The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Manisha Dostert
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Most people appreciate that the Bible corroborates Jesus’s humanity through the shortest verse in the King James version– Jesus wept. It comes from the Gospel of John, and it is after Lazarus dies and Jesus goes to see his sisters Mary and Martha, and he enters a scene where everyone was weeping and he is greatly disturbed. So, he asks them, Where have you laid him? And they respond, Come and see. At that, Jesus weeps.
For many of us, it is comforting to know that even God incarnate has necessity to cry. Even the One who is in all is overwhelmed by emotion and has a very real and vulnerable response to it.
However, to me, one of the most life-giving sentences in the Bible is when Jesus cries out, “ I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”
Jesus stresses out!
However, in both instances, when Jesus wept and when Jesus was stressed, these were not for the reasons we would expect. When Jesus wept, it was not from grief, but out of frustration. Frustration that no one believed he was the Resurrection and the Life and he had to prove it to them and raise Lazarus from the dead. He wept because the work of death and evil was still powerfully evident in our lives and it is disturbing to witness over and over again. He wept because these were cosmic forces his human body was fighting, and the exertion was enough to cause a physical reaction.
It is the same way with Jesus’s stress. This was not stress over life choices or hardships in our life or those things that at least I find myself stressing over. I paid attention to what caused me stress this week. I was stressed when my inbox was filled with 52 new messages in one day and I could not get to them. I was stressed when the power in our house went out and our generator did not work. I was stressed when my father-in-law fell and I had to take him to the hospital. I was stressed when I got on the scale. I was stressed when I got a bill that I did not expect. I was stressed trying to figure out this sermon.
But I certainly was not stressed about my baptism. “I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is completed.”
What does it mean to be stressed about our baptism?
The other day I was with a young couple and their new baby who was being prepared to be baptized. We went through all the wonderful events that happen at baptism-
the making of the baptismal water to be poured over the baptisand that has been mixed thoroughly with the Word of God and will make a child the inheritor of the Kingdom of our Father in heaven.
The oil to anoint her that seals into her very being the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The light of Christ handed to her in the form of a candle that has been lit from the Paschal Candle which itself was set aglow the first time at the declaration of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter and given to her to remind her not to hide her light but let it shine for all the world to see so they can thank God in heaven for all her good works.
And then we give her a quilt to wrap her with God’s love.
These quilts are handmade by Amanda Moore, a parishioner, who has been making these for every baby baptised at Christ Church Cranbrook for the past 15 years. By the way, if you are an experienced quilter and would love to join Amanda in this beautiful ministry, let me know.
She taught me the meaning of the quilt.
She has a representation of all of God’s creatures in the squares.
Then she has going diagonally through the whole quilt the strong squares that say Jesus loves me. And it is the center square. (It is thus the center of the quilt.)
At the bottom right of the quilt she has a beautiful square that is made of a different fabric and is translucent and has an outline of this church. And she taught me what this means.
Baptism is the entrance into the church. And even though Jesus’s love is central to your life, it is up to you to do the work to get you from this square to make God, God’s will, God’s desire, God’s dream, the center of your life. That’s the work of baptism.That’s the work that is stressing Jesus out.
All of this is to say, the baptism with which each one of us was baptized placed us on the bottom square.
And we are to do the work so that we are making God’s purpose our purpose, we are traversing our own squares to get to the middle where Jesus remains at the center of our being. And what stress we are under to make sure that is the case.
What keeps us going is our faith. It requires faith in Christ to undergo that journey from baptism to making God central to your whole life.
It is faith in a God who has come into this world to insist that our ways are not the Lord’s and a God who is not afraid to create division to bring about real peace, to call out complacency to arouse our desire for justice and to shut our ears to the siren call of false prophets who promise to bring us everything we dream of without a price to be paid or at the expense of others.
Faith is not easy. Our lives are not to be easy. Look at what the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews had to endure because of their faith: They were tortured,mocked and flogged, and imprisoned. They were stoned to death, sawn in two, and some simply killed by the ancient version of guns- swords; they were robbed of their riches and left destitute, persecuted, tormented. They were homeless, wandering in deserts and mountains, and living in caves and holes in the ground. All because they believed in God.
But look at what some of them did- they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight and they saw their dead raised. All because of their faith.
The cost of faith is extraordinary. The results of faith are extraordinary.
So, I ask you– what are the costs and what are the results of your faith?//
When we talk about faith, I think we often equate having faith as having something that will bring us comfort in the times of crisis, quiet in the midst of tumult, and calmness within a storm. We depend on our faith to make it through the hard times, and when we do not know what to do or have no guarantees.
Troy and I were having dinner with an old friend and he told us of his many illnesses and hospital visits. He said that he could not imagine going through what he did without his faith to get him through. He understood it was his trust in God that gave him the courage to face bad news as his body fails him.
And what he meant was that he trusted God. And that gave him the courage to face the uncertainty as he was trying to deal with his body that was failing him. But our faith also has a different dimension, our faith doesn’t just have the job of comforting us, it has the job of compelling us. With our faith, God is moving us, traversing us from the beginning of our baptism to its fulfillment. And I’ve been thinking about our faith.
And I’ve been thinking about it in context of what’s happening in our nation which certainly feels like great division and great discomfort. What are people who believe in Jesus Christ supposed to say or do about immigration, and gun violence, the rhetoric that’s flying across party lines, the chance for some and against others? What does it mean for us to be fulfilling our baptismal calling today?
I think our faith is stressful. But it is stressful not because we are called to stop all the arguing and provide all the solutions. There are no easy answers here. And especially in times when rhetoric is divisive, perhaps Jesus is going to be able to change things through this volley of fire. And, after all, He does warn us He is not here to bring us a false sense of peace. God will expose the multiple ways we are falling short, and God can make good come out of conflict.
But someone needs to embody the ever never-failing presence of love that exists, because God made us and God bound us all together. Somebody has to do that hard work. I think our faith is stressful because it actually makes this demand on us: stay in the line of fire, do not retreat. Be in the midst of the difficulty and the pain. Why? Because that’s where Jesus is. I think we’re called to be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were in that fiery furnace and stayed because of the fourth person that was there.
God is going to act in good time. But what you and I are called to do is to undergo that stress and stay where it’s hot. And here’s what I realize, when you are in that heat, when you’re in the midst of that fire, it actually starts to work on you. It becomes like a refiner’s fire. It’s testing you. It’s molding you. It’s changing you. It’s shaping you just as much as it’s doing to others. But while you’re in that fire, use your God-given gifts to make the stress manageable and to increase your capacity.
So if you’re kind, use your kindness. If you’re generous, give all that you want. If you’re funny, bring levity, that sense of humor is such a gift. You’ve been called into that place of difficulty because God baptized you in all your particularities. Now I’m going to provide you with an example from my own life, but before I do that I want you to hear this. Your faith is your own. You know it well. You know how far you have come by faith when you entered into the church through your baptism, and how far you still have to go to make Christ the center of your life while clinging to the cross.
You also know, because God let’s you know what you’re supposed to be stressed out about. And it’s nothing fancy, right? It’s about making sure that love is shaping the way that we live with our neighbors. It’s about making sure that there is enough for each of us. It’s about sharing what we’ve been given since Christ gave it to us in the first place. It’s about creating spaces of sanctuary for all people to thrive and live, not just your own type, and so on and so forth. It’s not fancy. But use your gifts. Stay in the heat. And let the fire that you experience shape you and mold you, and have faith that God is at work.
So here’s my personal example. I’ve known for a long time that part of my journey to the center has involved something that I have a fire in my belly for. I’ve always deeply, deeply desired racial reconciliation. I have this vision, this dream of all people of all races actually calling one another brother and sister and acting like it. And I stay up at night thinking about it.
I have these wonderful hopes of delight and ecstasy as we all gather together. And I even married a man who studies it, but I have no idea how to bring this about here in the city of Detroit. I felt like I was witnessing some change when I lived in North Carolina a long time ago, but then God yanked us from North Carolina and moved us to Detroit, north of Eight Mile. So I tried. I tried to fulfill my baptismal calling, and I tried all kinds of things. I would speak, I would listen. I would create all kinds of opportunities, and nothing worked. Nothing.
My words fell like lead. And I made lots of mistakes. And it was the fire that God was using to refine me. So that ten years later, after making no headway at all, I was open to anything God wanted. And what God wanted was to place me in a fairly White, very large Episcopal church in the suburbs of Detroit. And here I witnessed what God can do among the races. Here we used art and jazz. We used adaptive leadership and interfaith work, and we watched the needle move.
I learned from a White rector how to engage in bridge building. And it turns out that it actually requires a sheer act of faith to think a church can begin to heal the racial divide that has torn up Detroit for so long. But it’s because of our faith that we feel compelled to continue. It’s because the Lord is in it. We all have a baptism with which to be baptized. And we are under stress as we complete it, but me make the journey with Christ.