13 Pentecost A—9/7/14
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Every Sunday we experience the power of water at worship. Last Sunday, you may recall, we experienced a lot more water than usual. In response to an ice bucket challenge, ice-cold water was poured over the pastor. This has been a popular way of drawing attention to and raising research funds for ALS. Last week, we used the opportunity to draw attention to the upcoming Run of Hope for Pediatric Brain Cancer.
For disciples of Jesus, dousing someone with water might be more than just fun, more than a way of raising awareness for a good cause. It might have baptismal connotations! Whether it’s a sprinkling or a soaking, getting wet can remind us of who we are: beloved of God, whose life’s work is to be agents of hope and healing in the world and for the world.
When we think of baptism we’re used to thinking about cleansing, death and resurrection. But our second reading this morning adds to these images a different way of thinking about baptism.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul sums up the life of faith this way: Love your neighbor as yourself…Love does no wrong to a neighbor… Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. In other words, think of baptism as the frequent experience of being awakened by the Holy Spirit throwing cold water in our faces!
Having cold water thrown on you can be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on circumstances. For example, if it’s 110 degrees and someone throws cold water on you it feels great. If, on the other hand, it’s 30 degrees, not so great! Likewise, when the Holy Spirit throws that cold water of baptism on us it may feel very good, or, very unpleasant.
But Paul is not focused on comfort or discomfort. He’s interested in the urgency of paying attention to the present moment. Now is the moment for us to wake from sleep because now is the time that God is at work among us. If we’re asleep we’ll miss it.
What does spiritual sleep look like? Paul makes a list that includes familiar human temptations: adultery, murder, theft, envy, debauchery, and quarreling. It’s only a partial list, of course, but the point is: giving in to such things is to be spiritually asleep.
Now, describing sin as spiritual “sleepiness” can lead to the mistaken notion that such behaviors are not really that big a deal. But the consequences of such behaviors are devastating, both to individuals and communities. They’re so serious that Jesus lays out a process for dealing with persistent troublemakers, which is what our gospel reading is all about.
Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. But being spiritually asleep is not just to give in to destructive behavior. It’s also to be weighed down and preoccupied by things that distract us from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit working in our midst all the time. Last week you may recall that on one occasion Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are a stumbling block to me.” Peter was so distracted by his own worries and concerns that he couldn’t see the big picture; he couldn’t see the presence and power of the Holy Spirit right under his nose!
One of you called me this past week. She was one of a number of you who visited Pat Tanaka who is in hospice, near the end of her life. Karen happened to run into an old friend who serves at the rehab center where Pat is receiving care. When her friend realized what congregation Karen is from she said, “Oh, Lakeridge Lutheran Church. What a loving congregation. You have so many people who have stopped by to care for Pat. We just don’t see other congregations doing that.”
Sometimes the Holy Spirit throws water in our faces to wake us up. Here is the Holy Spirit waking us up to how God is at work in Pat’s life and in our lives. It’s a word of encouragement and affirmation. It’s also a reminder of how Pat in her final weeks of life is ministering to us, reminding us of our baptismal vocation.
Hearing that story about Pat woke me up to other ways that the Holy Spirit is at work among us. I remembered Ukulele Camp in August, and I thought, Not many people know about Ukulele Camp or gave it much thought, except maybe for those who were part of it. So I shot off an e-mail to The Lutheran magazine and told them about it. The editor replied, Well, we’re always looking for good local congregational stories, so if you have any good pictures send them. So I did. And right away I got a reply from the editor: “These are awesome!” Folks, you may see a picture of our Ukulele players in the October issue of The Lutheran!
Churches of the ELCA this day are observing “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday. It’s a time to remember and celebrate the fact that we are in the hands of a gracious God who multiplies our gifts for service to the world. Now is the time for you to wake from sleep, to see the goodness of God at work in you and through you!
If you pick up the paper any given day you will read about Ferguson, Ebola in Africa, the Islamic State, the Ukraine, Gaza, and Israel. We dare not ignore these circumstances. All of these demand our attention and our prayers. But if we dwell on the works of darkness around the world and much closer to home, including in our own lives, we may miss the power of God right under our noses. Put on the armor of light, Paul says. Wake up to goodness, to hope and to healing. Allow the Holy Spirit to throw holy, cold baptismal water in your face!
As we move into this new season, from summer into fall, from vacations into school, may the Holy Spirit wake us up to what God is doing among and through us, and the possibilities that still await those who are awake.
We are blessed, beginning this week, by an awesome opportunity to welcome another expression of God’s grace, another partner in ministry, Vicar Kate Niklasson and her husband Pontus. New faces and new gifts add to the abundant gifts represented in those who have served faithfully in this place for a long time. New faces and new gifts may awaken us to new possibilities we wouldn’t have thought of on our own. Once again the Holy Spirit is throwing cold water in our faces, reminding us of our baptismal, water-soaked identity, and waking us up yet again to the goodness and love of God.
Dear friends in Christ, God is doing something very special here at Lakeridge Lutheran, and I suspect we’ve only glimpsed the possibilities. God is powerfully at work in us and through us. Now is always the moment for us to wake from sleep and see it! AMEN