11/05/17 – The Beatitudes of Baptism

“Lord, give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” Amen.

In Thornton Wilder’s famous play Our Town, one of the main characters Emily Webb dies and enters an afterlife in which dead souls sit and stare blankly into nothingness, indifferent to earthly events. Emily wants to relive one more day of her earthly life before permanently taking her seat in this detached afterlife. She is given this opportunity and, as she relives one particular day (her 12th birthday), she realizes the beauty of each moment and she sees how blind humans are to the wonder that is all around them. She finally can’t bear it anymore and says, “I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” Then she looks at the Stage Manager and asks him, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager answers, “No.” (pause) “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.” Then Emily says, “I’m ready to go back.” And then she takes her seat permanently in the afterlife, where she will grow more and more indifferent to the things that she once loved.[1]

As Christians, we (fortunately) believe in an afterlife that is much less dull than Thornton Wilder’s. However, his play is effective in challenging us, in a sad and somewhat troubling way, to be present, to find joy and wonder in all of God’s works and to realize life while we live it, because most people don’t. The saints and poets, maybe—they do some. And those are the people whom we celebrate today, those saints and poets who learned to see the holy blessedness and wonder of every moment, who realized life while they lived it— every minute.

And the Gospel we just heard reminds us that we don’t celebrate the saints by putting them on a pedestal and idolizing them. We celebrate them by learning how we can emulate them in our own lives so that we can realize our own life while we live it. That’s why the Gospel does not give us a list of saints whom we can only dream of imitating in some meager way. In the Gospel, Jesus provides us with certain characteristics of those “saints and poets” who have realized life while living it: humility, vulnerability, thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity and peace. These characteristics are called the Beatitudes. I like to think of them as “Attitudes that help us Be,” attitudes that help us be present to the fullness of being human, attitudes that help us be receptive to and grateful for the gift of joy and wonder in all of God’s works. Jesus concludes the Beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are you,” thus inviting us to adopt these same characteristics ourselves, inviting us to adopt these Beatittudes, these attitudes that help us be here now.

There is much to celebrate and be present to in this moment right now: the 60th anniversary of this beautiful congregation named after Jesus Christ our Redeemer, whose love redeems and liberates us so that we can be fully present to each other, to Christ among us, to the simple yet profound act of eating a piece of bread and drinking a sip of wine; so that we can be more fully present to our neighbors in Glenwood, San Rafael and the world; so that we can be hospitable as we can make room for others in the mansions of our hearts. Let us be present now to the ways in which this community has been a gift to each of us, over the years.

Today, let us also celebrate and be present to the welcoming of a new member into the Body of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. As a sacrament and symbol, baptism works on multiple levels, brimming with many rich layers of meaning. I encourage you all to read about baptism in the Catechism within our Book of Common Prayer on page 858. Baptism is a sacrament by which God adopts us as his children. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the children of God!” Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection; it is birth into God’s beloved family the Church; it is a symbol of purification and forgiveness of sins and it is new life in the Holy Spirit. Baptism is also the most tried-and-true way that we receive and start to become fully present to the gift of our belovedness in God’s eyes.

Baptism is the most tried-and-true way that we receive and start to become fully present to the gift of our belovedness in God’s eyes. My message and invitation to this community (Redeemer) for over a year now has been “Find your deepest freedom in your belovedness.” Your Redeemer (your Liberator) loves you and frees you by his love so that you can be your true self. We receive that love through the sacraments. We enter into the flow of God’s love at baptism and we grow in that love through the Eucharist. In other words, Baptism is our entrance into the river that flows into the very heart of God; and we give ourselves over to the currents of the river every time we participate in the Eucharist.

The beginning and foundation of Jesus’s ministry was a profound experience of his belovedness in the Father’s eyes. At his baptism, Jesus was drenched by love and grace as a voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” At our baptism, we all entered into that same belovedness, we all became God’s beloved sons and daughters. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called children of God.” Even if we don’t feel any goose bumps or warm fuzzies, we are still caught up in the love of God through Baptism and the Eucharist. As our Catechism says, the sacraments function as “sure and certain means by which we receive grace.” Through baptism, we can be fully confident that we are drenched in God’s love and sealed by his grace forever.

And today is the day of Ryan Cutchin’s birth into God’s belovedness. Obviously, God already loves Ryan tremendously, more than any of us can ever know. But today, we perform a sacrament that functions as a “sure and certain means” by which he receives the gift of God’s grace and love so that there can never be any doubt that he is part of God’s beloved family now and forever. [I learned that the Gaelic meaning of the name “Ryan” is “Little King” which is appropriate because today he shares in the royal priesthood of Christ. Today, Ryan becomes a little Christ King.]

As part of his baptism, we will pray that God gives Ryan an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. With this prayer, we pray that Ryan and all of us remember and know in our bones that everything is gift. Every beautiful moment of our lives which we so often take for granted is a gift from God and an expression of God’s love for us. Baptism is how we receive this gift of love and give ourselves over to the strong current of the river that leads to the very heart of God. We give ourselves over to the river’s current by making vowing in our baptismal covenant to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We give ourselves over to the river’s current by persevering in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, by repenting and returning to the Lord. We move deeper into the heart of God by proclaiming the Good News of Christ by word and example, by seeking and serving Christ in all persons, by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. In our baptismal vows, we commit to cultivating the Beatitudes, the attitudes that help us be, attitudes that help us be fully present to the here and now, to the beauty and wonder of each moment and to our belovedness in God’s eyes so that we are free to be our true selves and become like those saints and poets, who realize life while living it, every minute. Amen.

[1] Thornton Wilder, Our Town: A Play in Three Acts (New York: HarperPerennial, 2003), 108.