Connected by Love (Roots & Wings week 2)

Psalm 145 and Luke 3: 15-22 (Baptism of Jesus)

Genealogy and connection

We are seeing a resurgence of interest in genealogy. People are looking for the sources of their own traditions, connections with the past and with the mix of cultures that we have inherited with our DNA. We are longing for a broader sense of connection. When babies are born, we compare the baby pictures of members of the family with the new baby, looking for signs of inheritance of the legacies of our ancestors: Mama’s widow peak, Grandad’s green eyes, Daddy’s dimples – we are looking, in each generation, for signs of connection with our family tree. We even take trips to the countries which our forbears called home.: to Ireland, to Italy, to Nigeria to Pakistan. We are searching for a deeper connection to previous generations, longing for connections to the people whose experiences determined some of our own.

Jesus was connected. And in baptism, he was identified.

Looking at the Baptism of Jesus, we see that Jesus was connected to a tradition – and then there’s more. Today we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Luke. And if you cared to read past today’s lesson, you would find Luke’s version of the genealogy of Jesus. Luke traces ancestry back to Adam – and the point isn’t the list of names that we find challenging to pronounce – but that Jesus had a family. He didn’t come from nowhere, or spring from the head of a deity as the mythological Athena did. He was CONNECTED. He had a family with a lineage and tradition.

Connected. So Jesus, Jewish man from Nazareth, came to the desert -- to the Jordan River, where John was preaching and baptizing for repentance. There was a crowd – this wasn’t a private affair. And Jesus intentionally came to the Jordan, along with a crowd of his people, to be baptized by John. He was baptized – and then he prayed. It wasn’t DURING the baptism that Luke tells us something different happened, but when he prayed afterwards that the heavens opened. Apparently when Jesus showed up in the desert at the Jordan, it became a thin place, a place where the usual separation between the realm of God and the earth where we live was overcome, and Holy Spirit came down to Jesus in some way that later folks said was like a bird – maybe a dove like on the ark or a goose, something wild. A voice named Jesus as “Son, Beloved” and announced that God was pleased with Jesus.

Identification. Jesus’ baptism was NOT a private affair. Baptism was NEVER a private affair. It was a rite of identification. Actually, the word baptism meant “identification.” It was a term used by fullers – those who died or pressed cloth in ancient times. When a fuller would take a white cloth and dip it into red dye, they had “baptized” the garment. The cloth or garment had a change of identity – had been baptizo or baptized. People came to John to have their identity changed, to repent of their sin.

For Jesus, the change of identity seems to have been to name him as the Beloved Child of God as he leaves behind his private life and begins public ministry. Connected with his people – identified by God as son.

Baptism still carries these meanings: we are connected, and we are identified. We understand baptism is a symbol of death and new life – a new identity, in ministry partnership with God. That’s why our children are considered baptized members and they share in the sacrament of communion. We baptize into the family of faith. We share stories and rituals to strengthen our family connection. We are a part of the family of God together -- in this place – and around the world. That’s why the whole congregation pledges to support the newly baptized and their families in the faith – because we are connected to each other by the love of God and in community – even in fellowship with one another.

CONTRA: HOWEVER -- We all probably know people who have been badly hurt by church communities when they are told that who they are, or what they believe are unacceptable. When who we are leads to rejection --Hurt, betrayal, a sense of abandonment, happen – and often those hurt leave not just their congregation, but the entire faith as well. Consider this: in a healthy family, when is a family member excluded? The answer is, that they aren’t. Ever. Even the severely dysfunctional and highly eccentric family members are welcome at the family table. Even the addicted prodigal who has run his parents into poverty is welcome home for Christmas. Even the uncle who told one of the kids that they couldn’t be a Christian and support ____________ will be welcome at the table. It makes holidays challenging sometimes, but families are to be loving and welcoming. When the church takes the opposite position – that we have to fit certain expectations to be welcome, whether they are of identity or theology or political point of view – we FAIL to be the family of God. Our connection is broken. Our very identity is eroded.

We have to get this right. Our very identity is at stake. Our connection goes beyond similar points of view or shared stories. We are connected to the faithful from generations past – and if we don’t get this right future generations won’t identify themselves with us. Those faith roots must be our identity Baptized people of God, connected by love.

It takes something special to take a group of folks and make them a loving family. We see this in our own families. When a new person enters the family circle, things shift. Adjustments need to be made in order for the new person to be included.

  • a new child, whether by birth or adoption . Sibling rivalry is a thing. Older children need special time, presents at baby showers, and lots of conversation about how we are a family together.

  • a new significant other. They bring another family into the holiday negotiations. And new traditions and expectations. Adjustments need to happen all around or they won’t be around long.

To create connection requires listening, compassion and love. But then we CAN overcome our differences.

LISTEN. Stephen Covey has, among his principles, one that says, “Seek first to understand; then to be understood.” In this principle, his faith really shines through. The relationship is the important thing. If we aren’t careful, we can get into arguments where we aren’t listening to each other at all!

EX of LISTEN. Bethel United Methodist Church in Clarksville, TN became a place of careful listening. It hadn’t always been that way. But when new people started coming, those who had been there the longest, asked them what they were looking for in a church community, and what would help them to grow in their faith. Many of the newcomers were military and military families – struggling with being in a new place and looking for connection. Many were from other parts of the country, or even the world. Because of the frequent absences of the military among us, we had co-chairs for every committee and work area. Intentionally, they came from different traditions. The worship co-chairs were a former Pentecostal and a former Catholic, for instance. The evangelism co-chairs were a former Jehovah’s Witness and a former Southern Baptist. The social justice co-chairs were a former Seventh Day Adventist and a former Unitarian. Obviously, listening had to be a high value – and the congregation was enriched by the different understandings of how God was at work in the world – and how we were called to be partners with God. But it began with love, and a desire to understand.

CARING -- LOVE. We, the church, are invited to be a different kind of place – to be a different kind of people – to be the Family of God. Sometimes songs have stories behind them, and that song by Bill and Gloria Gaither certainly does.

It was Good Friday when the phone rang and Gloria heard the news that there had been an explosion at the garage in town and one of the members of their church, Ronnie Garner, was badly burned. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night. There was going to be a prayer gathering at the church, and those who could be there were asked to be, but those who couldn’t were asked to pray at home. Gloria called Bill at the office and gathered the children around at home to pray for this young father from their church. The doctors had decided not to treat Ron because the burns were so bad – but the church prayed through Friday and Saturday night. On Easter morning, the church gathered and sang and prayed without the pastor, who had been with Darlene, Ron’s wife, through the night. The pastor arrived during the service, stopped the hymn, and announced that Ron was still alive and the doctors had decided to treat him. “We’re going to thank the Lord,” Pastor McCurdy said, “and then we’re going to see this thing through. This is just the beginning. There will be many needs. The family will need food brought in. Darlene may need help with the kids. They may need transportation back and forth to Indianapolis. Ron will need gallons of blood for transfusions. And they all – the doctors too – need prayer. Let’s think of how each of us can help. We are, after all, the family of God. Now let’s pray.” And they did.

In the car later, Gloria and Bill commented to each other that the church would do the same thing for them – even though they were often on the road with concerts, and missed most of the bake sales, didn’t teach Sunday school or help with Vacation Bible School. They didn’t pull their share of the load – and yet, their church family would do that for them too. While dinner was cooking, they sat together and put their heart into words.

The Family of God (1) You will notice we say "brother and sister" 'round here- It's because we're a family and these folks are so near; When one has a heartache we all share the tears, And rejoice in each victory In this family so dear.

I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God-… Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, For I'm part of the family, the family of God.

(2) From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King- No longer an outcast, a new song I sing; From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong, I'm not worthy to be here, But, praise God, I belong!

I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God-.. Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, For I'm part of the family, the family of God.

When we are doing it right, being the church, we are connected by love so intricately that THIS is the place where we come for nurture and healing. THIS is the place we come when we are full of joy. THIS is the place we come when we are hurting. We provide the roots that we all need to hold us firm when the storms of life are shaking us hard.

We come here in joy. This is where we come to celebrate two lives joined together to make a new family. This is where we bring our children after they are born or adopted to baptize them into the faith community. Even if you are new to THIS church, you may have rich memories of other churches where you stood at the altar or before the baptismal font, of children’s Christmas pageants and Christmas Eve carols, of Easter celebrations and times when the church was so full of love and joy that you felt the presence of God. The church is where most of us learn generosity as we give to those in need – whether it is hats and gloves like our children put on a Christmas tree or coins in a bucket for a well. Here our youth learn to make a difference in mission experiences like the Night Walk and by serving dinner at PADS.

Here we grow roots that intertwine with each other in our connection with God formed in love. Here we develop strong relationships, and those strong relationships give us roots, strong roots that hold us firm in the storms of life.

We come here when life is hard. But when the connections of love are strong, there is security to face the challenges of life. The church family is the place to run to when things are hard. In moments when our lives have turned upside down – when death has left us feeling bereft and alone, or when a key relationship falls apart – we run to our family, and our church family for the comfort and support that we need.

HALLIE GRACE. We had a granddaughter born too soon and with multiple health issues that prevented her from living. Born on a Wednesday morning, she died in her parents’ arms that Friday with Randy and I holding them while they held her. But on Sunday, we were all in church together, in the church where Carol was appointed. Someone asked Carol why she had come – after all, it had been a horrible week and she was on maternity leave. And she said, “I needed to be here with people who people who cared that I was hurting and hurt along with me. I needed to be where people loved me enough to let me say anything that I needed to say – and to hold our faith even if I feel like I’ve lost mine.” This is where we come when life is hard. Because this is family.

TREE ROOTS. There is an interesting thing that sometimes happens with tree roots. Some trees excrete a substance that allows them to work with other tree roots, even of other species. They can connect with each other, even over great distances, to provide a firmer grounding and provide water and nutrients when they are scarce. There are some root networks that extend miles with this cooperation. And those trees stand firm. Even tornadoes can’t fell them. Those roots go deep – and offer us a helpful image to the kind of connection and sustaining each other in love.

When we do this right – when we love despite our differences – when we hold each other in the hard times and celebrate together in moments of joy – we build a network of roots for each person gathered here, and for those who have yet to come, that is strong, and goes deep, and reaches wide. Aren’t you glad you’re a part of the family of God?

Sermon by Rev. Katherine Thomas Paisley

January 13, 2019. First United Methodist Church of Oak Park.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash