29 October 2017
“Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We have some important lasts, and firsts, today. It’s the last day of our pledge campaign, we will consecrate our pledge cards and celebrate who we are as a community, the people of God at Trinity, Monroe. And, it’s the first day of new life in Christ for Reid and Drew who will be baptized in just a few minutes. I want to call your attention to a short reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. It’s not one of our lessons today but this letter holds up, even celebrates, the life of the church as a community brought together by God through the life and work of Jesus Christ. To me it’s a great quote for today, of all days, holding as it does those firsts and lasts. The author of the letter says this: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The author goes on: “There is one body and One Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and in all and through all”. (Ephesians 4:1-6) Did you hear it? Did you hear the words that form the entrance into this service of Holy Baptism? What we know as Ephesians was most probably a circular letter written by a disciple of Paul to to some of the churches in Asia Minor. The author wanted the people of those churches, and wants us, to maintain the unity of the faith thinking through the ethical implications of Jesus’ teaching. The authors of our Prayer Book went on to use those words to bring us into worship on the very important occasion of bringing new members into the Body of Christ. As a bonus, they give us this wonderful opportunity to reflect on what baptism means within each of our lives as well. Of course today, both the consecration of our pledges of financial support, and the service of Holy Baptism, are paired with some powerful scripture lessons as well. The Gospel sums up the core of Jesus teaching. You remember, we heard Jesus say: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, before I say more I want to set up the background with a pair of quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says this. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” It is the Shema, an ancient Jewish statement of faith still in use today. Next, let’s listen again to the last line of our first lesson. Leviticus 19:18 says: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How interesting. In our lesson from the Gospel According to Matthew we have Jesus, still being tested by those with religious authority, quoting from the Scriptures that he knew so well, readings that had shaped his life and teaching from childhood onward to this point, this day in Jerusalem, one of his last days living on this earth. What is the greatest commandment a lawyer asks. “You shall love the Lord your God” with your entire being, is Jesus reply. But he can’t leave it alone. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This second is like the first. Jesus is putting the two together for us. To love God is to love your neighbor, to love your neighbor is to love God. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it means to be Jesus' follower. Our Baptismal Covenant puts it into behavioral terms. Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil and, when you can’t quite, will you repent and return to the Lord? Those things form the heart of loving God with all our being. Will you will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seeking and serving all persons, striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being? Will your actions show that you love your neighbor as yourself? We answer, “I will, with God’s help.” We all need that help one way or another, that’s the beauty of Christian Community, we are knit together by God into one body to carry God’s love forward, as we grow in faith. Can we put a human face on it? Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white boy from Keene, N.H., was a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School. He followed Jesus into the heart of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965 he was killed, taking a bullet for Ruby Sales, a young black woman from Alabama. They, and others, were working to integrate public places and register black voters after passage of the Voting Rights Act. What about Ruby Sales? She was 17 years old that summer, had attended segregated schools and churches all her life, and was committed to making things better. The trauma of that day left her all but unable to speak. None the less, and despite facing death threat against her and her family, she testified at the killer’s trial. Even so, that man was acquitted by a jury of 12 white men. Challenges raised after the trial led to a reform of the jury selection procedures, which had long excluded blacks. Ruby went on to follow Daniels to seminary at ETS and became a powerful voice advocating for human rights and founding The SpiritHouse Project, a non-profit organization and inner-city mission. Her work has been immensely important for so many people. While Ruby Sales and Jonathan Daniels are important models of what living into Jesus’ commandment to love God and neighbor means, I want to bring it closer to home. At Diocesan Convention yesterday we heard about how just this past summer our Diocesan Youth and Young Adult program provided a way for kids in our Diocese to experience the power of living into those promises made at Baptism that flesh out Jesus’ greatest commandment. Mission Possible: Detroit, paired with the ministry of Rippling Hope, allowed folks from all around the Diocese to come together in order to serve others. Their powerful slide show showed how they worked, and formed important relationships, on a mission trip to rehab and refresh housing in Detroit. Rippling Hope, on their website, says that their work projects help people of all ages to learn that by reaching out to their sisters and brothers in need, they will not only change their own lives, but also will powerfully affect the lives of those they serve. That result was obvious when we heard, and saw, the testimony of those who participated. It really is true that working together in communities that reach out to others is a very real way to love God with heart, and soul, and mind. The thing is, serving others reveals God more fully for both those being served and those serving. Today as we go on to baptize in the name of God who creates, heals, and sustains us, as we go on to offer our holy gifts given to support holy work, let’s also go forth to love God with all our hearts, our souls, our minds, as we love our neighbors as ourselves. But let’s make that bigger, let’s make our love real and visible not just today but, with God’s help, every day of our lives. Amen