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Sermon for August 12, 2018 (Baptism)

    Aug 12, 2018

    Passage: Mark 10:13-16

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Detail:

    Sermon on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (2018)
    August 12th, 2018
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)
    Baptism of Elizabeth Connelly Maners

    Ezekiel 36: 24-28        2 Corinthians 5: 17-20             Mark 10: 13-16

    Joy. 

    Baptism is all about joy. Perhaps more than any other occasion in the life of the church, baptism is when we celebrate what is at the heart of our very identity as Christians. And the heart of our identity as Christians is joy. Because at baptism, we celebrate the joy of new life. We celebrate the joy of the new birth of a member of Christ’s church. We celebrate the joy of the gift of the Holy Spirit that will be given to Elizabeth Connelly and which will empower her to share in the joy of being one of God’s children.      

    But joy is not just about a fleeting feeling of happiness or a temporary sense of delight that all things are made new. It’s not that precarious. True joy is not dependent upon how we feel at any given moment. Joy runs much deeper than that. Joy is dependent upon nothing but the reality of God’s love for us. Joy is a gift that we are celebrating today in its most outwardly beautiful form, but  joy is also something that can stay with us in all the circumstances of our daily lives and that can remain with us all the way to the end.    

    And so this morning, I’d like to begin at the end. In the nighttime service of compline, which basically means “the end the day,” there’s a prayer that we can say which goes like this:      

    “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.” 

    And this prayer raises a question. After noting that life is filled with toil and weeping and sickness and weariness and suffering and affliction and death, we ask God to “shield the joyous.” Well, what are we asking God to shield the joyous from? Is it that we’re trying to preserve their rose tinted world from acknowledging the reality that life is full of all that other bad stuff? Is joy nothing more than just a blissful naiveté about the struggles and disappointments of life?   

    I don’t think so. 

    Shortly after hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out New Orleans, I remember watching the news and seeing a reporter interview two women, a mother and daughter who had escaped the flooding in the ninth ward.  The daughter was absolutely distraught over the loss of her home and all of her possessions, and after a few seconds, she broke down and began to sob. Her mother comforted her and said, almost with laughter in her voice, “It will be ok. We made it out, and we’re still alive. We’ve got each other. God is good.”  And I remember thinking to myself, how on earth can this woman stand there and say, “God is good.” Her city was all but destroyed. Her home certainly was. All her belongings were lost. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. And her daughter. And her joy. I do not think it would be fair to say that she was happy. Who can claim to be happy after having been through that kind of trauma? But she was joyful. She had an unconquerable confidence that all would be well and that there was still something good worth rejoicing over. It’s not that she was turning a blind eye to the devastation all around her. I honestly think she was totally aware of how bad things were. But she was in possession of the one thing that allowed her to see goodness even amid the sorrow. She was in possession of the one thing that gave her the strength to overcome what had happened and to speak a joyful word of hope to someone who could not see past their sorrow. That, I think, is one of the gifts we are given at baptism.        

    On her journey, Elizabeth Connelly will come across sickness, suffering, weariness, and death. That’s the reality of the world in which we live. But that reality does not and can not negate the joy that is taking root in her today. Joy is the power we are given to meet the sadness of the world head on … and to proclaim that there is still reason to rejoice. And while it may be fair to say that joy is our bulwark and our shield against all the ugliness of the world, I think it even better to say that joy is not just a defense against sorrow; rather joy is the most potent tool we have to overcome the world’s sorrow.  

    So what we are doing here today is not expressing some vague hope that Elizabeth Connelly will have a happy life. Nor are we simply trying to give her some magical protective barrier against the troubles of the world. What we are doing here today is imparting to Elizabeth Connelly the power of joy; the power to join with us in proclaiming the good news that God has redeemed the world and that we are a part of the reality of that redemption. In baptism, God is imparting to her the power to know that that there is something so beautiful, so pure, so absolutely true about God’s love for us that no matter what may happen and no matter how difficult it may be at times to believe it, there is still cause for joy. There is still cause for rejoicing. 

    And today, there is cause for us to proclaim joyfully and boldly that Elizabeth Connelly is a holy and blessed part of this wild and wonderful world that God has given for her to be in.     

    And so, Jimmy and Montie, and all you godparents, I want to set you all a challenge. In the coming weeks and months and years, I’d like you to all to say that prayer from compline each night before you go to bed, and say it specifically with Elizabeth Connelly in mind. Because it’s important for her to grow up surrounded by people who care about the sick, the weary, and the afflicted; and who also care to make sure that she learns how to be joyful. And when you say that prayer, say it in the confident hope that she will discover how to meet the world’s sorrow with unshakeable joy in her heart. Say it in the confident hope that she will learn what it means to be a member of a community that wants to share the good news of the world’s redemption with the whole world. Say it in the confident hope that she will discover the goodness and beauty of this world and never lose sight of the reality of God’s love for her.