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Washed, Robed, and Worshipping: Sermon for an Adult Baptism: Sunday, November 5, 2023

All Saints’ Sunday:
Revelation 7:9-17
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Can you think of a time when you were nervous about going somewhere for the first time? There used to be a video store in town that I really wanted to check out, but I assumed that the staff would be rude, so I avoided it for a long time. BUT they ended up being totally nice. And as a movie fan, it was something like heaven, I guess you could say. Though that first step through the door was still tough. And I imagine that times a hundred is what it is like for a lot of people setting foot into a church for the first time.

Or maybe you recall a time when you showed up for some event and you looked around and realized you were underdressed. Or overdressed. Or one of those dreams where you’re naked.

Both scenarios might help us to get in the head of the visionary seer behind the Book of Revelation that we heard from. He’s trying to make sense of what it’s like to be in the very presence of God. (Even more intimidating than a parish church!) There’s an enormous throne; and angels; and four living creatures covered in eyes; also Jesus — the sacrificial Lamb of God, though eerily appearing with seven horns, seven eyes, and seven spirits (whatever that all might mean, exactly). And, as we heard, “a great multitude, from every nation.” People, more than you could count, streaming to God, in worship. And they’re wearing radiant white robes. These people, we’re told, have gone through an “ordeal” in their time on earth. (Something that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. Life can be an ordeal.) These are martyrs — or some use the language of “saints;” people who have died for staying true to their values. But God was faithful; they’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus — washed of all the sticky, dirty, dangerous things that surround us, seemingly on every side in this life. And purified by Jesus, they’re given these shining white robes.

They’ve been washed, robed, and now they worship. They’ve come closer to God through all of this. And God, we heard, will “shelter them.” And feed them, and guide them. “[T]he Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” the reading says.

As strange and heavenly as that vision was for that mystical seer 2000 years ago, the story’s a bit — maybe even a lot — like what Alex has been experiencing, and will experience in a few moments, in his baptism. In baptism we say NO to those unhelpful, even dangerous things in life: “the evil powers” and “sinful desires that draw [us] from the love of God.” That’s the language our service book uses. And after turning from the BAD, we turn to the GOOD: to Jesus, the shepherd; the one who wants to lead us into safer fields. And we make commitments about worshipping God, about respecting others, about loving our neighbour, and about walking more gently on the earth.

Our baptism, we believe, joins us to Jesus. Just as those saints, those martyrs in the vision were washed in Jesus’s blood, we are, in a sense, washed in baptism. It’s a symbolic act of being buried with Jesus in the water, and then pulled out by him, into a new kind of life… resurrection life. Where, with God’s help, and the companionship of others walking this same road, we’re able to lift up our life as an offering — as living worship — to God.

One of the early, famous leaders of the Church said that Christians are like fish: we’re born in water. Baptism is that new birth. And the second reading, from the First Letter of John talks about just this: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Baptism — being joined to Jesus, and to everyone else that’s following Jesus (whom we could call “the saints”) — is standing where Jesus stands, and hearing God calling us. Baptism is about being named and known by God. God who says “this is my child, the Beloved.” So if you’ve ever felt anonymous, or not noticed, or not loved, know that in baptism we get that reassurance that we are really named and known by God.

That’s something I’ve heard Alex talk about as we sat down in the last few weeks. One of the blessings of being part of a church, he’s mentioned — and being part of a church that’s just the right size that you get to know people — is that you feel named and known by the people around you. And interestingly, just around the same time as Alex reflected on this with me, another parishioner — someone with decades and decades and decades in this congregation said something really similar: the people here make all the difference. You really feel cared for.

So baptism is about being God’s child. About being known and loved by God. And about being siblings — brothers and sisters — with all God’s other children. And walking together. It’s about hearing God calling us, and calling us together. And then RESPONDING to that call. That’s the sort of thing that we see happening in the Gospel reading: “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…” We usually skip to the Beatitudes (the “blessed are” sayings), because they’re so famous. But I want us to stick with that little intro for a bit longer: Yes, we’ve got the crowds. But then “his disciples came to [Jesus].” And that’s when he teaches.

So imagine that instead of shouting at the thousands of people, maybe he was teaching those disciples that came close to him. The ones that were feeling drawn to Jesus, and responding to that feeling (or to his invitation). And then does turn toward the great multitude, and getting his disciples’ attention, he points out some people in the crowd who are “poor in spirit;” people having a tough time finding hope. People who have a stormy cloud hanging above their heads. And Jesus teaches his followers: God is actually with them in a special way.

And then he turns and points out another group in the crowd. Maybe it’s a family that’s just lost a loved one. “Blessed are the mourning,” he says. Yes, their loss is real, and it stings. There’s no shortcut through it. “BUT,” he teaches his followers, “God is with them in a special way.”

And he turns to others in the crowd; people looking worn down, tired, and anaemic. “See the people who are hungry, or thirsty, or looking for some much-needed change in our often unfair society? Well, God is with them, in a special way. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So that all tells us something about baptism, too. Baptism is being called by God. Being taught by Jesus. Being taught to look at the world in a new and different way. To see the very real ‘MESSED-UPNESS’ of it all… But to start to recognize that God is actually there: Weeping with us. Guiding us. Protecting us. And presenting a new vision for us of what life, and what life together, can be like when we love God, and love our neighbours as ourself.

So on this All Saints’ Sunday we think about and give thanks for the saints. The white-robed multitude whose worship in heaven is somehow united with our worship here in this place. We think of the saints who offered their lives to God, just as we, by following the way of Jesus, can offer our lives up to God, too.

We think of the saints who have in one way or another helped us to see or know God, through their love or their direction. And we think of the everyday saints — people we know, are getting to know, or have the opportunity to know — through our shared love of Jesus. Everyone who has heard God calling their name, and found themselves being drawn to Jesus. That’s each one of us.

And we celebrate that Alex is responding to this call in his life. And we celebrate that — as different as we might be from one another — as we respond to the God who is calling us, we find ourselves being drawn together: in our prayer and our fellowship: drawn into a mystery; drawn into a process of being changed (because we’re all works in progress; “what we will be has not yet been revealed”); and drawn into a new world that God is remaking.

Whether we have been baptized already, or baptized and then kind of forgot about it, or maybe not yet baptized — may Alex’s act of faith awaken something in all our hearts. As he is washed, robed, and grows in his worship, may we hear and feel these words from First John:

See what love the Father has given us,
that we should be called children of God;
and that is what we are.

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter