SERMON JULY 14, 2013
by Pastor Keith
The phone rings and it is the voice of a young woman who had found us in the phonebook and wanted to know if she and her husband could come and speak with me. “Of course,” I say, “what about?”
There in the office it is obvious that she is pregnant, her and her husband sitting in the chairs across from me, asking about baptism. And in my mind, at that word, Baptism, so much comes alive. How much we love to do baptisms, to share the sacrament that brings a new Christian from death to life, to make them part of the household of God. The joy of a baby, not always, and more and more adults these days, but in this case, on this day, it seemed obvious to be a baby. I in my mind’s eye I could see water dripping down her face, shocked expression, eyes wide as if to say, “If it is bath time, where is the rubber duck?” And I could hear everyone promising to hold the child in their prayers, to walk with the parents in their faithful nurture of a new saint. And they smile, oh, how we like to smile when the water and the Word come together in a holy moment of transforming grace!
In a world so complicated at times, so beset by indifference and suffering and thirsting for hope, in Baptism we experience life from death, a holy moment of transforming grace.
Lost in my thoughts I almost missed what they were trying to tell me. The mother would be induced very early in her third trimester, there was a problem and they had to get the baby out or risk the mother’s health, the mother’s life. They had done tests and something was seriously wrong. And they wanted to know, their eyes looking deep into mine, if I would baptize their child there in the hospital upon birth, the child who might not live long enough to take more than just a few breaths.
Would I? Of course, I say. Call me and I will be there. A few weeks later, the call came, a nurse on the other line asking me to hurry, me grabbing a bowl and my service book and rushing off for the drive to Aventura. As I walked into the room, the nurse caught me and pulled me aside, filling me in, another nurse she explained was cleaning up the baby for the baptism, the baby having taken a single breath perhaps, before dying. “Their second one this late in the pregnancy,” she said. And I filled my bowl and we gathered around the bed, a nurse holding a small bundle wrapped in a white towel, so small a child as I had ever seen, no larger than the palm of my hand.
And we do not baptize the dead, but I knew what was needed in that room and I knew that God’s grace was sufficient to cover any fault of mine, and so I did, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And as I was leaving, the nurse pulled me aside, and thanked me on behalf of all the nurses, for being willing to do such a thing, in the midst of such pain of loss.
That Saturday we gathered once again, swapping a hospital room for a cemetery, a coffin the size of a loaf of bread in our hands, and a grave prepared to receive it. A young girl, perhaps four years old, the sister, the one child who had lived, pointed out a grave marker nearby, a few years in the weather. “Mama,” she said, “That’s our name!” the family having lost another child a few years before from complications during pregnancy. And the mother broken down and wept. And her daughter said, “Mama, why are you crying?” the question going unanswered for awhile.
Peter headed down to Lydda to see the saints there, there and he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, paralyzed. Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!" I love that – make your bed - And immediately he got up, but please note that it doesn’t say where he made his bed or not - and people from neighboring towns turned to the Lord and believed. But this miracle was just a warm up for what would happen in Joppa, where a disciple whose name was Tabitha lived and made tunics and other clothing, the work of her hands. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity, but she became ill and died and Peter kneels and prays and calls to her to get up and she does, the dead woman alive!
These miracles of Peter were not a measure of the faith of those who received them or those who loved them. Peter is not rewarding them for a life well-lived, their faithfulness, their productivity or the quality of their souls. Rather, it seems, Peter is walking in the footsteps of Jesus and living out the Great Commission and these miracles become another means to make Christ known, which the passage tells us, they surely did, Peter going out of his way to point to Jesus as the healer and not himself.
We, too, have a word of healing to speak to a broken world so that Christ might be known and a word of grace might abide. And God has called upon us all and will continue to do so, to speak that very word. I have spoken it in hospitals and gravesides, but also on planes, in bowling alleys, while a creek ambles by, and on the phone and in text messages, on park benches, and in the quiet corners of restaurants. All of us have been called upon to speak that word in places both common and unique and typically not at times of our own choosing. To a world struggling to raise children. To keep up. To catch up. To a world paralyzed by fear and doubt. To a world full of real people, people who get sick, who get hurt, who get old. Who fight, who get frustrated, who feel lost, who feel alone. To a world of people who grieve the loss of jobs, home and even loved ones: You and I are called to speak and act so that Christ may be made known in our love and compassion and patience and forgiveness and in each and every grace-filled moment where we choose not to try to fix people, but to hear and bear witness to their pain. We bear witness to Christ, the healer, Christ, the destroyer of death, the bearer of hope.
You and I are called to speak and act so that Christ may be made known and a word of grace may abide.
For that word of grace speaks not only to our future and their future, but in Christ our promised future is with us now, breaking into our present and their present, transforming lives in ways that we cannot anticipate nor fully comprehend.