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January 13, 2019

Pastor Fowler’s 3 Homilies for Today

“The Cleansing Basin” “The Baptismal Font” “The Servant’s Basin”

Psalm 25:16-21; Ephesians 4:1-8;11-13; John 13:1-17

 

You will notice there are 3 different stations in the sanctuary this morning. In the back is the “Cleansing Basin.” My original intent was to have you draw or write something on a piece of water soluble paper, something you wanted to let go of. Unfortunately, despite their guarantee, the company I ordered the paper from did not get the paper to me as promised by last Friday. So here is plan B. There are rocks around the table in the back. You are encouraged to pick up one of the rocks, let it represent something you need to let go of or be forgiven for. When you are ready, you are invited to lift it up to God, and then you can drop the rock into the water and let it go. The water in this bowl represents God’s cleansing water of grace and forgiveness.

 

The second station in the middle of the sanctuary is the baptismal font of the church. Inside the font, there are several glass beads. You are encouraged to remember your baptism and your calling, whether as an infant, child or adult and when ready, take one of the beads from the bottom of the font.

 

Station number 3 is meant to echo Jesus’ demonstration to the disciples of servanthood, as he washed their feet and called them to do likewise. After you have been to the first 2 stations, you can move to this one. A servant of this congregation will wash your hands, and then pat them dry. As you leave this station, remember Jesus’ words- “Go, and do likewise.” Consider how you will serve others in the coming week.

 

 

We begin with station one, and Psalm 25, a psalm attributed to David. This particular psalm begins with a description of prayer. David writes, “To you O God I lift up my soul.” When we lift up our hands to God, we hold our conscious identity, our very lives in our outstretched hands to God- because our very lives depend upon God and God alone.

 

You will notice a few things about the section of the psalm that was read. In verse 16, the psalmist writes, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” There may be times in our lives when we feel as if God has turned away from us as if God has abandoned us in some way. In those times when we are lonely, afflicted, surrounded by enemies, we may feel abandoned. Yet God is there, ready to embrace us, strengthen us and walk with us. In my own experiences of God, when I feel as if God has turned away or abandoned me, as I look back on those moments, in reality, it was me who moved away or turned away from the God who is always present, always ready to love and help.

 

In addition to asking God to turn back, the psalmist also requests that God relieve the troubles of his heart and bring him out of distress. There can be times when our hearts are weighed down by grief, worry or sorrow. There are those moments in life when we wake up early in the morning, and the “troubles litany” begins. We worry about family members or friends. We are concerned about the world in which we live. We remember, replay and then regret past actions. In such moments when our hearts are heavy, we need to turn to God and ask for relief, for help, for wisdom, for understanding, and for peace. God does consider our afflictions and answers.

 

Finally, the psalmist asks for forgiveness of sins. The word for sin in Greek is “hamartia”- hamartia. It means to “miss the mark.” When an archer goes to shoot his or her bow, aims at the bullseye, but shoots an arrow clear over the target instead, that is “hamartia.”. In the life of the Christian, we are given the bullseye of love each and every day- to aim our words, thoughts, and deeds at love. And when we miss the mark, we need to seek forgiveness from God, so that our sins do not burden us, so that we can be given grace, and aim our lives to love once again.

 

So, whether that rock you drop onto the cleansing waters of grace represents a trouble of your heart or a sin to be forgiven, know that God is ever present, always considering our afflictions, ever ready to bring us out of distress, and always ready to forgive and aim us once again towards love. God knows us. We belong to our Creator, who is there to help us with our fears, our distress, and the struggle of the journey.

 

 

“The Baptismal Font”

 

What is baptism? What does it mean? When John was out in the wilderness baptizing others, it was for repentance- a call for those following God and awaiting Messiah to turn their lives around, back towards faith and towards God. It used to be in ancient Christian times, baptism was salvific- one was saved from sins and could enter the gates of heaven through the ceremony of baptism. Sometimes, a person waited until the last breath to be baptized, so that their sins did not get in the way of their entrance into heaven.

 

I learned about the early roots of baptism and even took a class on how to baptize a person while at seminary. I remember very clearly the day we who were in our worship and sacraments class got to practice baptism. We were a class of around 20 students, and 3 young toddlers had all been offered up for baptism practice. Each of us took turns with these toddlers, saying the words of scripture, then baptizing them with water in the name of God, Jesus, and the Spirit. I was around the 12th person to practice. By the time I got to hold the toddler I said hello to and eventually held on my hip, he had been through the routine more than a few times. I began to say some passage of scripture and then said his name. He looked at me, shook his head, bent down by himself towards the water, placed his hand into the font and baptized himself. I think he had had enough strangers pouring water on his head and wanted to take matters into his own hands. I don’t blame him.

 

So I learned HOW to baptize someone while in seminary. Yet when a person is baptized, what does it mean, especially in today’s world? Irish theologian and minister J. Alec Motyer said, “Baptism points back to the work of God, and forward to the life of faith.”

 

Baptism unites us with Jesus Christ, anoints us with the gift of the Spirit, and makes us members of God’s family. Baptism is a claim by God upon our lives and is a statement of faith- either by the parents who bring us to be baptized as infants and who promise to raise us in faith or by the person who comes forth wanting to be baptized.

 

According to Paul in Ephesians, baptism is also a calling. It is a calling to live our lives as Christ wanted us to live them- with humility, gentleness, patience, bearing one another in love, and making every effort to maintain unity in the bond of peace. For me, who was baptized as an infant, it was my mother, and my grandparents who taught me the ways of faith, who let me know of my high calling, and God’s claim upon my life. These family members weren’t perfect by any means, but they aimed their lives every day at God’s love, and more often than not, they hit the mark.

 

So as you remember your own baptism this day, and give thanks for God’s claim upon you, may you also remember your high calling, to live in humility, to have patience, to bear one another in love, and strive for peace.

 

Consider also that as baptism has united us with Christ, he has given us gifts to use- to be apostles- or messengers of Christ’s work; prophets-or people who speak by divine inspiration; evangelists- people who spread the good news in word and deed; pastors and teachers- who guide congregations to be faithful and to live their lives as an outward expression of the teachings of Christ. All of these gifts build up the body of the church.

 

So as you move towards the baptismal font, remember God’s claim upon you. Remember your calling to live faithfully, and use the gifts you have been given so that the Spirit of God can reshape, fill and use your gifts here in this congregation.

 

 

“The Servant’s Basin”

 

Jesus Christ came into the world, not to be served, but to serve- to serve us, to serve the world, and to give up his life for the lives of others. He is an example we are called to follow. Christ tried to teach that to the apostles on the night of his betrayal. He washed their feet as their Messiah and Rabbi. Jesus said, “If I your Messiah and Rabbi have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you should also do as I have done to you.” So when we serve others, we follow the teachings and example of our teacher, Jesus.

 

Serving others can come in many forms. We can serve those in need through the food bank, the winter shelter, or through organizations like the Ashland Community Resource Center or OHRA. We can serve others if we are in a helping profession- as a doctor, teacher, civil servant, or pastor. We can offer someone rides to church or to doctor’s appointments, or to help with groceries. There are many ways to serve.

However, service is something we must practice, because, society gives us that message of self-servanthood over and over. We are told the higher we climb the social ladder or the success ladder, the more people that serve under us, the greater the power we attain. The kingdom of God, however, does not work by the rules of this world. In God’s kingdom, the first are last, and the master is the greatest servant of all. How then does a Christian live a life of servanthood, in the midst of a self-serving world?

 

  • Real servants pay attention to the needs of others. When they see a need, they seize the moment and meet the need. Galatians 6:10 tells us, “So then as we have an opportunity, let us do good to all humanity...”When we pay attention to the needs of others, we have an opportunity to practice servanthood.
  • Real servants maintain a low profile. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing how holy you are before others in order to be seen by them.” Jesus repeatedly told his followers not to tell others about his miracles and deeds. Our purpose in service is to please and glorify God, not to impress others around us.
  • Real Servants are always looking for new opportunities to serve those around them. There are so many opportunities to serve others around us. We need to be filled up daily by Christ’s power so that we can serve others as the opportunity presents itself. Protestant Reformer John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Sometimes those opportunities for servanthood walk up and knock right upon our door. As I was writing this last section of today’s sermon, there was a knock on the office door. A young homeless man whose name was Eric asked if we had any bus tokens. I gave him a couple of bus tokens, and a Wendy’s gift card so he could get some food. He said, “Thank you and God bless you.” I responded, “May God bless you as well.” In that moment, it felt good to serve another in need.
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May we all feel inspired to go out into the world, and do all the good we can, by all the means we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, for as long as we can. May we look daily for those opportunities to practice our serve, using the gifts God has given us, bringing light and hope to the world, remembering our master teacher Jesus, who took the form of a servant and called us to do likewise.

 

And now, let us begin our journey from cleansing and letting go, to remembering our baptism and call, to being sent out into the world in service. Alleluia! Amen

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