An Acts Ten Moment

I asked Pastor Darren Wright to sharing his baptismal journey:  “A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting in a room across from the table from eight people, as they threw questions at me.  I was going through commissioning to become an Elder in the United Methodist Church. It’s not intimidating at all. (congregational laughter)  I remember that when they got to the question about my understanding of baptism, as I gave my answer, I began to cry. And I cried because, for me, baptism captures my journey from where I came  from to where I am now. I was raised in a denomination that held a different view of baptism. There baptism seemed to be reserved for when you believed the right things and said the right words. For me, that is contrasted with how, when a couple of years ago, and then again last year, Tish and I stood here with Rowan and with Finley and baptized them in this congregation and in this sanctuary.  And as we stood with Rowan and Finley, I remember thinking as a parent, you love these two little things so much. And you want to do everything can to take care of them and not mess them up. And there is that moment when ya’ll join in the liturgy and you commit to do it with us. We are not alone as we raise Rowan and Finley up in the church. We are not alone in making sure they know they are loved and chosen by God.  When I look at Rowan and Finley there is this deep love that is really, really indescribable. You feel this love and you just hope they will get a sense of that love. Our baptismal liturgy reminds me that my love for Rowan and Finley is the same love that God has for them. God’s love is offered without price and there is nothing Rowan and Finley can do about it. When all of us are baptized, we are named “beloved.” We are loved by God and nothing we ever do will ever change that. We are Loved by God and there is nothing that we can do to change that.” 

All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.  Faith, hope, and love come to us as gifts. At times we fail to value the priceless: community, compassion, creativity, forgiveness, friendship, grace, goodness, honor, integrity, justice, joy, kindness, peace, patience, steadfastness, self-control, and wisdom.   Over the next few weeks we will focus on our baptism. It is easy to think that baptism is about us, as we take vows. However, baptism is about God’s Love working in and through us. We ask for a little miracle with every baptism – that God’s power might be revealed in our living! 

Brothers, Sisters, Siblings united in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation

and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

 

Acts 10 may be as pivotal in church history and theology as Pentecost. Today, we may be standing in an Act’s 10 moment that asks us “who we are as a church?” Acts 10 asks us “who we are?” by asking “who belongs?”  Is our baptism about human merit or God’s grace? God’s Spirit awakens Peter and leads him to break a religious rule and cultural taboo by entering the house of a gentile named Cornelius, a colonel in the occupying Roman army. Peter declares, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to God. This is the message of peace God sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: Christ is Lord of all!”  Exclusion divides. Inclusion offers the way of peace.  How is our faith weakened when unexpected faces come to the altar, font, pulpit or kneeler?  

 

I love what the only bishop appointed by Jesus says, “I am learning.” Would you repeat that with me? “I am learning.” “I am learning” means God is still teaching. When did the Spirit stop working?  Why did we only understand Wesley’s warning that American slavery was “the vilist evil” after a church spilt and civil war? Why did it take us until 1956 to ordain women? Why  did we not grasp grace enough to allow divorced pastors to openly serve until 1972? We still have much to learn about God’s grace: which is offered without price! 

 

While still learning, Peter started speaking, but the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word and ended the sermon. Maybe someone is praying for that right now! The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

 

Why do we like excluding brands of Christianity? Is our love of labels a kind of idolatry that values human works over divine grace? Do we fear that different folks will challenge our understanding of old rules? Was a meal less holy because someone ate pulled pork at an early church potluck? Do we worry that if God accepts someone else then our personal connection with Christ is less meaningful? Do we think God can’t sort it all out? Is God’s Love not sufficient for us and them? Are we afraid to learn something new?    

 

Last year, I read the scriptures and offered a prayer as two people invited God into the center of their life together. The wedding was orthodox and beautiful. I teared up with joy watching the persistent love of the two grooms, who overcame denominational obstacles, to celebrate a Christian wedding. With a wooden cross made by a clergy friend, they turned a clubhouse into a chapel. God’s love hallowed that space and their union. They went to extraordinary lengths to say ‘yes’ to God, to our broken church, and to each other in order to simply ask God’s blessing upon their union. The two grooms made the same promises I shared with Connie in 1988. Their vows reminded me how God’s love has upheld and refreshed our love across 31 years.   

 

Could it be that we cluster up and exclude others because we focus too much on ourselves or on others, and not enough on the gift of God? Do we forget that ‘All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price’?  I am trying to resolve to Love more this year.

 

Baptism, Holy Communion and heaven are not about us. Baptism is our foundation: “ it is God’s gift, offered without price.”  All ministry flows from God’s baptismal font! God’s mighty acts of salvation do not run dry. Faith, hope, and love are not like cars, oil, or pizza. Unlike pizza, if we give away love, our love grows. If we extend love’s community, a more loving community emerges. If in faith we stretch outward, our faith enlarges. If we forgive, our souls find deeper forgiveness. Only generosity, makes us generous. Hospitality makes our hearts hospitable. Creative risks births creativity. Doing the beautiful creates beauty. Acceptance multiplies self-acceptance. Peacemaking spreads peace. The practices of spiritual living grow spiritual muscles.  The deep muscle memory carries us in the toughest times. Grace grows with use. This is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

 

Some might say, I am preaching too much about inclusion or others not enough. Perhaps. But in this hard season I keep coming back to a passage from Paul. Maybe we are in an Acts 10 moment, that clarifies “what are we all about?” by asking “who belongs?”    Do we really believe that our “new birth through water and the Spirit is God’s gift, offered to us without price? Paul’s prayer is maybe a message for this season. God gave God’s grace to me, the least of all God’s people, to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles…. God’s purpose is now to show the many different varieties of God’s wisdom through the church…  This is why I kneel before the Creator…. I ask that God will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of God’s glory through the Spirit. I pray that Christ will live in your hearts through faith, as a result of having strong roots in love. I pray that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers, so that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge and be filled entirely with the fullness of God.  Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by God’s power at work within us.. Amen.  (from Ephesian 3) 

Let us keep learning, leaning into God’s grace. Let us strive to be deeply rooted in love, trusting that God is working on, and through others, who perhaps express faith with a different understanding than our own. And in all things let us remember our very lives are “God’s (good) gift, offered to us without price.” Amen. 

 

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