Baptized into freedom

This is my sermon from June 26, 2022, the Third Sunday after Pentecost. It was a great day at St. Stephen’s. We baptized two of God’s beloved.

The lectionary may be found here. We use Track 1.

In this week in which we are reminded by congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, and a mass shooting targeting LGBTQ+ people in Norway, of these reminders of our brokenness and the ways in which we struggle so often, so consistently with living into God’s commandments, today’s reading from Galatians some much needed clarity, some comfort, and some hope.

We are reminded that God is a liberating God, the God who will free us from all bondage, including that which we inflict and impose on one another and ourselves.  This is the God of love, God human and divine, the God who gave us the command to love one another and lived with us, lived as one of us, to show us what it means to overcome our fears and our brokenness and to incarnate, to embody, the love of God for all people. This is the God of love, who died as one of us and then rose again to show us that even death cannot overcome God’s love.

We are told that living by the flesh – which is a way of saying living according to our will, as opposed to God’s will – that living by the flesh limits our ability to feel and express the love of God in us and for all people. But when live by the fruits of the Spirit we can be free from all that limits our ability to experience the fullness of God’s love.  And that, my friends, is the comfort and the hope.

Wen we live as God created us to live, as Jesus showed us how to live, as God’s Holy Spirit, here alive with us, will guide us in the way of faith, then , and only then, we will know what it means to be truly free.

Br. Luke Ditewig of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic order, wrote:

What God promises and commands, God also enables.  By the Spirit, we coming more into life, one step at a time.  Jesus keeps telling us that there’s more.  What is Jesus inviting us into?  What might our teachers in our lives and our collective history reflect about Jesus’ invitation into more?  It is not a height to be reached, but a widening embrace of mercy and grace.”

And that brings us to today

Today we are going to baptize Beatrice and Alistair.  Baptism is a Sacrament, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (BCP 857)  “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (BCP 858)  That’s the teaching of the Catechism in the Episcopal Church.

In Baptism, we are welcomed into the household of God, reminded of God’s promises and God’s commands. It is a step we take together – those being baptized and the community of faith.  It shapes  us and it forms us in ways that are truly a holy mystery. And it reminds us that we are part of a collective history, the story of God’s work in and through creation since the beginning of time. 

Baptism frees us from the limits of our brokenness. It is the foundational way of accepting Jesus’ invitation to be part of something bigger than ourselves, something so much better than ourselves, something that is about the unimaginable, unconditional love of God for all of God’s people.

We are welcomed into the embrace of God’s mercy and grace. We are claimed as Christ’s own forever.

And then to remind us that is real in our lives today in ways that are more tangible, maybe more accessible, we are welcomed into the love and safety, comfort and security, challenge and opportunity of a community of faith that commits to helping us to grow into the fullness of who God created us to be so that we can better reflect the image of God within us.

We become a part of that widening embrace in which all of the fruits of the Spirit are present and in which we are emboldened, enlivened, encouraged, and empowered to live by that Spirit and to love one another as we are loved by Jesus.

We going to welcome Alistair and Beatrice into that embrace, reminding them of a truth that exists whether we do that or not: God’s love for all of God’s people and God’s invitation to all of us to live into that reality with joy and intention in all aspects of our lives.

For those of us who have already been baptized, we’ll affirm our faith using the Baptismal Covenant, as a reminder that the Spirit guides us every single day, not just the day we are baptized, and that this journey of moving deeper into the heart of God is one we can choose to take each and every day of our lives. Amen.

Copyright 2022 The Rev. Paula J. Toland

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