Below is Pastor Rwth's sermon from this past Sunday (01-07-2018) including the slides she used during the 9:00 am Contemporary Service.
We’re not even two week past Christmas, and the Christian calendar already has us at Jesus’ Baptism. Maybe because Christmas remained fresh in my heart, I sat with the story of Jesus’ baptism with his birth still on my mind. Maybe I had birth on my mind because I want God’s grace to birth some new things in my life and in the life of our church in 2018.
That said, connecting birth and baptism makes sense for us. There’s this conversation Jesus and Nicodemus were having in another scripture reading, John, chapter 3. Jesus says, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom. Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.
Baptism is itself a kind of birth – a birth into a new form of life. Baptism is a birth into a life intentionally formed by God and lived for God’s purposes. Baptism is a birth into a way of life as God desires it.
In our story today, Jesus is born anew as God calls him into a new life of public ministry and service to others. Jesus’ more hidden identity as Savior is now out-in-the-open. As his ministry begins, Jesus is born more fully into the world for all to receive or reject.
The Holy Spirit, who came over Mary at Jesus’ conception, now comes over Jesus at his baptism—empowering this new birth to happen. God receives him afresh, with delight and great love, as Mary did when Jesus was first placed in her arms. God says, as much as Mary must have: You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.
Both stories—Christmas and Jesus’ baptism—are mysteries of birth. What might that say to us in these earliest days of 2018?
An answer came when I ran across a poem by Madeleine L’Engle. It was tucked into one of those emails that I didn’t get to read around Christmas time because I was too busy. I almost missed it—but then thought how beautiful it is that it came to me when I was making this connection between Jesus’ two births: in Bethlehem and in the Jordan River.
The poem, The Risk of Birth, goes like this:
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
Love emerging to be born: That’s what connects Jesus’ birth in the stable and his baptism in the Jordan River. God’s love for the world is so great that God takes the risk of birth—to give love a face in Jesus and to give love a mission through his ministry.
It’s not like the times were favorable for God’s love to be born in Jesus’ birth or his baptism—the world was full of discord and disorientation. There wasn’t any indication that people would receive Jesus—at Bethlehem or at the Jordan River, but God risked birthing love through Jesus’ life anyway. God doesn’t consider favorable times or unfavorable, failure or success. God doesn’t weigh pros and cons. God loves the world—and so God risks birthing that love into being through Jesus and through those who follow him.
So these stories ask us: what love must we risk giving birth to?
Back in November I talked about my experience at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia in a sermon about service. Days earlier, in preparation, I was watching a video from the St. Francis Inn that put me back in touch with my own call to ministry and my heart’s desire to serve people in need. And I reflected on what a wonderful ministry we have in Tuesday Morning. I began to wonder how we would move forward with leading the ministry because Karlie, our much-loved and gifted director, was moving.
Then I heard the Spirit’s prompting: Rwth, you could step this ministry.
I felt both elation and fear: could I take the risk of birthing the Love that I had carried in my heart for 25 years? I sought the discernment and input of others and received affirmation and support. This week, I’m jumping into leadership of Tuesday Morning Outreach.
This new ministry role is one way I’m taking the risk of birth in my life this year. God desires you to take the risk of birth in your life, too. What deep dreams, seeds of possibility, or leadings of the Spirit do you want to bring forth? What’s on your bucket list that you want to fulfill, so that you might be more of the unique person God calls you to be? What do you long to create?
What love would you bring forth if you ceased judging yourselves and your dreams so harshly, if you stopped comparing yourselves to others, if you weren’t afraid? What makes you hesitate or resist taking risks of birth in your life?
One of the reasons why we find love so scary is the risk it necessarily involves. To love is to risk. When we love, we experience the impulse to take the risk of birthing it into the world—making our love visible and real, giving our love a life of its own.
We love another person—a friend, a spouse, a child—and we risk commitment and countless actions on their behalf. We love our career, we love our calling—and we risk giving it our energies and other precious resources. We love a particular craft or art or service—and we risk putting our creativity and heart out into the world.
Jesus himself took the risk of birth when he stepped both into and out of the baptismal waters. After hidden years in Nazareth, it was time to bring forth saving love for humanity and all creation.
When is the time for love to be born? The time is now. Love still takes the risks of birth.