Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy New Year!

There is a moment that happens for me just after midnight on New Year’s Eve.
It happens just after the ball drops and I hug my wife and friends to wish them a “happy new year”.
It is a moment when I believe that this year will be better than the last.
It is a moment when I kick the old to the curb and anticipate the arrival of the new and possible.
I love that moment.
However, it is usually short lived.
I started my New Year off this year by attending a funeral of a dear soul who always brought joy to whatever room she was in.
On my way home from the funeral I thought, “This year will be no different than last year.”
This year will bring its shares of good times, celebrations, and joys.
But like last year there will also be disappointments, deaths, and difficult times.
I don’t want my sermon to be a downer to all of us this morning.
There is nothing wrong with that moment just after midnight when all things seem possible, when hope shines into our lives with the possibility of a new beginning.
It is just that our lives are not that simple.
Just because we turn the page on the calendar it does not mean that life will not go on as normal.
In this year life will go on.
There will be children born, celebrations, joys, and sorrows, and people will die.
I suppose that it is the uncertainty of life that makes us yearn for signs of something more stable.

As I was thinking about this year to come and its uncertainty about the things that we might face I was sure about something.
God will still be our companion in 2012.
We will still be called to live in the grace and mercy of God.
Perhaps that is why life is so uncertain to begin with.
It forces us to trust our lives to God’s care.
If we could know everything, if we could control life then there would be no need for God.
If we could stop our loved ones from becoming sick, if we could stop ourselves from practicing self destructive behaviors, if we could stop others from committing sins, than we could live life without ever having to rely on God.
Our own will is insufficient for these things.

When I was at the funeral this week I was sitting in my pew before the worship service began and I was looking around at the Church that was packed with people.
Every pew was filled, and people were standing along the walls and in the back.
I was thinking that this is why the Church will never go away completely.
We will always need a place to come and collectively grieve together.
We will always need a place to come and pray that God’s grace will be sufficient for today.
We will need a place to come to when everything else is falling apart around us.
When we have lost our money, our families, our friends, and all the things that keep up the illusion that all is well then we will see clearly our need for God.

That is what our Baptism is about helping us live our lives under a new understanding.
Baptism brings into our life a different reality.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus Baptism is the beginning of his public ministry.
Thirty years into Jesus’ life he begins this important work.
And the world will never be the same again.
For the world it meant that God cannot be kept any longer in the heavens.
God is not the merely the work of theologians and church people.
But God becomes part of the human story.
God in Christ begins a new chapter.
At Jesus Baptism the heavens rip open and God comes out of the heavens and is set loose on the world.
We will see during the other Sundays in the season of Epiphany that from here on out Jesus begins to challenge the things in life that hold us back.
He cures the sick, cast out demons, challenges deeply held religious beliefs, and sends the powers of death and sin on the run.

Perhaps for us Epiphany is a good time to wonder what will be new and possible in our lives.
Our baptism is not merely about having an insurance policy that gives us something to lean on in the tough times.
Rather our baptism is the means by which God has communicated to us his grace.
Because of God’s grace every day we are able to rise and challenge death and sin.
Baptism allows us to deal with the uncertainty of life.
One of the things I am becoming more thankful for is the feeling of loss.
It reminds me that I am alive; it reminds me that I love and care.
My life with God allows me to live more deeply into the human reality.
It is not a way to avoid life but rather a way to live more deeply.

If we are always protecting ourselves against feeling bad than we will never truly live.
Baptism helps us live trusting that God is at work in all things.
When you were baptized when the pastor dunked or poured water on your head life changed.
In that moment and for the rest of our lives new possibilities were opened up to us and the world.

One thing is for sure about this New Year we can never go back to 2011.
Whatever mistakes we made, whatever triumphs we had they are in the past.
We are now on the move to our next destination.
We have new challenges to face, and new mountains to conquer.
I hope in this New Year you will be able to trust that in all things God is near.
God is with you and around you.
God is working through you.
God is speaking words from the heavens, “This is my beloved child and with him/ her I am well pleased.”

Those words that are spoken to Jesus God also speaks to you.
They are spoken especially in those moments when you feel like they can’t possibly be spoken about your life.

There are many people who get this whole religion thing way wrong.
Like I said earlier they see it as an insurance policy against anything bad ever happening to you.
If I have faith, if I do the right things, if I live the right way than everything will work out the way I think it should.
I consider myself a pretty religious person.
I go to worship every Sunday, I study the Bible daily, I pray every day.
On days when I am visiting shut-ins I will take communion three or four times.
Despite this since July of 2011 the following things have happened in my life.
My wife’s grandfather died, my grandmother fell and broke her hip and moved into a nursing home, our son’s godmother (who is only 34) and lifelong friend was diagnosed with an aggressive life threatening type of cancer, another one of my long time friend’s mother died, my mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
I tell you this so that you see that having faith is not a guarantee against anything.
It is not insurance of a life free from pain or struggle.
Instead it is about a God who comes out of the heavens to tell us that we are beloved.
A God who offers us words of grace at every turn.
It is a God that encourages us to love in a world where things are uncertain.
None of the people we love will live forever.
That love that we share with others is proof that we are still alive, that we still care, that we are living out what God put us on this earth to do.
If you want a life that removes us from pain, and the hard parts of life than being baptized into the Christian faith is not for you.
Jesus baptism leads him to the cross.
It leads him to be tempted, reviled, deserted, betrayed, and ultimately killed.
Ours leads us into a life that is always uncertain, but always blessed by a God who has come out of the heavens to call us beloved.

In this season of Epiphany let us be able to see God at work in our lives.
Let us be able to trust God even in situations that are out of our control.
Most of all let us remember that God has called us beloved!

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