Woo hoo! Here we are! I am overjoyed that this day has finally arrived! For those of you whom I have yet to meet, I look forward to connecting over the next weeks and months. If this is your first time here or you are checking us out again, welcome, you are right on time!
Since the celebration we had here in October, a lot has happened in my life. Jeremy and I had a pilgrimage to India, I turned 40, we bought a house, I finished a delicious sabbatical on Orcas Island in the San Juan’s in the Pacific Northwest. And last week, we drove across six states with two cars, two dogs, two cats and one kid. We were relieved to be here happy and healthy and still talking to one another.
We are in a sweet spot right now- the first week, the first Sunday, the first everything. We know just enough about one another to be excited, hopeful and confident. But not enough, to have had the chance to be too disappointed…
And I realize I have extremely high expectations, I mean really high expectations for our journey together. And after this week, I know that you do too. We are all filled with expectations- holding the belief that even though we may lack particularity and detail about what is ahead; we are invested in an assumption that good things are coming. Am I right?
We had our first Community Office Hours this week, which gave me the chance to hear some of the expectations among us. Twelve of us gathered over the course of 2 hours to laugh out loud and talk together. I asked those who came, to write hopes and dreams on notecards and what was shared confirmed what I thought: We are filled with expectations!
Some of the expectations for this new season of ministry together include, but are not limited to: more young people, new leaders, more families, new focus, more chances to connect, new ideas! It is clear, expectations abound!
Of course, it would be much easier if we were the kind of people with no expectations or low expectations. As Alexander Pope said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
But that is not who I am. And that is not who I think you are. I have come to believe that it is part of our commitment as people of faith to choose to be filled with expectation, to welcome the openness of the unknown. It is part of our vocation, part of our spiritual journey, to choose high hopes and big dreams; wild expectations even, for what is yet to be. Because as we heard earlier in Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, this is how this important story begins. It all starts with expectations.
So it feels quite perfect that today, on our first Sunday together, today is the day where Christian tradition recalls the story of Jesus wading into the water, to be blessed by his cousin with whoever else was willing.
In preparation for today, I inquired as to where the baptismal font was. And I learned that there isn’t one. That seems to fit what I know about you so far, which is that you are diverse and deep and sometimes indifferent and even ambivalent about the complicated parts of our religious tradition. A bowl and a pitcher work perfectly!
To be sure, it is a ritual that comes with layers and layers of meaning. And for some mistrust, for some just mementos or shared memories. For some, baptism is mystery, and for some, I have learned it is pain.
Baptism is a Christian ritual that has become carnage in a theological war, used to divide and distract from the heart of the matter. It has been reduced to the limitations of the human imagination, used to narrow the field of who is included. It has been wielded as a weapon and a wall.
But here’s the thing. This story doesn’t happen inside walls. It doesn’t happen within a sacred space. It isn’t led by religious professionals. It isn’t tidy. It isn’t based around one person. In fact the text says it’s about the whole crowd, it says, “Now when all the people were baptized,” All the people- they all did it as one body, which means it was not just a blessing, but an act of solidarity.
And there were no classes to attend to receive the blessing. And there was no proclamation of belief requested. And it was a community event. And it included all the people.
The Church Fathers did an excellent job of sanitizing baptism and making it about who can be in. But really the story is messy because everyone is involved. It begins with expectation and questions. It includes drama and prison time. And the main event, the important ritual, happens outside.
I think it is no accident that this begins Jesus’ ministry- because I have come to see baptism as the purest and most essential ritual inherited from the Christian tradition. I believe it is about hearing that we are beloved manifestations of the Sacred, just as we are.
All the people. Are. Beloved.
And this is a powerful and important word for us, especially now. Because I don’t know about you, but the messages I get most everywhere else, are that our worth comes from: buying something or achieving something, doing more or being more, having more or building bigger. We are made to feel as if we are, well, never enough- as if our worth is tied to external factors, as if the good life is about something we can never quite seem to grasp.
But here, when we gather together, as people of faith and compassion, when we sing and serve, in the name of peace and love, we are offered the chance to remember this truth: our worth is not economic. What we have to give, who we are, as we are, is enough.
In a time when our government is in a record shut down and the worth of everything from civil servants to refugee children is reduced to numbers, here as a community of kindness, we live something else. We live beloved-ness.
Writing about baptism, Heather Carlson says, “We share in being named and claimed by God…The world insists that we belong to ourselves, our employer, our family, our children’s school or sports team, or the government of our country…we reject all these claims of ownership; we belong to God.” *
Today is a new day! I give thanks that this story we are writing together, that like the story of Jesus’ baptism, this journey we have begun, in this spiritual home, starts like this: All the people were filled with expectation…
With all that demands our energy, our worry, our talents, let us follow the lead of those who have gone before us, never forgetting that our Greater Love calls us outside of sacred spaces, sometimes far from familiars, into untidy places. Let us start at the heart. Let us never forget the basics- that the marvelous is often messy and that blessings are meant for all the people.
We are filled with expectations and let us follow them. In a time of loss and loneliness, in a time of war and warming, in a time where some dreams are clearly dying, at a moment when mainstream American culture makes us feel not enough- not old enough or young enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, let our first order of business together, be about living beloved-ness, for all of us. Let us follow the lure beyond walls. Besides, the thing about a bowl and a pitcher is that they are portable… They can leave the building.
In the words of the poet Hafiz, “I wish I could show you… the astonishing light of your own being…. And in the words from the sacred text, as if from the heavens, “You are Beloved.” All of you. All the people. Whoever you are, you are enough. You are loved. You belong. Amen.