15 Pentecost C—8/28/16
Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; Luke 14:1,7-14
Pr. Scott Kramer
Last Sunday was an occasion for the baptism of Aidan William Rippe, and we explored the risky nature of baptismal water. Holy baptism can make our lives complicated, even dangerous!
This was the case for a man named Dirk Willems.
The year was 1569. Dirk Willems was a Dutch Mennonite imprisoned for refusing to participate in violence, and for arguing against infant baptism. After months of little food and constant prayer Dirk Willems escaped prison. As he raced across the countryside, a prison guard spotted him and gave chase. In Dirk’s path was an ice-covered pond. The ice was thin. Dirk took the risk and crossed safely. The prison guard, however, broke through the ice and fell into the water. Dirk turned back, waded into the icy water and saved his enemy. As soon as his pursuer was on dry ground Dirk was arrested. Later that year Dirk Willems was burned at the stake.
Thin ice. Dangerous waters!
Last Sunday we pondered a different kind of dangerous water: whitewater breaking over the bow of a kayak. As you watched Derek Rippe’s whitewater video one of you to told me later that you were ready for Dramamine! But whether it’s a 16th-century story of a prison guard breaking through thin ice, or a 21st century story of navigating Class IV whitewater rapids, water breaks!–and breaking water is a sign that God is bringing about new life in the world. Where water breaks there is danger, there is risk.
Aidan William Rippe, I baptize you in the name of the Father…and of the Son…and of the Holy Spirit. At baptism, something new is coming into the world. Where water breaks—even over the head of an infant–there is risk, even danger–and we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom breaking into our world.
Dirk Willems, faithful child of God and Christian martyr, didn’t believe in infant baptism. But we do, and we believe that there is danger in baptism, even for an infant, because that infant will grow up and one day may face circumstances that force him/her to choose. Young Aidan may be the next Dirk Willems, confronted with the choice of whether or not to follow Jesus’ example: “Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you.”
God’s kingdom does break into our world, and certainly more often than we realize! And yet, day to day, we tend to settle for a whole lot less than the kingdom of God. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Who among us routinely does such things?
Our second reading teaches, “Keep your lives free from the love of money,” and yet we are caught in economic and political systems that are made up mostly of business transactions: I give you something, you give me something in return. There is an expectation of being repaid. In our own society, for example, even as charity we give money or spend money on a particular project…with the expectation that we will get a tax deduction or even a tax credit in return.
Jesus asks, Whether or not money is involved, can you give without expectation of repayment—even to the extent of giving your life?–and our human response generally is, “No.”
He seems to acknowledge as much in today’s gospel reading when he assures us that we will be repaid at the “resurrection of the righteous.” Human nature says, “There’s got to be something in it for me” and our Lord acknowledges our human nature. We give for the sake of what is most important to us, for our own group: We will sacrifice for family, for country—sometimes at great cost. We will sacrifice for our own race, our own religion, for economic self-interest, even for the sake of “life insurance for the life to come”—because even though great sacrifice may be involved, all these things are extensions of ourselves. None of us is Christ, who gave his life on the cross without repayment. Few of us are Dirk Willems, whose life echoes the example of Jesus by extending his hand to an enemy guard and paying with his life.
And yet, for all that, on this 15th Sunday in the season of Pentecost, we once again are dazzled by God’s amazing grace for us, and for all people! We are dazzled because God doesn’t say, My love for you depends on your ability or willingness to die on a cross.
No, our lives usually fall far short of the cross, and yet where we are is exactly where God meets us: Let mutual love continue, writes the author of Hebrews. “Take care of each other! Do more of what you’re already doing.” It ain’t whitewater rapids—it ain’t the cross–but it is important and it’s a place to start!
On the other hand, pity the poor person or church that settles for this most basic form of love, of taking care of our own. The writer of Hebrews immediately raises discipleship to a higher level: “Show hospitality to strangers… Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Who among the baptized has taken these words to heart, even as our nation has adopted illegal detention and torture as justified?
But God’s kingdom does break into the world. Jon Nelson, for example, retired Lutheran pastor and one of our neighbors who died a few years ago–month after month, year after year, decade after decade–would drive up to Monroe to offer a glimpse of God’s love to people in prison who have no hope.
We are dazzled by God’s amazing grace, accepting us poor sinners as we are. But that grace is so amazing that God never leaves us where we are! Our Creator always asks us, “Do you want to follow Jesus?” Are you up for whitewater rapids? Do you dare enter those dangerous waters of baptism, breaking across your bow, breaking across your brow (+), taking you to places you wouldn’t go on your own, to places you don’t even want to go. Do you want to follow Jesus?
In our second reading the author of Hebrews writes, Remember your leaders…consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. It’s a sobering command–nothing sentimental about it! As we do consider the outcome of our leader Jesus’ way of life, and Dirk Willems, and other martyrs of the faith we may well wonder if we are up to accepting the price that might be required in setting aside spiritual ledgers and balance sheets and score-keeping that calculate “what’s in it for me.”
One of my daily devotions this past week acknowledged our deep human need for repayment of some kind. The author of this devotion writes, We are to bless one another…not just because it’s the right thing to do. We’re to bless because we want a blessing ourselves. We’re to be kind because we want kindness from others.
God is bringing new life into the world. The waters of baptism are breaking all around us. Dear friends in Christ, wherever you are in your faith journey—whether you are pondering how to love an enemy without thought of repayment, or, simply doing good for others because that’s what you want for yourself, God’s amazing grace always extends to you, embraces you where you are, and asks, “Remember your baptism? How do you feel about whitewater rapids? Do you want to follow Jesus?”