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“I will, with God’s help: Pentecost

Sunday, May 20, 2018
The Baptism of Shaelynn and Brinley:
Acts 2:1-21
Ps 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

A wise man once told a story, a folk tale, or myth. A story about a shopkeeper with an antique store. One day a woman brings in an old bottle she’s found in the trash. She’s just looking for a bit of money, and being soft-hearted, he gives her some change.

But then — he gets more than his money’s worth, and more than he bargained for, when a genie pops out of the bottle, and grants him four wishes. Now, not quite believing what’s happening, he kind of throws away his first wish: he has a glass display case that’s broken, and he asks that it be repaired. And with the snap of the genie’s fingers, it’s made whole.

Now, with that minor yet pragmatic miracle having proved that this genie is the real deal, the shopkeeper makes a second wish. And it’s a wish that remains popular to this day: he wishes for a million dollars. And in the blink of an eye, he’s a millionaire. And being a good, well-meaning guy, he gives away a bunch of that money away to his friends. And just then, that’s when the tax man walks in, with a bill — leaving them with only $5 left over from that initial million.

Which brings us to the third wish. The shopkeeper realizes now that there is a downside to making wishes, so he wants to hedge his bets. He asks for power; he wants to be the leader of a powerful nation. And being extra careful, he stipulates that he wants to be a leader who can’t be voted out of office. The genie makes this so, and the shopkeeper is transported across the ocean to an underground bunker in Berlin, in April 1945. (I probably don’t need to go on by describing his terrible moustache.) Indeed, the shopkeeper got what he asked for: he’s a powerful leader who can’t be voted out of office. But this isn’t quite what he had in mind. The genie got him again.

And so the fourth and last wish is used hastily, to bring him back to his old life, to the antiques store back home, where he promptly smashes that genie’s bottle on the floor. All he has to show for this adventure is a glass display case that’s been repaired with the first wish. A glass case he inadvertently breaks once again, as he’s cleaning up the shards of glass from the genie’s bottle he’s thrown on the floor.

The wise old man who first told this myth you may have heard of: his name was Rod Serling. And I’ll come clean, I’ve just summarized an episode from the second season of The Twilight Zone. But if that doesn’t do it for you — if it’s too new, or not traditionally religious enough, there’s another myth. One thoroughly religious, and one we probably all know. About the very creation of humanity. Where God sets two people in a beautiful garden. And says “you can have this, and this, and this. And this tree, and this tree, and this tree. And that, and that, and that.” And the all too human response is of course: yeah, but what about that one?

These two stories — one ancient, one modern — both attest to a great truth… though a sad, and sobering truth: that try as we might to do good, we’re bound to mess things up. Maybe not all the time, but often enough. Sometimes because of self-serving decisions, like that shopkeeper’s lust for power. Or even sometimes in our well-meaning actions, like in the shopkeeper’s sharing of his million dollars, or in the sharing of a piece of fruit, in that more ancient story.

We live in a world torn apart by violence, and greed. And whether in our own experience, or by turning on the news, we know tragedy in one form or another. And the sad and difficult reality is that these tragedies and problems with our world aren’t just incidents that we run into now and again; they’re symptoms of the disorders that begin in our own hearts. The inclinations that led that shopkeeper to waste all his wishes.

But even in the mess of our world, and the mess of our hearts, we’re not left abandoned. As Christians we hold to the faith that we’re not abandoned by God, because in Jesus, God entered into the worst mess of our world, and experienced himself the worst of what humanity can and does do. In Jesus we see God embracing people, especially those normally excluded. We see God experiencing the ups and the many downs of life on this earth. And we see God calling us — inviting us — into a mission and movement of love in the world.

When Jesus called ordinary people — fishermen in his day, which for us, might be, shopkeepers, or autoworkers — he was starting a movement of everyday people, so that our world would be recreated in love. A world that’s groaning in labour pains, knowing what’s right, but not able to realize it on its own.

When Jesus called and embraced the ignored, the hated, and the outcasts, he showed us how much God loves us, and how every person is made in God’s image, and has a unique place in this recreation of the world.

And when Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, sat down at dinner with his closest companions, he (somehow) gave thanks. And in doing so he showed us that in those moments when all seems lost, when God might seem farthest, God is actually present and active in a special way. And in leaving us this meal, the sacrament of his body and blood, Jesus reaffirms that he’s in the business not primarily of granting wishes like that wily genie, but in forming a people. And forming us in a way that only a meal can do. Where, to this day, we as Church are formed and reformed into God’s movement of love in the world, through that meal — through our fellowship, our singing, and our prayers together. Where, in the giving of the Holy Spirit, God invites us not only to become followers; but God invites us through the Spirit into the very life of the Trinity, the Triune God. God invites us into relationship, into the love between Father and Son.

And today we come together as Church on the Day of Pentecost. We heard that story from the Early Church, about the giving of the Holy Spirit, where people in that place, who came from all over the world, were all able to hear about “God’s deeds of power.” A story, I’d venture to say, that is not primarily about super powers or flights of ecstasy; but about how in God’s recreation of the world, our human divisions are being overcome. And as Archbishop Michael Curry said yesterday at the wedding of Henry and Meghan, “When love is the way, we actually treat each other… well… like we are actually family.”

And that, I’d say, is what baptism is all about. As we come together to welcome Shaelynn and Brinley and their family and friends, we celebrate their ‘yes’ to follow Jesus and his Way; their response to God’s love by joining in the movement to reimagine the world in the image of Jesus’s love. To treat each other — and not just the people in here, but the people ‘out there’ — like we are actually family.

So, all who are here in support of today’s baptismal candidates: that is what, on behalf of Shaelynn and Brinley, you’re signing up to. In the vows and in the statements of faith that follow in a few moments, you’re saying that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you’ve gotten a glimpse of a world that’s possible when we love each other the way God loves us. You’re saying that you want to join in in that recreating of our world, and that you see Shaelynn and Brinley as part of that recreation, too.

And there’s two things that I think are really important to remember. The first is that even though you’ll stand and make commitments and affirmations as individuals, and even though Shaelynn and Brinley are going to be baptized as individuals, all of this happens in the context of community. Your role, as godparents, sponsors, and as the baptized, is to recognize and work for the unity of the whole human family. A unity made possible in the coming of God into the world in Jesus. And made possible in God’s definitive ‘yes’ to humanity that we see in Jesus’s willingness to endure torture and death, and God’s definitive ‘yes’ to life in raising Jesus from the dead.

And the second thing to remember — we’re not putting you in a situation like that shopkeeper in that Twilight Zone episode. There are no genies offering wishes that are inevitably going to backfire. The simple reason for this is that when you — and all of us — respond to the questions of the baptismal covenant, your response isn’t just “I will,” like “I wish…” No, your response is, importantly, “I will, with God’s help.” Don’t underestimate that second part. The recreation of the world in love doesn’t start with our good actions. It starts deep down inside each of us. Where we experience God’s love, are changed by that love, and then share that love with those around us, and treat each other like we are actually family. Amen.

© 2018 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter