  That light does not merely reveal 130 guys who are good at some game; it shows a student body filled with the desire to live out God's will in the world.  It allows the world to see how impressive this place is and how wonderfully God has gifted us.

Bask in this limelight - but do make sure not to allow its glow to detract from the qualities which have made us champions.  Be caring and committed.  Be inclusive of the little guy which no one considered big enough to make a contribution.  Be prepared to speak of true greatness.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, January 11

Our piety isn't the same, but Deshaun Watson and I loved the same Jesus.  Amid all the celebrations of the football team's championship victory, it was impressive to hear Deshaun put it all into perspective.  He commented on the game and on his teammates, and then he spoke of his faith.

The particular way he speaks of faith is not the way I speak of faith, but we share an awareness that no matter what we face there is an event beyond the event which matters more.  Maybe that is why he seems to "emotionally flat" - as one sports broadcaster put it.

The ups and downs of life should never be minimized.  The challenges you will face during the semester are in many cases huge.  My intention is to remind you of the resource you have as to face those challenges.  Whatever the outcome of the current strife, there is a larger story into which the current events is placed.  That larger story offers you assurance and confidence and hope and promise.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sermon - Baptism of Our Lord

Matthew 3:13-17                                                              

Revealing what we might not see

In her disturbing short story, “The River,” Flannery O’Connor tells of a young boy whose mother is too hung over to care for him.   His mother, and others, continue to smoke their cigarettes and drink from their bottles as the woman who is to watch the boy insists upon coins to pay for the streetcar, “It’ll be twict we have to ride the car.” she yells, into the darkness of the foul-smelling apartment.  She intended to take the boy to a healing - out by the river.  This preacher didn’t come along very often and she wasn’t about to miss it - even if that meant she had to take the boy along.

The boy listened as the preacher preached, “Maybe I know why you come, maybe I don’t...if you ain’t come for Jesus, you ain’t come for me.  If you just come to see can you leave your pain in the water, you ain’t come for Jesus.  You can’t leave your pain in the river.”

“There ain’t but one river,” the preacher continued, “and that’s the River of Life, made out of Jesus’ Blood.  That’s the river you have to lay your pain in...If it’s this River of Life you want to lay your pain in, then come up, and lay your sorrow here.  This old red river don’t end here.”  the preacher continues, “this old red suffering stream goes on, you people, slow to the Kingdom of Christ.”

The boy watched as a woman entered the waters and was healed of her palsy.  The boy hid in the hems of his car-taker’s skirt, fearful of what he was seeing. 

When the boy catches the attention of the preacher, he is asked whether he has ever been baptized. 

“What’s that?” he murmured. 

“If I baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ.  You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life.  Do you want that?”

“Yes,” the child said, and thought, “I won’t go back to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.” 

The boy is baptized, but even though the preacher pushes him under the water, he resurfaces.   He is disturbed that the river won’t accept him.

The boy is returned to the apartment.  He sleeps, wakes the next morning to an apartment that is hushed except for the sounds he creates by moving the empty bottles.  As he considers how he will care for himself this day, he decides to return to the River.  Thinking something must have gone wrong the first time, he will baptize himself.

The boy slips out of the house.  He carefully retraces the route to the River.  He never hesitates as he makes his way into the deep water.  As the red muddy water fills his mouth and nose, he gasps for air.  He resurfaces, thinking that the River has again refused to accept him.  “He plunged under once more and this time, the waiting current caught him like a long gentle hand and pulled him swiftly forward and down.  For an instant he was overcome with surprise; then since he was moving quickly and knew that he was getting somewhere, all his fury and fear left him.”

We often talk, quite glibly, about baptism.  Not often enough do we stop to ask the young boy’s question, “What is that?”  We make assumptions.  Or, because no one else is asking questions, we decide that we shouldn’t either.  But there may be nothing as puzzling as this practice of ours in which persons who are fully alive and living are brought to a pool of water and placed beneath the surface.  All of this is done with the promise that as one emerges from the river their lives will be different, changed, altered.  These are tremendous promises.  Can it be said that our experience matches the expectations?

The boy in O’Connor’s story was promised a place too wonderful for him to imagine.  He only came as close as the bottom of a muddy river.

The Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, probably wasn’t deep enough nor flowing rapidly enough to suck anyone under.  It was more of silt-filled causeway than a turbulent river.  When John sees Jesus coming, it is John who is filled with all sorts of expectations.

Remember that John had been out there for a while, along the banks of that river.  He had been preaching on the necessity of everyone to examine their lives, confess their sins and receive a baptism of repentance.  He had told those who came out to hear him that he was merely a messenger, a forerunner.  He was to be followed by “one who is more powerful.”  John announced, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

We are not exactly sure how John recognizes Jesus, when Jesus comes to John, to be baptized.  When Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, it is his first adult appearance in the gospel.  Jesus has performed no miracles, he has not healed anyone, he has told no parables and preached no sermons.  Yet, when John sees him, he recognizes him.  John already expects great things.  As Jesus approaches the baptismal waters, John begins to question whether his expectations will be matched by an equally wonderful experience.

We make a lot of wonderful promises - as a child of God is presented at the baptismal font.  We speak, rather glibly, of a renewed life, of a life that is transformed, of a live that is different than life could otherwise be.  Does the life that is lived on the other side of that river of water match the promises that are made?  We would hope that it would; even as we acknowledge that often it does not.

Our children, no less than those who are not baptized, get caught up in drug and alcohol addition, die in auto accidents or suffer the pains of crippling illnesses.  The waters of baptism do not shield us from the pains of body and heart. 

So how, then, is our life different, having been baptized?  What changes, as we are pushed below the surface of that muddy, red river?

When Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan, his life made a dramatic change.  Each of the gospels agree, that is in the immediate aftermath of his baptism that Jesus embarks upon his time of temptation.  He leaves the river bank and enters the wilderness where for forty days he is tempted.  Jesus’ life changes - dramatically - after he has been baptized.

What, then, of our lives?  How are we changed, altered, made different as a result of the water that is placed on our heads?

As with the characters in O’Connor’s short story, we don’t know why Jesus went down to the river.  What we do know is that as he was coming up out of the water, he was presented with a tremendous gift.  Matthew tells us that just as (Jesus) came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

Whatever expectations Jesus had as he entered the water, there was no way he could have anticipated the gift that was given to him as he emerged.  The heavens were opened, and God announced pleasure with this child.

Jesus’ baptism revealed what might otherwise have remained hidden.  On the other side of the baptismal river Jesus was able to see what might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Our baptismal ceremony may not have ended with as great a presentation as this, but the affirmation is the same.  On this side of the baptismal river our life differs in that we know that we are the beloved - that God loves us and that God has claimed us as daughter, as son.  The waters of baptism reveal to us that which might otherwise remain hidden - they reveal to us the great expectations our God has for each of us.

The young boy in Flannery O’Connor’s story went back to the river because his life was such hell.  He longed for the peace that the preacher promised.  He believed that that peace would be found in the waters of The River.

I was baptized on March 10, 1957.  I don’t remember the day; I was only four weeks old.  But I recall that day, many times in my life.  I recall it each time I need affirmation.  I bring that day to mind every time I have reason to doubt my worthiness.  I recall that day and if I shut my eyes real tightly, I can almost see that dove descending and alighting on me.

Our life on this side of the baptismal river differs in one way and in only one way.  We now live with the assurance that we too are God’s child.  We are the beloved, with us, God is well pleased.  God is pleased, not because we are good little boys and girls.  We try to be, but we won’t ever really be.  God is pleased, because God has claimed us beloved.  And in loving us, God creates a joy that outstrips all the world’s hurts and pains.