Baptismal Pilgrimage, by Pastor Kinsey
I’ve visited some pretty awesome cathedrals in Europe. In Rome, Paris and Cologne, and many cities in between. The different styles of Romanesque, Orthodox, and Gothic, span many centuries, easily back before 1000 A.D. My favorite though, was the Cathedral in Chartres which, some 900 years later, has aged exceptionally well. The building's exterior is dominated by heavy flying buttresses which allowed architects to increase the window size significantly, and oh, the stained glass windows! Their beauty is exceeded only by their ability to illuminate and tell the stories of the bible. Virtually unharmed through two World Wars, the structure has seen only minor changes to its two contrasting spires and the three great façades, adorned with hundreds of sculpted figures, as you enter through its large wooden doors.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” cries the Psalmist. “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84, as we have heard today, is a psalm written by the Korahites who were the doorkeepers of the Temple in Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. It was a song the pilgrims sang in praise of God, as they approach the Temple to worship the LORD. And its dwelling place was indeed lovely! Magnificent! It was said to be blindingly beautiful when approached from the main road rising up from Jericho, in the east, when the sun reflected off the gold plated frontal, high above the temple mount, and the whole city.
It reminds me of the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, where Muslims rejoice to travel, sometimes long distances, at least once in their lifetimes, to worship by the millions, in the Great Mosque. In Jesus’ time it was much the same. Many made the pilgrimage yearly to Passover, and other festivals, singing praises to YHWH. “5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion... 7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.”
In this Pentecost season, as we’ve been reading through the parables, miracles and sayings of Jesus, in the gospel of Luke this year, we’ve been noting how Jesus has been on one long pilgrimage, or journey, himself. Already in the first half of Luke, Luke told us that, “Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem,” a sign of his intentional resoluteness. Along the way, he’s been defining and clarifying his message of the arrival, of the kingdom and realm of God, in his person, his life. And knowing all the while, that when he arrives, his life will be offered up, and poured out, in Jerusalem, for the sake of the world. What we don’t yet know, is that this pilgrimage Jesus is on, will end in at the Passover festival itself, that he will be sacrificed, like a Lamb who’s blood once set God’s people free from bondage in Egypt, which is what this major spring festival of the year is all about, in Jerusalem – a liberty, and setting us free from all the forces that defy and rebel against God.
Jesus, though, is more ambivalent about Jerusalem and the house of the LORD, than the Psalmist is. While he knows its beauty, and has worshiped there himself, Jesus also knows that prophets are not welcome to speak freely there.
So, when Jesus arrives, will the Korahites, the door keepers of the Temple, open up to Jesus, as they do daily for all the other pilgrims coming to Jerusalem? And what about us? Are we – as the door keepers for our church – welcoming and open? What are the rules for entering our sanctuary, or for joining in the worship of God, in this place?
A seminar professor, (Dwayne Howell cf. Workingpreacher.org) recalls the days when he was a seminary student, and how he got a job as a custodian in a neighboring church, to help pay for his tuition. It was his dream job, he said! A gothic beauty, the old church was full of history. He was mostly on his own there, and took great pride in what he did, even looking for what extra he could do, in maintaining the church. For a time, like the Korahites, he was truly a “doorkeeper”, since it was his job to ‘lock-up’ each evening. But along the way, something changed with his attitude about the job. Instead of preparing the church for others, he began trying to protect the church, from others. He didn’t want others to come in and mess up the church! He actually tried to keep people from being, the Church, that is, joining together to fellowship and worship.
It’s true, a doorkeeper can serve, in one of two ways: first of all, as a “greeter,” welcoming others; or, secondly, as a “bouncer”, keeping other people from entering. To act as a bouncer, however, disregards the purpose of the church. It’s as if one says “I know how to do church better.” And, it also directly challenges God who has ultimate authority over the entrance.
As doorkeepers who are greeters, we are here to prepare a place for others, and to share in the excitement with those others, God sends us. This is a place of safety and peace, in the midst of a world of constant noise, increasing disrespect for one another, and the assumption that the world is just a product for our instant gratification. And so, when we come here, we come with the sometimes weary, and always solemn need, to reconnect with our authentic selves, in all of our wonderful and unlimited diversity, to hear and digest our LORD in Word and Meal, which refreshes us and sets us free from our bondage, and that gives us courage to remember who we are, and what our mission is all about, so that we can be Sent back out into our lives, confidently, to be disciples in God’s world.
Today we open the doors of Unity in joy and hospitality, to welcome Alex to this font of blessing, the baptismal waters of refreshment, where salvation and the Holy Spirit reside, and the waters are the pools of God’s never ending grace and love. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! …Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O lord of hosts, my King and my God.”
In Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, today, Paul knows his days are numbered, and he can see the end of his pilgrimage. But he sounds more like he is preparing for his baptism, for some kind of transformation, and victory! “6As for me,” says Paul, “my life is an offering being poured out on God’s altar, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day. [And] The Lord will do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.”
When Jesus reaches Jerusalem, he will pour out his life too. As the Lamb of God, he is more than a martyr, or rising phoenix. Jesus is the gift of life who exposes, and brings to light, our sin and bondage to the powers of death, that have held us prisoner’s throughout the ages. And in Baptism, we can now imitate Jesus’ life-giving pilgrimage, instead of chasing after the failed models of our fallen world.
Joined to the death and resurrection of Christ in baptism, we are reborn inheritors of eternal life, and have nothing to fear, for not even death can win! We are claimed and named Christian, at the font of life. And, freed from bondage, we go out renewed and refreshed, to share this powerful word, with all the world.