Monday, October 17, 2011

Sermon for Baptism on All Saints Day

Sermon for Baptism – All Saints Day, 2011
Vicki Hesse, Seminarian
Matthew 5:1-12

Belay? Belay On!  Climbing? Climb On!
The world of rock- or mountain- climbing
requires a lot of communication.

The simple “Belay? Belay On!” exchange,
at the start of every climb,
happens between the climber and the belayer –
(the one connected to the other end of the rope).

This conversation means that
both people are ready to go.

Here’s how it works.

The climber asks, “Belay?”
and waits for the belayer to reply, “Belay On.”

Once assured that the other is ready,
the exchange continues, “Climbing!”
The belayer responds, “Climb On!”

This common-to-climbers chat
is how you make sure
the other person is there and ready.

You are depending on each other
for your safety!

During the climb,
the belayer uses a locking device
and adjusts the slack on the rope,
to protect the climber in case of a fall.

As the climber concentrates on climbing,
the belayer concentrates on the climber’s situation.

The belayer keeps a broad perspective
and responds as the climber ascends or descends.

In some cases, the climber
might be heavier than the belayer
and this requires an anchor.

What the belayer will do is
insert a carabineer
or other rope-holding device
into a crack in the rock
below his or her body.

This device, this anchor,
counter-balances the belayer and
keeps them from
being launched into the air
in case the (heavier) climber falls.

This conversational dialogue
and this method – this system –
gives the climber confidence
that she or he is not
alone up there on the rock,
that protection is out there
on the length of the rope, and
that the anchored belayer is there to help.

Today, we celebrate Babygirl’s baptism
on All Saints Day.

We will all renew our baptismal covenant and
in so doing, we will renew our promise
to belay for each other
as we climb the cracks and crevices of life,
with God as our anchor.

We will promise to be with each other
as a climbing team, and more,
a family – God’s family.

And we will promise
to give each other confidence
that we are not alone, by the grace of God.

Our ropes are tied in,
sealed by the Holy Spirit and
we are marked and anchored as Christ’s own forever.

In the Gospel reading from today,
we heard a piece of scripture
commonly called The Beatitudes.

It begins with the lines,
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them…”

Like many mountain climbers,
Jesus probably went out to vast places
when the crowds got to be too much.

On this day, for example,
Jesus saw the crowds and went up the mountain
with his disciples,
bouldering, climbing, canyoning, and scrambling.

Along the hike,
the disciples told stories to Jesus
about their ministry experiences.

“The people,” the disciples said, “are helpless and harassed.
The folks are poor, tired, worn out.
They keep trying to pull themselves up
by their bootstraps – by their own individual power.
They really want to do the right things,
but the government
and sometimes even the religious authorities,
are persecuting the families and businesses
for even trying.”

We can imagine that as they reach the summit,
they ended their whining.
Maybe they signed their name
on the register at the peak
and took a photo or two of the grand vista.  

Then the disciples gathered around Jesus,
trying to find a spot on that bumpy ground.
The disciples paused at this point.
The question hangs in the air –
“how are we going to help the people?”

We might imagine ourselves
having a similar discussion
while hiking up a 14er.

You know how we like to talk to each other on hikes,
how we lament with each other
about the way things are these days.

About how we really try to do our best,
but it seems the people in charge
just keep persecuting us
for trying to make things better.

About how we feel helpless and harassed,
tired, worn out and we hope
that this hike might rejuvenate us
so that we can find the strength
to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps,
by our own strength.

We can’t really depend on others,
it’s our own strength
that will get us through, we think.

So we can really relate
to how the disciples must have felt.

When Jesus and the disciples summit
and finally get settled on the mountain,
Jesus, having heard their stories the whole way up, pauses.
Then he began to speak and taught them.

He invites the lamenting disciples
to see the world as God dreams it can be.
“Look,” he says, life is more than individual actions…

Then he pauses (not much air up here on the mountaintop).
He explains how the disciples
can reframe the situation.
He says,
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

What does he mean? The disciples murmur to each other,
waiting for Jesus, their rabbi, to explain.

How it is possible for the people to remain faithful
to their covenant with God,
even when life is hard for the community?

What does he mean by “blessed?”

One way to understand “blessed”
(or “ ‘ashar” in Hebrew)
is to relate to Psalm 1 –
another place using “blessed” –
and there, it means
“you are on the right road when…”

Of course, the disciples were also familiar
with the Psalms,
a common language between disciples and teacher.

So Jesus explains to his disciples,
 you are on the right road when
you are poor in spirit
(considering other people’s concerns),

you are on the right road when
you mourn
(about how slow God’s justice seems to be but you know that God will make things right in the long run),

you are on the right road when,
in being meek (humble),
you believe that God will renew the earth,

you are on the right road when
you hunger and thirst for justice “for all”,
not just for the individual,

you are on the right road when
you hold the rope mercifully for others
just as they would for you.

You are on the right road when
you know that God’s grace is open to all.

While Jesus is explaining all this,
we can imagine
the disciples look out over the vista
and see a new world
for the people.

These people – all who are in covenant with God –
are the ones who receive
grace, justice, peace, love and mercy
in God’s kingdom.

Eventually, the crowds make their way up the mountain
and find Jesus and the disciples there.

The people want to hear this great news too!
This is a new way of thinking!

With this new way of thinking,
we are here today
to mark a different kind of summit experience.

The summit we have reached
is a mighty transformation –
happening in Babygirl’s life and in our lives.

At her Baptism,
she is adopted into God’s family –
God’s climbing team –
and we, as witnesses,
renew our covenant with God
to love and be gracious
and belay for
each other.

We know we are on the right road when…
empowered by the Spirit –
we tie-in our ropes with Babygirl
and with all the saints –
past, present, and yet to come.
In the sacrament of Baptism,
we outwardly mark
what will inwardly change;
Babygirl will sanctified by God.

This will be done in your presence –
parents, godparents, family and friends
who intend to support Babygirl
in her climbing journey
of the Christian life.

As Parents, Mom and Dad,
you are taking vows on her behalf
that you can teach her what it means
to life in Love with the world
and in Love with God,
every step of the way,
with God’s help.

By taking these vows,
you are teaching her
how God is her belay,
her anchor.

Dependent on each other
and in covenant with God,
we promise to be there
on her whole journey.

As humans, we also recognize
that even with our best knots,
some ropes might become frayed.

But, in Baptism,
our Master’s rope seals the connection.

It holds because
these love-knots are tied
with God’s grace and
by all the saints
that have come before us,
who are here now
and those in the future.

We are promising to stay tied-in
to Babygirl and each other
throughout this life journey,
both the physical mountaineering world and
the inner world of cracks and crevices
and canyons and vistas.

Through Baptism,
we are adopted into God’s hiking team.

Oh, just one more thing.
Today, you all are witnessing
the vows that Mom and Dad are taking
on behalf of Babygirl,
and the vows that these two are taking
as her God-parents.

In the vows, you will be asked
to support them in their life in Christ.
When asked,
can we hear,
as from a mountaintop,
your affirmation, “WE WILL!”  ?

Belay? Belay On! Climbing? Climb on!


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