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St. Paul’s Congregational Church

January 16, 2020

You are claimed!

Matthew 3:13-17; The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds

Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

On Thursday last week Bev, Iah, and I had our regular worship planning meeting in my office. We started out by chatting a little about the Star Word project – we shared the words we’d received and our impressions so far. Each of us has them displayed where we can see them daily and we each commented on how appropriate our word was to our lives – in surprising ways, I think as we all had thoughts about the word we “should have gotten.” It was a great conversation and I hope some of you have had a similar experience this week.

As we began our planning of scripture, hymns, theme of the day, we heard the church doorbell ring and in a few minutes Nancy from the Nursery School came to the office door with the woman who had rung the door. The woman apologized for interrupting us – she thought it looked like we were in Bible study – and I asked how we could help her. And she told us her story – she was stuck in New Jersey! She lives in Florida and had come here in late December to deal with the fact that her sister had been killed in a terrible accident. Now she was ready to return home to her mother and son, but because she had no government issued photo ID, she had to pay cash for her return bus ticket home rather than her credit card. She had about $10 in her wallet – could we help her.

We talked a while – she told us where she’d been to try to get some help but hadn’t had any success. I asked her how she had found us – she told that someone she met in Maplewood had referred her to St. Paul’s – a nice church that might be able to help her. It was hard to say that we are a very small church, struggling financially – very few resources really to help.

But then I remembered that I had in my desk some cash that one of our families had slipped to me for such a need as this. No, I don’t have a discretionary fund as I’ve had in other churches I’ve served, but this family became a special angel on Thursday. I invited the woman (never did get her name) to have a seat in the Sunday School classroom and told her we’d try to figure this out. Back in my office I took the cash envelope out of my desk, counted it and it was a little short. Without hesitation, the three of us added enough to buy her bus ticket and extra to get something to eat on her long bus ride home to Orlando.

When I went to give it to her, it was incredibly touching – now there were tears: of gratitude, of relief – she showed me a picture of her with her son and immediately texted her mother that she would soon be on her way home. I gave her the church email and said we’d be thinking of her, praying for her, and would love to hear from her when she got home to her family. She left with a smile on her face, a sense of calm, headed back to New York to get on the bus to take her home and I went back into the office for our meeting.

We reflected on that unexpected visit before we went back to our planning – our 3 Star Words were compassion, patience, and grace – gifts of God for the people of God – wow. And we never really knew how she found us – but one said, “Maybe she was an angel sent to us when we needed to know we indeed have a ministry in front of us.” The point of the Star Words is to receive the gifts of God and pass them on abundantly. It was so clear to us Thursday morning – it was a sacred time, a sacred space, a presence of the sacred among us. Such a blessing.

And so it was, a sacred time and space and presence of the sacred that day on the River Jordan when Jesus came to John to be baptized. There’s Jesus, showing solidarity with his community, his willingness to be counted among these people of God. Jesus is showing those gathered at the River, and us, that God in person lives among us, lives like us – oh yes, there was excitement when Jesus was baptized – but not what the people watching expected. We read the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and a voice declaring, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.”

And the same is true for us – we too receive the power and grace to accept our own ministry and mission as offered to us by God, whether we’re baptized as infants or adults. We’re now part of the Body of Christ.

Baptism should be life changing. Imagine what the church might look like if each baptized member grabbed hold of and used the power that is freely given us by God in our baptism. We too can make a difference in our world! Doesn’t Jesus constantly tell his followers, tell us, that we must take up Jesus’ ministry and continue spreading the good news? Aren’t we supposed to care for the poor, build up the weak, and spread peace? We’ve all heard the promises during Baptism: we make promises to walk together on our journey – we can make a difference in our world. Those words are important!

The question is will we live out those promises – how will we live them out? Will we ever think about them? Imagine the power of the church, of the gathered Body of Christ in our common ministry. Imagine the explosion of peace and joy that could be ours, imagine what the world would look like if we all did God’s work – treated each other as children of God! Imagine what the world would look like if we loved each other as God loves us. Our baptism is just as profound and important as Jesus’ was there at the Jordan River. It’s at the moment of baptism when we receive our identity – when we are named – named as children of God. God says to each of us – you are my beloved child. I delight in you. Take a moment and say that to yourself – insert your name there – Cindy, you are my beloved child. With you I am pleased. Awesome, isn’t it. The words embrace us and promise to hold us. And this is when our own ministry begins.

Who am I? That’s a question I hear over and over again from people, no matter their age - they don’t always use those words but that’s what they are asking. There are lots of answers out there for us - the world has lots of definitions from advertisers, movies, songs, who try to tell us who we are: that our body is our most important possession - nurture it, love it, care for it. You’re a brain, a rational, thinking, reasoning being. You’re a maker of money, spender of money - a consumer of “things” that define who we are. The world tells us nobody will look out for you but you. Look out for number one.

These questions last as long as we live and breathe. As long as we try to find our way in this world. So, how do we answer the question then? I suggest we look into the water of baptism. The reflection you see there is who you really are - you are someone to whom a name has been given. That name is Christian and we learn throughout our lives what it is to be called by that name. That name is a gift - unearned, unmerited, undeserved. It’s given to us by grace and by grace alone.

And we are claimed. It’s at the moment of baptism when we are claimed as children of God – with all the accountability, responsibility, and blessing that comes with that. We are claimed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We are called into the ministry of the Spirit – we are changed people! And we are empowered to participate fully in the ministry of Christ in the world. And that means we do not rest as long as one of God’s children is in misery, hungry, naked, oppressed, persecuted, lost. We do not rest as long as any institution, government, or person seeks to warp God’s image in any of God’s children.

How often do we forget that? I will admit, too often for me. But I will testify that meditating on my Epiphany Star Word has helped me to remember – it sure did last Thursday. I came face to face with my own hesitation, my own cynicism: over the years I’ve been asked a million times for money and I confess that sometimes I become impatient – and have become jaded – too often mistrusting the request for help, making judgments about the person asking – I’m so grateful that this time I was stopped right in my tracks – and I’ve been reflecting on this ever since. And yes, my star word is “patience”. I pray I won’t miss another opportunity to live out my baptism.

We are claimed - the Christian message is not that we should try hard to be somebody - to act like somebody. The Christian message is simply that we are somebody. Remember who you are. And remember whose you are. Always. All that we have is a gift from God and we are called to pass those gifts on.

We are named. We are claimed.

And we are loved. God says to each of us at our baptism: you are my beloved child. I delight in you. Don’t we need to be reminded of that. Don’t we need to know that deep within our very being. Don’t we all want to know we matter. This needs to be made real for us.

There was a woman in the fight both of and for her life - her struggle with alcoholism. About 15 years ago she nearly died from alcohol related disease and had been sober for 13 years. She began drinking again and she was out of control again, literally risking everything - her health, her children, her job, her home. We spent hours together – at least 4 trips to detox facilities - each time within 24 hours she was drinking again.

One night her 15 year old son called me asking me to come to the house as soon as I could get there. She was really bad. I went and found her as you would expect. After spending some time with the son and his 10 year old sister, I sat on the couch with her. She was quiet for a while and then looked at me, “Why do you bother?”

Because you are a child of God. You are somebody. Because we are all created in God’s image and that’s good. Because God loves you.

It has been a long and hard struggle for this woman – at the moment she’s sober. I hope it will last. But I can’t guarantee it. But what I do know is this: that God did not, has not, and will not give up on her or you or me. God won’t quit.

We are named. We are claimed. We are loved. And we’re also called. One reason we are all here in worship this Sunday or any Sunday is to listen for and respond to that call. We’re here to figure out what our call is, to claim our own ministry, to learn what it will take to be a good minister of the gospel wherever God has planted us – in all phases of our life together: here in the ministry of this church, our daily lives in school or at work, at home or out with friends – wherever we spend our time. And we sure do need each other to do that – we certainly need God’s help to do that – and it’s by our baptism that we gain the strength to do that.

We are strengthened and surrounded by the Holy Spirit, by the love of God that passes all understanding, by the peace that comes in knowing that, no matter what, we are loved, and we know that Jesus has walked that road ahead of us. As Jesus was named, claimed, loved, and called - so are we. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. Friends, together we can do this – and experience a joy and peace and strength beyond anything we’ve ever known. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Let us pray:

Loving Lord, each time we pause to take stock of our life’s journey, every time we pause to remember who we are, we also pause to remember whose we are. We are your beloved children, cherished, gifted, loved. For all the good that has come to us through your grace, for all that has been, and is, and is yet to be, by your grace, we give thanks.

Enable us, we pray, for hear your call, to recognize your leading, to be aware that you have a place for us, a role for us, a responsibility for us - each one. Help us to minister to your honor and to your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


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