I wrote this sermon before we decided against moving inside. It is therefore different from what I delivered yesterday. Still, I offer it here.
Today we are blessed. There are all kinds of reasons to be anxious about our nation and our world, of course. That anxiety is weighing on me, as I am sure it weighs on many of you.
But for this hour, we are in a little oasis of blessedness.
It is good to be back inside, even though it is a little scary and we have to make all kinds of safety adjustments.
Not coincidentally, this is one of the holiest days of the Christian year: All Saints Day, when we remember those who have died.
Best of all, later today we’ll do our first baptism since the pandemic began, and, in honor of Vivienne, the about-to-be newly baptized, we’ll all renew our own baptismal covenants in a few minutes.
That means in this service we get to experience in a summary way the full cycle of the Christian life, from its beginning in baptism to its end when we enter into the nearer presence of God.
Our second reading for this morning, from First John, is perfect for this day. It is a common reading at funerals, including, most recently for us, at the memorial service for Bob Rendrick Sr. two weeks ago. It is also a good reading for baptism, and a good reminder for all of us of our shared Christian journey.
Start with the first bit, which speaks to the beginning of the Christian life. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are….Beloved, we are God’s children now;”
“We are God’s children now.” We know that. But we still need to hear it over and over again. And that is one of the4 gifts of baptism. After being sprinkled with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the baptized is anointed with these words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
For most of us, that happened a long time ago. But the good news of our baptisms remains as true today as it was whenever we were baptized and anointed. We are God’s children now, and nothing can ever take that away from us, not even our own sins and weaknesses and failures. God’s love endures. Thanks be to God!
But that is not the whole story, not for any of us. As lots of people have said, “God loves you just the way you are… and God loves you too much to let you stay there.
That is part of the baptismal service, too. As part of their own vows, parents and godparents commit to helping their child, who is already deeply loved by God, “to grow into the full stature of Christ.” The child is deeply, deeply loved. And the child needs to grow into that love.
Our epistle says the same thing. We are all works in progress. “Beloved,” says the elder, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
For all of us, the great task of our task of our lives is to grow, to grow more and more Christ-like, to resemble more and more our Lord, to grow closer and closer to the full stature of Christ.
Later today, Vivienne’s family and their friends will commit to helping her do that. Every time we renew our own baptismal covenants, as we will do in just a minute, we promise to do our best to do the same, with God’s help.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a verbal picture of what the full stature of Christ looks like.
Some of it is not too surprising, if not necessarily easy to achieve. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness. We should be merciful and pure in heart. We should be peacemakers. Christ was all those things. We should be, too. Clear enough.
Other parts of our Gospel reading are equally familiar, but a little less comfortable if we pause to think about them. As we grow to resemble Christ, we will become poorer in spirit, meeker. We may well mourn. In the worst cases, we may be persecuted. That doesn’t sound as good.
I talked with Bishop Scruton this week about these more challenging beatitudes. He focused on “poor in spirit,” and suggested a few different ways to think about what that might mean. Jesus might mean, blessed are those who recognize the true poverty of their spirit apart from God. Then they will be open to God’s grace.
Or, even more freely, this is the version from The Message, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
I don’t know if that is exactly what Jesus meant. But it gets at the paradoxical truth at the heart of our faith. As we mature spiritually, as we grow in our relationship with God, as we come to resemble Christ more and more, Christ gradually fills us up. We find our own truest identity as unique and beloved individuals precisely in surrendering to Christ.
That process of giving ourselves over to Christ more and more begins in baptism, continues throughout our lives, and only comes to an end after we die and enter into the nearer presence of God.
We are all somewhere on that journey. What a gift that today we can celebrate Vivienne’s first steps on that journey, and also celebrate the memory of those who have now completed their journeys. Celebrating the newly baptized and remembering the saints who have gone before, I give thanks to Christ for helping us along the way, and I pray that Christ will continue to propel us forward until the day that we see Him as He truly is. In Christ’s name. Amen.
 I have no idea who is the original source for this quote. The internet attributes variations of it to Anne Lamott and Max Lucado, among others.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan