Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one,
When I was young, one of my favorite story book characters was Winnie The Pooh, especially when he was with Tigger. Tigger always seemed to be so happy hopping from place to place. The only thing that bothered him was that not everyone had his love for bouncing. After all, being a Tigger is a wonderful thing.
Poor Winnie The Pooh would try and try but he just couldn’t bounce as gracefully as he wanted. If you know Pooh, you will know that he was kind of a pathetic creature always at the mercy of everything around him, especially when he went searching for his precious honey. His life was filled with this quest and he would have mishap after mishap during his pursuit for that golden delight.
We see poor Winnie and the difficulties he faced searching and we have to admit, we can relate somehow. Many of us go through life searching for something and as we do, it seems that we sometimes live the life of Pooh. Our lives are broken in one way or another so we search for something that we hope will fix the brokenness, but we end up getting stung a time or two. We go through life bruising and bumping, wishing we could change, but not stopping long enough to think about how we might change or shift the direction in our life.
As Christians, we might struggle in our search for an answer sometimes but we are reminded from time to time that, because of what Christ did for us by humbling himself to be a part of humanity, we have the promised hope that this act of humility has given us and that hope builds us up. If you feel like you’re living a Pooh Bear existence, I have Good News for you. There is hope and the promise of a better life.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, we learn about the Baptism of Jesus. In His love, He became man so that He could do His work among us and lead us to the right paths in life that would guide us into an eternity with Him. That Good News began at your Baptism when Christ made you a member of the family and, because of that, there is hope and a promise of better things to come.
In Jesus’ ministry, he calls us into a relationship with Him and as equals in our fellowship with each other and then He calls us to act responsibly as we seek to love Him and to love our neighbor. This morning I want to investigate what it means to be baptized into a community of faith, what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
Every person is a precious child of God. All people are in God’s family picture and He would have that all of His precious children would be saved, not by their own merit but by His request.
At our Baptism, God laid claim to us and every day after our Baptism is a response to that saving grace. This is a response but it is not an insurance policy. Baptism brings us into the family picture, but unlike a still photo, we can take ourselves out of the picture by living a life which does not respond to that grace.
We were, by the power and grace of God, adopted as sons and daughters at our Baptism but we have the choice to reject that adoption by rejecting God, His Word, His Supper and His grace by removing ourselves from the picture of a community of faith.
Our Baptism is not a get out of jail free card or a free ticket to heaven. It is not enough to say, “well, I have been baptized, I have nothing more to do.” Rather, I like to think of our Baptism as a boarding pass to a lifetime with Christ. At our Baptism, we began a relationship with God which needs to be nourished and strengthened by faithfully living our lives according to His will in our lives. We are to take advantage of that grace given to us by taking part in the community of Christ through Word and Sacrament. Our search, our journey in life needs the encouragement and lasting power that only God can provide.
A pastor visited a man who had been missing from the church service for a number of weeks. The pastor called upon him and they sat down opposite the fireplace with its warm glowing fire. The pastor took the fireplace tongs, reached into the fire and took a glowing coal and placed it outside the fireplace on the hearth, They watched as the coal lost it glow, as the heat soon disappeared from it. Then the pastor placed it back into the fire. Soon it was glowing and heat was rising from it. The man said, “Pastor, I get the point, I’ll be in my seat next Sunday.” The pastor smiled.
In God’s eyes we are all equal, no one person is greater than another. We all stand in community together with the same promise of salvation and mercy. And we all stand before God as sinners, broken people in a broken world. But, through our Baptism we stand as heirs because of Christ’s unselfish sacrifice and this is given to each of us in equal shares. There is no upper class in heaven. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Body of Christ, His Church, the community of faith is a gift from God to us and because it is a gift we have no right to limit its power or restrict it in any way. It is a precious and free gift of God to those who have experienced God’s grace at their Baptism and it builds us up in faith and trust so that we might continually grow in that same faith and trust.
As Children of God we can, therefore, not ignore those who have chosen a way apart from Christ – because they have also been appointed their own equal share should they come to that living faith.
Last week we celebrated Epiphany, a day we remember the light of Christ, the light that shines through the darkness. Christ is the light which shines in every individual life and, at the same time, it is a light which is spread to others.
Look at the picture on the wall and think about a candle for a moment. A candles flame loses nothing by starting another flame, if anything it gains because two candles show more light than one. Each candle shows its light and gives strength to the other. Each soul, each child of God as a part of the body of Christ gives strength, courage, hope, and faith to others as they come together in community. As we gather and work together, Christ can shine a stronger light in a darkened world. And together, we can help each other to keep that flame shining bright.
Finally, Because we have been Baptized into equal shares of our inheritance in heaven, we are all equally responsible to each other in our journey of faith.
“Once there were 3 people caught in a boat adrift at sea. Unfortunately, they could not get along with each other. So they divided the boat in 3 sections and each one could decorate his section as he chose. The first person liked the color yellow and painted his section yellow. The second person liked flowered wallpaper, so he papered his section, But when the third person, who loved bubbling water fountains, began drilling holes in the boat’s floor, the other two stopped him cold.”
What I do with my life and how I choose to lead my life are indeed by personal business, yet when that personal lifestyle begins to negatively affect others, then the community is responsible to ask for change. Because we have been called through our Baptism into a community of Christ, we have also been given the responsibility for each other in that community.
In a sense, I am responsible for your life in faith just as you are responsible for mine. In our culture, however, we hold our faith to be so personal and private that we forget our responsibility through that faith for each other. At the end of a Baptism, you will see me lift the baby up and present the baby to the congregation. I do this as a sign that, as a community in Christ, we have accepted responsibility for this child according to the will of God given us at the Baptism.
Each of us equally share in that responsibility and that responsibility remains throughout our lives. We each have a duty to each other to help and strengthen each other in the battle and to keep each other’s candles burning bright.
Paul says that we are like little Christ’s to each other, so then we can also be little shepherds to each other. If one sheep strays away from the flock, if one person strays away from the community of faith, we, you and I, have a responsibility to go searching for that one sheep.
We need each other as we build up the light of Christ in our lives to do His work in a world of darkness. As one light leaves, as many lights leave, as the community gets smaller, the glow, the strength we give each other becomes less and less. We as a body of Christ become weaker as each light is gone. So please, if you see another candle begin to flicker or go out, be responsible and extend your light so that another’s light may be rekindled. If you know of someone who has never seen the light or has tried to live guided by a different light, be responsible. Bring them to a community of faith.
Baptism is a unique event in our lives. It is an event which includes everyone. It is applied to each one equally. And it leads us to be responsible for each other in the community and to be a light of hope and strength for those in Christ and those who are still searching. May your light so shine. Amen.