Monday, February 14, 2022

HOMILY: "Baptism is the Gospel of Us"

Sunday, February 13, 2022
Luke 15:1-10

Note: In worship on 2/13/22, we baptized Hannah Elizabeth Angell into the beloved
community, the church of Jesus in Durham.  It was a stunning celebration, mixing the waters of the Great Bay with the Oyster River, gathering with Hannah's family and youth group friends.  What a difference community makes in the life of a young woman like that!

And then--we welcomed Antony, a big-hearted, brave man we have all come to know and love, into the church building at last, and into the great circle of love.  We were joined by friends and allies from the Newfields Community Church for the morning.  And together we welcomed Antony into our midst--and then listened carefully as he told us his difficult, powerful and hopeful story of migration and faith.

That's what's going on here...


Church, I don’t need to preach a long, complicated sermon this morning.  Not necessary.  The gospel, you see, is in plain sight for all to see: Hannah Angell and Antony.  A seventeen year-old choosing baptism, soaking wet with love and affirmation; and a fifty-three year-old risking everything for his family.  And choosing to trust you for his well-being and care.  Hannah and Antony.  

And what kind of gospel is this?  What kind of good news do we see with our own eyes this morning, and feel with our own hearts, and taste in our tears?  

It’s the Gospel of Love.  It’s the Gospel of Jesus.  And it’s the Gospel of Us.  Hannah and Antony are joined now, by baptism and your powerful prayers, in a beloved community, in a strong and gracious circle, in this church.  Hannah and Antony—from two profoundly different families, on two entirely different continents—are joined now in a celebration of faith, in a project that insists on justice, in a church that takes Jesus and his gospel to heart.  

When Antony goes to court, or to ICE, sometime soon, to fight for his freedom, to claim his right to asylum and citizenship, he’ll take Hannah (and the rest of us) with him.  In some way or another.  In a way that matters.  Because faith does that, baptism does that.  It joins us in dynamic partnership—to Jesus and one another.  And when Hannah graduates high school this spring, and then when she and her friends fly out to Arizona to become even more powerful advocates for immigrants among us, she’ll take Antony (and the rest of us) with her.  Not physically, of course.  But in another way: in a way that matters.  Because baptism does that.  Hannah’s journey in faith, her journey to discover and own her own voice: this is Antony’s journey now.  And yours and mine too.  And Antony’s journey to freedom is Hannah’s journey now.  His long struggle to reunite his family is our journey now.  Yours, mine, Hannah’s, all of ours.  


In the parables we’ve read this morning, Jesus is toying with the scribes and Pharisees, and with all those in our own time who get hung up on who the sinners are and who the good guys are and how to tell the one from the other.  Jesus is fully aware that our tendency to judge one another, to get preachy with one another, distorts God’s purpose, God’s passion, at every turn.  So he’s toying with those scribes and Pharisees.

What the shepherd in his first parable cares about is the sanctity of each life, and then the reunion of the one with the whole, the lost sheep with the beloved flock.  Does that make sense?  It’s not about judgment, misery and condemnation.  It’s about loving the one who’s wandering out there alone, and reuniting the one with the whole, the lost sheep with the beloved flock.  

And what the homemaker is his second parable cares about is searching, and searching, and sweeping, and sweeping—until she’s found that one lost coin.  Just one coin.  But her passion is the party, the feast, the joyous reunion of all her friends and neighbors—because the lost has been found.  Because the community is whole again!

Hannah and Antony, together, you remind us what a whole community might look like.  You give us a taste of what that joyous reunion might feel like.  Made in the image of God.  Gathered by the passion and mercy of God.  Singing freedom songs and hymns of praise!  What a gift to see you both, in this circle, in this sacred space, this morning!  

There is still so much work to be done, so much good trouble to make, so many doors and windows to open wide, wide, and wider still in the church.  But this morning, for a glorious couple of hours, you’re helping us to see the gospel.  To see it.  With our own eyes.  Through our own tears.  To feel it in our own hearts.  

By Jesus’ grace and God’s power, you have come to us for this.  Because you need one another.  Because we need you.  Because baptism is God’s promise of forever love, and our big YES to all that comes when you love like God.  Because baptism is the Gospel of Us!
With that in mind, I’d like to welcome Cindy Nottage, our Church Council Chair, who will kick off our celebration this morning, of Antony and Sherry and Barry and the whole immigration ministry here at the Community Church and beyond. 


After my homily, Antony was introduced to the congregaton, in person, for the first time.  His remarks--a story of perseverance and injustice, community and solidarity--are attached here.