June 17, 2018


Passage: Ezekiel 17:22-24

So we have a baptism happening today.

It isn’t one of the “normal” days for baptisms in the church. It’s not Easter or All Saints or any big feast day. But you know what? Seems to me that any day is a good day for a baptism.

I used to have a rector named Glenda. One of the things I loved about her was the way she responded to folks who showed up at church who hadn’t been there in a long time. They’d usually get all sheepish and apologetic. But she’d always just blow it off. “Well you’re here now, aren’t you?” she’d say. And that was enough. That’s all there was to be said. They were in church and she was glad.

And that’s kind of how I feel about having a baptism on the fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Christina and Mark Burker are with us today. And they’re ready for theirs sons, Liam and Thomas, to be baptized and to be raised in the faith of the church and in the love of this church. And I tell you what, we are honored to become their church. When we get to that point in the baptism where we ask the congregation, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” our answer is, “We will.”

Now admittedly, that commitment always sounds a bit overstated. (Will you do all in your power to support them?) But the way I understand that promise is, “Will you live your life in this church and in this world with such credibility and integrity that these two boys will grow up in a church where love happens, where joy happens, where forgiveness happens? that their first and most formative experience of church will truly be a place where the Kingdom of God is alive and flourishing.

The best way you can support these boys (including you at the 8 o’clock service!) is to take your own faith seriously – not merely as a series of doctrines to believe in, but as a way of life to live in.

And then we will discover together that the Kingdom of God is indeed like a mustard seed, a tiny little seed, that – that once it’s planted – grows and grows and grows, and becomes enormous, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

I noticed in my cherry tree the other day that there was a big ol’ bird’s nest in it. It must have been a robin’s nest, it was so big. But it made me laugh because, dangling all over from it, were pieces of fishing line. At Christmas I’d made a garland on our front porch and tied it up with fishing line. (That garland lasted until well after Christmas. It was after Easter before Kathryn finally cut it down. It was all dead and horrible looking.) But the robin had found all these bits of fishing line and I don’t know what goes through a robin’s mind when it’s selecting nest material, but clearly he thought, “Yeah, that’s what I’m putting in my nest.” So now he’s got this trashy looking nest, but I think it’s totally delightful.

And you know, that’s kind of what the Kingdom of God is like. We all gather together at St. John’s, bringing with us all our quirks and peculiarities. None of us is perfect. None of us has this whole Christianity thing figured out yet. We’re just a mess. But we show up as we are, with hearts that are ready to say, “You know what? I’m following Jesus.” Jesus is the one who shows us how to live, how to love, how to forgive, how to be compassionate. And then we get to do that with each other, and for each other. Someone shows up at church one day a bit cranky, a bit battered by the week before. Okay. Now we get to take that crankiness and greet it with love, ‘cause we’re following Jesus. We get to take their trashy fishing line and say, “Ooh! I know just what to do with that” and then weave it into our own nest. The one person’s crankiness is the other person’s opportunity to become like Jesus, and everyone is blessed in the end. And the Kingdom of God has grown a little bit bigger here at St. John’s.

The whole world was caught off guard a few weeks ago when our Presiding Bishop preached at the Royal Wedding. Apart from the fact that he was American; apart from the fact that he was African-American, what made everyone sit up and pay attention was how alive he was, and how filled with joy he was. He preached about the power of love in such a way that you couldn’t help but wake up and think, “He’s right!” A British politician tweeted that same day, “Rev. Michael Curry could almost make me a believer.”

Yeah. That’s kinda the point. The Kingdom of God is good news that’s worth believing in. It’s the power of the love and mercy of God erupting in our lives.

Several of us got to see the Presiding Bishop at different venues this past week. I was taking a weeklong course with Linda Broun and Jeff Helsdon that Michael Curry came to and sat in on, and then we got to talk with him afterwards. And what many of us experienced in person confirmed what we’d seen on TV – that he’s the real deal, that he is living with the joy of God as he follows Jesus.

And as I’ve reflected on what we’re experiencing with Michael Curry, I realize that he is for us a witness to joy – that the Kingdom of God truly is our entrance to life, a life that is filled with goodness and worth and delight.

It’s not to say that there’s not legitimate sorrow and suffering and injustice in this world, but rather, that in the face of these things, we are participants and heralds of a greater power, which is love. And joy is the natural companion to this gospel.

There is so much joy to be found in the Kingdom of God.

Part of that joy is found in the genuine community that church can provide when we choose to enter into. I went to Cottesmore a couple weeks ago to visit Gail Drohan where she was recuperating. I expected to find her in bed (oxygen tube coming out her nose). But no. She was up, sitting in a comfortable chair in a little an alcove in the hallway. And she was busy, chattering away on her cell phone. But her conversation kept getting interrupted by other calls coming through. All these people who loved her. Most of them were from church. A couple days later (in fact, the same day she was released from Cottesmore) she showed up for choir practice. She and I happened to pull into the parking lot at the same time. And when she walked into the nave, the whole choir erupted. “Gail!” Such love. Such joy. Gail has chosen St. John’s as her community, and it was a joy to me to bear witness to a community in the church (the choir) that has such profound love for one another. We know that our choir sounds good (and that’s a source of joy, too!), but beyond the song of their lips, is the song of their hearts beating with love for one another.

And there’s another kind of joy that comes from following Jesus, and that’s the joy of blessing one another. We’re so messed up in this life because we always revert to being selfish – of taking care of ourselves and interpreting the world around us through our own narrow perspective. But in reality, what our souls actually crave, is just the opposite. We want to bless one another. And again, it’s Jesus who opens our eyes to this elemental reality. It is a joy to do good for one another, to seek out ways to make our neighbor’s life better.

The youth are going on a pilgrimage in a few weeks. (We’ll have more to share about their trip soon). And we need to raise some money to offset the cost of it. And you get to help. It’s not a burden. You get to help them to go on pilgrimage. You get to help them discover the heart of Jesus – the heart of compassion and mercy and justice. Helping them should feel good and joyful – to be able to participate in their formation. So, please! go get your car washed. After the service go downstairs and buy some baked goods. If you don’t want to eat a whole tray-full of desserts, buy one anyway, then go share it with your neighbor. It’s a two-for! You get to bless the youth and your neighbor. Go ring their doorbell with cinnamon rolls in hand, and they’ll probably invite you in and make a pot of coffee and you’ll sit down to talk and you’ll probably tell them about your church and the youth and their pilgrimage. And they might tell you about their church. Or maybe you’ll find out that they’re going in for knee replacement surgery in a couple weeks and they need someone to take care of their cat and you’ll say yes, and on and on and on.

And the kingdom of God is going to grow. That mustard tree is getting bigger and bigger. And you’ll go to bed that night joyful – joyful because you’re following Jesus. You’re choosing to bless your neighbor. And though choosing to do so may sometimes come at great cost, that is real living. That is the Kingdom of God. And that is always a source of deep, soul joy.

The Kingdom of God will grow like the mustard seed when the people of God choose to bless one another – to bless one another in the church; to bless one another in our families; to bless one another in the world. Just as we’ll never really understand how a tiny seed can hold within it the tree it will become, so we’ll never know how our love will be translated into somebody else’s life. But it will. It will. Love will never be misspent. The Spirit of God will come like a dove, who finds our love and weaves into the nest where new little birds are going to be born and nurtured.

Liam and Thomas are being baptized today. And we get to become their nest. We get to become their church – the people of God who are discovering the joy of following Jesus together. Amen.