(Get youth volunteers to pass bowls of water for a remembrance of baptism. Dip them in font and carry them out to folks, inviting them to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads)
Do you feel different? Remembering again God’s love through Christ that has set you free, that sets you free amidst all of the things that burden, distress, or challenge you? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m glad if you do…but remember that Christ’s work in us is often so deep that we can’t perceive it in the moment that it’s taking place. It’s only months, maybe even years or decades later that we might catch a glimpse, maybe begin to understand some of the ways in which God’s love upsets our lives in order to reset our lives for the better.
I wonder if Abram had an inkling at any point in his life that God was preparing him for something important that would only get started in his seventh decade of living. For it is Abram who is called by God and given a blessing so that he might travel forth to a new land. To do a new thing for God. An act of faith and love that we hear will help to bring God’s blessings to the earth. And as Abram sets forth, we hear that he is 75 years old. 75 years old!
Clearly, if we look at the story of Abram and Sarai, who become Abraham and Sarah once they’ve answered God’s call elsewhere in this story, there is no ageism in the Bible. In the coming weeks we’ll hear another story, that of David, just a boy, being anointed by the prophet Samuel to become a king. Old, young, all of these people called to begin a work of new life for God. Yes, there is no ageism in the Bible - and there shouldn’t be for us, either! I read a wonderful story about a small church where there were a bunch of folks over 65, and a scattering of folks with small kids. The wanted to do a Vacation Bible School in the summer, but all of the parents of the children worked. Though there were worries that the kids might not enjoy the Vacation Bible School if it was run by the seniors, those worries were unfounded. Not only did the kids and the seniors have a great time, but the next week after worship finished, there were kids running across the sanctuary to hug their new friends – all older than 65! Right now, our Redeemer youth are finishing up a project to help get needed supplies to the ASPCA as well as making plans to fix up sandwiches and make a run to NYC to deliver them to homeless folks living on the streets there.
Incredible things can happen when God helps us to say “yes” to God’s invitation to live in new life – blessings can come to those around us and this earth!
Abram, Sarai, David, those seniors running VBS, our youth working to help the ASPCA and homeless folks – these are the kinds of things made possible when we are made new by God in Christ - even if we don’t understand or see it in this way at the time.
This is what Jesus is speaking of with Nicodemus, when he says that Nicodemus must be born anew, born from above, born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he - and we – are being given a new identity; given a new calling. As Christians we mark this new calling from God with baptism. With water and by the power of the Holy Spirit we acknowledge God’s loving claim upon our lives – a claim that changes us (if we’ll let it) and which calls us forth to discover how God’s kingdom might be built, might be brought through our hands and hearts into this world.
Now to some the idea of anyone, even God, laying claim to their life is offensive. It offends their idea (maybe our idea?) that we are footloose and fancy free, that we have free agency and can make our own decisions. But does the clam in the ocean that makes possible the birth of a pearl – that claims the pearl as an extension of itself - does this limit the pearl or give it the ability to achieve the fullness of its destiny of beauty as it is formed within its protective embrace?
Does the mother hen or duck that fiercely protects its young and teaches them to follow in formation as they travel from place-to-place stifle those young, or provide them safe haven in which to flourish and grow to adulthood? Do the three sister plants of corn, beans, and squash that our Native American siblings learned to grow in tandem choke each other out when planted one on top of the other, or do they provide the nutrients needed one to another in the sun and the shading of root systems to provide optimal environs in which they can best collectively reach their zenith and bear good fruit?
So, too, is it for those of us laid claim to by the love of God in Christ through baptism. We are being given the foundation upon which to flourish. The nutrients through which we might bear good fruit. The opportunity to serve and to discover through serving that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. For some of us we see this from the time we are children, and for some of us we only discover it when we say “yes” and step in like those church seniors to work alongside the children.
For some, a lifetime is spent not believing, or even consciously rejecting God and Jesus. But God never rejects us. Like Jesus welcoming Nicodemus in the night, God is always ready to welcome us home. Ready to welcome us to discover that we are more than what we might have imagined ourselves to be. Ready to help us see that we, like Abram and Sarai, like David, like those seniors and like our Redeemer youth, have a purpose. If we don’t see it, it’s not because it’s not there – we just haven’t recognized it yet! Remember, it is often only in hindsight that we catch glimmers of the ways in which God in Christ has been working, calling, tending and harvesting good fruit from our lives so that this world and the lives of others might catch glimpses of the kingdom of God – through us.
Sometimes it seems crazy to me to think that anyone might catch a glimmer of God’s kingdom, God’s loving desire to redeem and make anew all of our lives and this world, through me. So, if it seems crazy or strange or difficult to believe that God might choose to work good things through you, or might choose you in any way at all, you’re not alone. We don’t hear it today, but later on in Sarah and Abraham’s story, when Sarah overhears the angels tell Abraham that she will have a child at one hundred years old, she laughs! Sometimes the things God seems to be asking us to do as individuals and faith communities seem laughable indeed.
Yet with God all things are possible. That’s not a trite phrase, it’s a truth – a truth that can be lived every day when we realize that we are called, and because we are called, God will take care of the rest. Because we are disciples, God in Christ will purify and remake and redeem us time and time again in love and in order that we might share love with the world. For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son so that we might not perish, but have eternal life. And be a sign of the God’s kingdom of love and forgiveness, mercy, and justice for the world. Amen.