Archive for December, 2013

Baptism: Sacrament of Hope and New Beginnings

December 17, 2013

What a great celebration we are having here today! A baptism…confirmations…an ordination…and the Eucharist! If we could just find someone out there who wants to get married, we could just about do it all this morning! And how wonderful it is, that these major milestones are being celebrated during the season of Advent – the season of hope and of new beginnings.

I think one of the reasons we love Advent so is that it is that kind of season. We see hope and new beginnings promised in each of our readings from Holy Scripture this morning: Isaiah promises his exiled people that, when they return home “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom…” (Isaiah 35:1). Hope and a new beginning for his people!

James knows how excited and hopeful his dispersed flock of new Christians are and so he tells them that they must “Be patient…until the coming of the Lord.” As patient as “the farmer wait(ing) for the precious crop from the earth.” (James 5:7) Farmers are all about hope and new beginnings…they have to be!

And Jesus promises his ragtag audience of poor and hungry and weeping and marginalized people (the same audience that flocked to John the Baptist) that – as great at John was – they are even greater in God’s eyes!(Matthew 11:2 ff) Once again – a promise of hope and a new beginning for people who desperately needed to hear that good news!

In many ways, the most important sacrament we will be celebrating here this morning is the baptism. For baptism is, above all else, the sacrament of hope and of new beginnings. When we baptize Jane today it will be in a spirit of hope and of a new beginning. Indeed, this whole congregation will say, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP 308) That is our hope for her new beginning!

Right after we lay hands on those who will be confirmed today, I will pray “Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of the Spirit to perform the service you set before them.” (BCP 418) That’s our hope for their new beginnings today!

And just after Jonathon is ordained to the transitional diaconate, we will ask God to “make him…modest and humble, strong and constant, to observe the discipline of Christ (that) his life and teaching (may) so reflect (God’s) commandments, that through him many may come to know you and (to) love you.” (BCP 545) That is our hope for his new beginning!

It’s truly wonderful that we are celebrating all of these sacraments here today and that we can see them all together – because they are all interrelated and they all grow out of the primary Sacrament we celebrate today – Baptism! My dear friend, the late Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan, had a powerful way of reminding himself (and the rest of us) of that in his office.

While most of us clergy have our walls filled with college and seminary diplomas and ordination certificates and the like, Jim just had one large, beautifully framed certificate hanging on his wall – his Baptismal Certificate! It was his way of reminding us that, in many ways, the most important thing that will ever happen to us is our baptism. Because, as the Prayer Book reminds us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” (BCP 298)

Full initiation! We need nothing else! Confirmation allows us to own that great reality for ourselves and make a mature commitment to the promises we made, or were made on our behalf, at baptism. Ordination sets apart individuals to “carry on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the Church…of preaching the Word of God and administering (the) holy Sacraments.” (BCP 510)

But we’re not talking hierarchy here. The Church is not a pyramid with bishops on the top, priests and deacons next, and lay people on the bottom. The Church is best seen as a circle, with Christ at the center, and all the ministries – lay person, bishops, priests, deacons, pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets – all these ministries distributed around the circumference of the wheel and all empowered by the grace of God coming to us through Word and Prayer and Sacrament.

So we’re involved in a great work here this morning, dear friends. I’m so glad each and every one of you are here to take your part. As you come to the Table today to receive the very Being and Life of Christ in the Eucharist, remember that the word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” This is our Thanksgiving Meal!

And surely, we have a lot to give thanks for…today!



Co-Creators of the Future With God

December 1, 2013

I love Advent! Most of us do, I think. Many call it their favorite season of the church year. Part of it is that we love Christmas, and Advent is the season of preparation for that great feast. I love the royal blue vestments (which we will bless today); I love the Advent wreath and the smell of greens in the church. I love the great Advent hymns and the powerful readings from the Bible (especially the Old Testament) which we get to hear during these four brief weeks.

Part of it too is that Advent is, above all else, a season of Hope — The hope of the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. The hope of God’s in-breaking into our lives every day in new and exciting ways. The hope of God’s Reign one day coming in its fullness here “on earth as it is in heaven.” All these are Advent themes, and they make for a season of hope, a ‘”theology of hope.” Which, to my mind, is largely what the Christian faith is all about.

We have expressions of hope in all three of our Lessons from Scripture today: “In the days to come,” Isaiah shouts, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills.” (Isaiah 2:2).  St. Paul agrees, writing some 800 years later: “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers,” (Romans 13:11b). “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,” warns Jesus, “Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:36, 44) All proclamations of hope and of expectation!

So, if Advent is a season of hope and new beginnings, what about us? What about us at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, Illinois? Are we all about hope? Are we all about new beginnings? You are an historic church…launching into your Sesquicentennial Year. For 150 years generation upon generation of young people have been baptized and confirmed in this parish. They have learned the story of Jesus Christ and his Church. They have served as acolytes and choristers and they’ve enjoyed youth groups and outreach events.

Hundreds of couples have had their marriages solemnized in this beautiful building. Confessions have been heard, the sick have been anointed with oil. Priests and deacons have been ordained in this church, and at least one bishop who shall remain nameless graduated from Seabury-Western in this church in 1972!

Many of your forebears have had their caskets brought down this center aisle and had their souls commended to God in the same church where they worshiped Sunday by Sunday. And, oh yes, Sunday by Sunday the Word of God has been preached, the Body and Blood of Christ has been received in the Eucharist, and the joyful praises of God have been sung by choir and communicant alike. And, because of all these things, members of St. Mark’s have gone forth from this place to make a difference for good in this community and beyond.

But Sesquicentennial observances are only partly about celebrating the past (though they surely are that). They are about preparing to take the next step into the future. We’re doing a few simple things this morning that indicate that future – blessing a new outdoor sign to point newcomers in our direction; blessing a new Altar, altar cloths, and vestments. Perhaps these are outward signs of the fact that you have a new motto at St. Mark’s – Being in Place; Growing in Faith; and Living from the Center. And that you are refocusing on being and becoming a real neighborhood church, responding to the needs of the local community. I hope so.

We had a wonderful Diocesan Convention last weekend. And Bishop Jeff Lee had some words to share in his sermon which I think may be useful for you to hear…or hear again if you were there! He said, “The theme for this 176th convention is that we are doing a new thing. Actually…I think I‘d rather say, God is doing a new thing. God is always doing new things. Our scriptures, the vast sweep of the contemplative tradition, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection itself and the sending of the Holy Spirit – they all testify to the truth of it. God is always doing a new thing…”

“…God is the prime mover, the creator and sustainer of all that is or ever will be, and God’s mission is the repair, the restoration, the renewing of that creation…The new thing is God’s project and we who have been redeemed by God’s unexpected action in Jesus…have the staggering invitation to join in God’s mission of making all things new. That’s what we’re for; that’s what all of this is about. There’s a phrase ascribed to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to management guru Peter Drucker: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ The Christian faith proclaims that God invites us to be nothing less than co-creators (of that future).”

Co-creators of the future with God! Did you know that’s what you were about today? Did you know that blessing new signs and altars and vestments were just icons of the new mission you are being called into? Well, it’s true! And the amazing thing is: you will fulfill that mission by just showing up and doing three “simple” things:

Being in Place

Growing in Faith

 Living from the Center


Thanks Be To God!