Sacrament of Holy Baptism
Journey, Pastor Kinsey
Abraham and Sarah were just pretty much minding their own business. They were doing just fine. Well off by every standard of the day. An abundance of crops, livestock, and land, lacking only one thing. Abraham and Sarah, though part of a big clan, had no children of their own.
And when Abraham’s mother and father died, God came to Abraham for the first time with a promise: if you go from your land, to the land of Canaan, I will make of you a great nation; will bless you; make your name great; and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed, through your children!
“So Abraham and Sarah went!” And their willing response to God’s word was ever after praised. This was the first example of their great faith – their trust and loyal response to God’s Word of promise.
So they gave up their assurance of what they already had, which was much, for a journey in faith, to some place brand new and unknown! Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it, their “faith [was] the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
It was a big promise from God – Abraham and Sarah would be given a new land, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them, and their children would be, as numerable as the stars in the sky! But the blessing was not yet fulfilled, a promise that was still to come. It was a future promise. But it was backed up and assured by God, in the present! And remember, they had it very good where they already were. Although, perhaps there was something in their lives, something unseen, that compelled them to be open to the call of God.
So, like Adam and Eve, they left their Garden of Eden, only to find that in Canaan, there was a severe famine in the land. And so, they headed south, to Egypt, where they could find food. But since it was a foreign land, Abraham was worried about their status there. In a form of human trafficking, he could be killed by authorities, and Sarah could be taken. And it is this fear that causes Abraham to cook up a story with Sarah. Since they are, actually, half siblings, he asks her to emphasize that part, and leave out that they are married. “Say you are my sister,” says Abraham, “so that it may go well with me because of you – a woman beautiful in appearance – and that my life may be spared on your account.” (Shades of Patriarchy – but that’s a topic for another day!) And sure enough, Sarah is noticed by the highest authorities and desired by Pharaoh himself, who intends to take her for his wife. Meanwhile, it does “go well with Abraham.” He is not only ‘not killed,’ but is blessed with more livestock and servants.
Where was Abraham’s faith in God, on his journey to Egypt? Did he not trust anymore that God would bless those who blessed Abraham and curse anyone who cursed him? What would you and I have done, I wonder? How are immigrants and sojourners in this country endangered by us, and how could we make it more safe for them?
But God has plans for Abraham and Sarah. God has promised them, and will not forget! And so God rescues them by “cursing,” if you will, the Pharaoh, sending some type of affliction, which tips him off to Abraham’s scheme. And the next thing you know, Abraham and Sarah are being escorted out of the country. A quick ending, but, it could have been much worse.
Where is God calling you to go? What new thing is God inviting you into? What new land, new job, new relationship, new journey is on your horizon, that may be tugging at your heartstrings? “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also.”
And the writer of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” holding up Abraham and Sarah as models of the faith for us.
In these days, we have a crisis of faith, and who our models for the journey should be. Because, we have a crisis of where our treasure is. And, because we cannot trust that our treasure might be invested in something we cannot see! In this most litigious country on earth, some say, our laws and relationships, more and more, are built on proving that the truth must be tangible and visible for all to see.
I have a friend, who was steeped in this way of thinking, a very bright guy, who went to the best schools, had multiple degrees, and was moving up the ladder in his field, but had never thought about the unseen in his life – he was spiritual, but not a church-goer. ‘How do you know something unseen is real,’ he asked. ‘Give me an example.’ I told him, this is the way I think of it. Think of one of the most common experiences we humans have. Falling in love! You can’t see love, but if you’ve ever experienced it, you know how real it is!
Today, we all have the chance to witness, God’s love, poured out through the Holy Spirit, in the baptism of Erin, our sister in the faith. As we ask God’s blessing on the water that will wash and cleanse, restore and save Erin, we will know and see by faith, the gift of grace poured out on her – even as all of us who are already baptized, who are on the journey, know the assurance of what we hope for, and the conviction of things not seen, to be true and real.
God has blessed us. Even when we don’t tell the whole truth, even when stretch the truth, thinking we are protecting ourselves from a risky situation – called to new lands, on a journey where we’ve never been before, afraid of those who have power over us – even then, when we falter in the faith, God is still with us, and the love of God looks for a way to redeem us, open a window, bless us, and wash us clean again.
Even as Erin came to us searching and questioning about things not seen in this life, this journey we’re on, it was the beginning of faith, a seed beginning to sprout, an openness to a word, the word that calls us forth out of comfort to a foreign land, the word that whispers in our ear that for all the blessings we might have now, something unseen is missing, something better, something greater than this obvious banal thing, something better that transcends myself, some kind of real authentic life, a power, a ground of being, deeper and wider than this routine one that we lead, the same old routine that may be comfortable, but suddenly may just drive me nuts if I do it one more day! Because, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors [Abraham and Sarah] received approval.” And, “by faith,” as the writer of Hebrews continues, “we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
I believe that the real world has not yet been fully seen – made from the invisible – the world we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, a hope that is more real than what it is we have thus far created, as the children of God: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” That is my conviction – the hope of Jesus and the disciples.
Today, at this font, we see that which is unseen, in the love and desire of God to claim and name Erin Louise in baptism. Faith is the journey we take when we trust in God to lead us, and we don’t always know where it will take us, but we trust God is blessing us, and that we may be a blessing to others.
In this 1st of 2 Sacraments in the Lutheran church, we are assured that God is present, welcoming us on a journey of faith that never ends. “By water and the Word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life in Jesus Christ.” …And we are made sojourners together, “and joined in God's mission for the life of the world.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And so we risk losing our old lives, in exchange for something far better, a life in Christ, a life of wholeness and salvation, in the promise of God’s love.