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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 12 – Year C

This is one of those days as a preacher when you wish you could just lob sermon softballs. I mean, we’ve got five beautiful babies waiting to be baptized all looking precious in their gowns with family and friends gathered in celebration. It’s a lazy August Sunday when so many are just getting back from vacation, preparing to go on vacation, or enjoying the last days of a slower summer pace. My instinct, as I stand up here, is to keep it sweet and light, to give you a nice underhanded toss that’s slow and easy. But the great thing about our religious tradition or the difficult thing, depending on your point of view, is that we don’t pick our texts for a given Sunday. We follow a lectionary designed to keep us honest, designed to expose us to all of Jesus’ teachings regardless of whether or not they make us squirm. And so on this sweet, slow Sunday we have anything but a sweet, slow Gospel. Instead we have a passage about fire and divisions and difficult choices. How do we make sense of Jesus’ words to us today in light of our current context?
Well, let’s look closely at what we are actually doing this morning when we baptize these babies. On the one hand, we are giving them a gift. Through water and the Spirit we are making them members of the body of Christ. They are “Christ’s own forever,” as the service says, loved by God regardless of where they go, what they do, or who they become. They are part of the family, our family, the family of Christians that extends backwards in time for more than 2000 years. On the other hand, that gift of love and belonging is only the beginning – it’s what they do with this gift that matters immensely.
We have to be careful to remember that over and over again in scripture Jesus reminds us of the cost of discipleship. Yes, we are invaluable in God’s eyes, loved beyond measure and nothing can separate us from that love; but if we really are serious about following Christ, serious about living into the promise of our baptisms, then discipleship will never be easy. Yes we are loved, but because of that love we are commanded to love our enemies. Yes we are loved, but because of that love we are told we must love our neighbors as ourselves. Yes we are loved, but Jesus means it when he says that living a life of service is the only way to honor the God who gives us that love.
No matter how sweet and light today is we can’t forget that one day these beautiful babies will be grown men and women. If we teach them the full implication of what we’re doing for them then sooner of later they will be faced with some hard choices, some hard decisions. Baptism gives us a place to stand, something to stand for, but baptism also demands that we be willing to stand against some things, even some people, to push back, to say no. That is both the invitation and the challenge of discipleship.
I am reminded of the story about little Zachary who worried his parents because of his poor performance in math. They tried everything to help him out – tutors, flash cards, special learning programs. Finally, in desperation they enrolled Zachary in the local Catholic school. After his first day little Zachary came home with a very serious look on his face and went right up stairs to do his homework. There was no messing around, begging to watch TV or sneaking outside to play. Day after day Zachary came home and went straight to his room to study. Months later, when Zachary brought home his report card, his parents were amazed to see that he had a straight “A” in math. Stunned, they begged Zachary to tell them what it was that had brought about such a change. “Was it the nuns,” they asked? “No,” he replied. “Was it the discipline?” “No,” he answered. “Was it the way they teach, the uniforms, the type of text book?” “No,” he responded. “What was it?” they asked at the same time. “Well,” little Zachary said very quietly, “on the first day of school when I looked up over the chalk board and saw the guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”
As sweet as a day full of baptisms is – we aren’t fooling around. The gift of water and the Spirit has implications for these children and for all of us that will not always be easy to face. We must never forget that Jesus had to literally give his life for his faith. His baptism started him down a road that led to the cross. He stood against evil and evil tried to destroy him. God’s love for him was complete but there is always a cost for discipleship.
The truth of the matter is – you and I are faced with choices everyday. And the authenticity of our discipleship depends upon how we handle these choices. When it matters, will I tell someone I love the truth even when that truth is difficult? When it would be easier to remain silent, do I have the courage to speak against my friend who tells the racist joke or says something unkind and unfair about another? Even though it might be less profitable, do I have the conviction in business to do the right thing, the fair thing? My consumer appetite craves the new gadget, but I don’t have to buy it, I can make a choice. Do I have the heart to say “no” to my appetite and “yes” to my deeper craving to give that money instead to someone who needs it far more than I?
If they aren’t already, then in a short time these children will be learning to walk. Their parents will lovingly stand a few feet away with their arms outstretched and beckon them forward. “Come on my love, my child, take one step toward me. Come on you can do it. I love you, I believe in you, walk toward me.” Our God does the same with each of us. Never forcing, never coercing, always inviting, our Lord stands in front of us at the crossroads of each decision and calls us to move toward Him. One choice at a time, we are invited to move our lives toward the Kingdom. Sure we will stumble and fall along the way, get bruised and banged up, maybe worse, but we are learning to live in holiness, we are learning the cost and the glory of discipleship. Amen.

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