Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year A), 2017.
This morning at our sister church in Pekin, a beautiful little girl received the Sacrament of Baptism and was made a member of the Body of Jesus Christ. It was glorious, and it was personally gratifying because it was my first as a Priest, and second as an ordained cleric, preceded by the baptism of Anna Augspurger when I as a Deacon assisted Father Richmond. One priest colleague told me this past week that baptisms will be the happiest days of my ministry. Whether that will prove true to me, I do not yet know, but I certainly can see where he is coming from. The baptism of Anna and now the baptism of Makenzleigh have been truly glorious.
I want to share with you the words that concluded my homily this morning at Saint Paul’s. “Let us celebrate how beautiful this moment is. The beauty of this adorable little girl; the beauty of our intentions to bring her into the Christian family; the beauty of the words of prayer that surround his moment; the beauty of the sign of the cross; the beautiful simplicity of water blessed and holy, of oil fragrant and holy, and of light radiant and holy—and the beauty of this our gathering, united with the single purpose of praising, witnessing, and sharing in the love God Almighty has for each one of us—a love so mighty, so awesome, so generous—that He comes to even the smallest of dear children, calling them by their name, welcoming them into His arms, protecting them in every moment of their life. Sending out continuously light and truth to us, that by them we may be led.”
Baptism is such a gift. I was reminded of that as well in my reflections upon our Collect for today. It begins with these words: “Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service.” This is a Collect at least one thousand, six hundred years old, prayed by faithful Christians that entire time. Those last words, “true and laudable service,” are fancy words for everything we do for God, whether liturgically, in our free moments of prayer, in our active lives in the world. All of it, we are saying, comes from the gift that God alone gives us. And the first moment that each of us enjoy that gift and begin to make that gift our own is in our Baptism.
Many if not all of us have no memory of our baptism because it happened when we were infants. So our primary relationship with the actualities of the baptism ritual we recall not directly, but indirectly through our presence and participation in the baptism of others. The baptism rite of our church captures this when, after the presentation of the candidate for baptism and after renunciations and promises are made by the candidate or on behalf of the child by the sponsors, the Priest says to the entire congregation, “Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant.” We can never be re-baptized, any more than we can crawl back into our mother’s womb and be pushed out again. But renewing our baptismal covenant, and indeed witnessing the entirety of the baptism ritual itself, reminds us of who we are as children of God who are actively seeking a relationship with God, actively trying to run to obtain His heavenly promises.
That is, we are trying to receive the gift that has been given us by God, to receive it not merely in opening the present by ripping off the wrapping and opening the box, but by taking that gift further and further into our heart so that our whole existence is touched by God’s gift; further into our heart that the gift is shared with others merely by knowing them, talking with them, and caring for them—that God’s gift to us flows from our words and deeds, flows from who we are, our personality, our gifts, our uniqueness.
When we are able to live out in our words and deeds the gift God has given us—which is being made a member of His Body in Baptism—then we become God’s glory. This is what Saint Paul is talking about at the end of our second lesson. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” God basks in our good works that bear fruit. God knows that when we do so, we are living at or near our highest potential, the potential He always sees in us even if we do not see it in ourselves.
The challenge we face, then, is living our life in the constant mode of receiving God’s gift to us. Not a mood we sometimes have, or a feeling that comes and then goes—more of a disposition or basic attitude toward life, an attitude or disposition of faith. This is the basic rationale for the nature of our liturgical worship: to week in and week out be fed God’s love through Word and Sacrament, to participate in the Holy Feasts of the Calendar, to pray during the week with the Church through its offices—this work refines and strengthens our basic attitude, like clay that is fired in a kiln to become pottery.
It is one of the chief privileges of human existence to be able to praise God by means of the Mass and the daily Offices. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, and reciting each day the Our Father, indeed are the repeatable parts of Baptism. We must fight the temptation to take these for granted, or to place our participation in this worship lower on our list of weekly priorities. Both of these obscure, or even cause us to forget, the gift we have been given by Jesus Christ—who became man so that we might become God. Amen.