Each year, when we gather to review and make projections for the annual budget, the question of fees for baptism always arise. Should we charge these folks who come for baptism more and we never see them again? No matter how often I would share ‘there are no fees for sacraments’ because Jesus died for us all in addition to all the deep theological stuff I learned in seminary, it never fully resolves or eliminates the question. In today’s gospel, John participates in something for which he is fully aware is greater than himself. “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John 1:33.
My friends, the baptism of Jesus invites us to participate in something which is greater than ourselves. I suspect this has become a stumbling block for many because we often demand all the details before we commit. Now, thanks to Google we guzzle on information, and even then, remain skeptical. So, after numerous dates, background checks, DNA investigation, NO marriage, No babies and still No commitment. John does just the exact opposite, and there I suspect, lies the challenge for churches and congregations today. How can we evangelize in a world of skepticism? Folks wear their skepticism as a badge of maturity and progress. They wait for things to fall apart to tell you, “I knew it would fall apart from the very start”. Around the cross of Jesus, many sceptics were murmuring very much the same as those who sit in pews today.
My friends, Christianity is not for the fainthearted or the skeptic. It is for those who are willing to take the risk and believe in something greater than themselves. It is for those who are willing to trust that they can love beyond hurt and live beyond death. It’s a continuous exploration of love; God’s love, a Holy love! The holiness of love calls us to a “Love that suffers long and is kind”. Love invites us to seek out opportunities within the body of Christ to remember we are called to love. Love is an intentional act which we pray for and work towards.
A woman came burdened by sin and brokenness to us this week but could only speak Spanish. I tried to direct her to a Spanish church, but she gently refused. So, with Martha's help she proceeded to make her humble confession. She wanted Martha to translate and told us both, “Its ok! God hears all languages”. I gave her absolution and Holy water, and she left us as a new person. Love is intentional and sometimes needs no commonality of language, but only the common willingness to listen and to share compassion. My friends, let us always remember that God in Christ Jesus never turns away or ignores broken hearts and lost souls. But, He does need us to find these lost souls and speak to them of his love. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word”. John 17:20
2020 is a year of evangelism for us here a St Elizabeth's. The best thing that has happened to us is going broke. Because now, we are solely dependent upon God and sharing His Good News to others. Evangelism is about being transformed into messengers of the Good News for those Jesus is calling us to serve. We are called to participate in the call the love of God. For the past five years of our mutual ministry, we have been exploring how Prayers of the People can take on a different meaning shaped by our needs and the needs of those around us. And, each Sunday we gather at St Elizabeth's to explore another dimension. This dimension is a faith call to search the space between what has been, what is and what is to come. It's not just a journey, but the beginnings of a spiritual pilgrimage which we call a faith walk. It is during that journey, we come to appreciate that we are sacred and all our moments with God and each other are sacred moments. This journey and understanding change and transform our views of ourselves and each other and of all God is brings into our lives.
Last year, we decided to declutter our building. And Sister Betty, a retired librarian, built a team of folks with the skills needed to help us decide what was valuable and what was needed to be discarded. As a result of this task, we were able to loan some materials to the Elizabeth Public Library. This week we were invited to view some of St. Elizabeth’s historic treasures displayed among those of the other historical churches in Elizabeth. It was amazing to see how our story is told by others and among others. But, an even greater joy is the understanding that by this seemingly menial act, we created an avenue to bring a larger community together to tell the story of God's presence in our City. The display tells stories of evangelism, sacrifice, resilience, death, new birth, racism, diversity and generosity. In other words, it was about God's saving action in the midst of human frailties and time. This continues to be the story of St. Elizabeth’s. It is a story of how we have integrated, not just our black, brown and white bodies, not just our building, not just how we survive and continue to survive, but it is the proof of our gifts of love and understanding for an ever-growing and ever-changing community. It is a story of how we are continuously enriching our brothers and sisters and how we enrich our own souls through sharing the love of Jesus Christ. My friends, there can’t be a line in any budget for this.