Tag Archives: Baptism

Apocalypse Now

It’s not my habit to write sermons anymore.  I find I get too caught up in how I’ll sound (me-focused), therefore missing out on what the Holy Spirit might be saying (God-focused).  Lots of people can write great sermons and do.  I just find I preach better from a place of vulnerability, and I’m more vulnerable sans script.

But nights like tonight, before mornings like tomorrow, I sometimes question that wisdom.  Here we are, mere days after the most divisive election in my lifetime, and we get to grapple with an apocalyptic text from Luke: Jesus predicting the fall of the temple.  Couple that with Isaiah’s text that God is making a new heaven and new earth.

Of course these texts weren’t chosen in response to the election.  I preached the same text 3 years ago and I’ll preach it again 3 years from now… only every 12 years does this text fall after a presidential election.  And its real purpose is to prepare the way for the season of Advent–the coming of Christ.

Here are some truths about my parish: most will be hugely (not just slightly) heartbroken over the results of Tuesday’s election.  Most.  And yet a significant number will not feel heartache, but relief.  And everyone has to feel welcomed and loved and valued–because they are.  So how to tend to the wounds of the majority without ostracizing the few?  How to preach in light of the election, but not about it?  And how to do all that being true to myself without making it about myself?  The tenderness of the timing almost does require a script of sorts.

Here are some things I want to say–things I’ve said before about this text.

  • While Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple–Luke’s gospel is written in retrospect of that same destruction.  Anyone who has ever heard or read this gospel has done so in hindsight of the events Jesus describes.
  • This isn’t just about the decline of a building–but of institutions, of ministry.  Some might feel like our nation is doomed after Tuesday.  Others have felt that for the past 8 years.  But we can’t let that overshadow the decline we see in other areas: like the church.  Just last week a parishioner posted a picture from our balcony, lamenting that the pews are only ever half-full at the 11:15 service anymore.  And then there are declining relationships–marriages that feel as if they are falling apart.  Strained familial ties.  Best friends you aren’t sure you really know or understand anymore.
  • Clearly, this gospel is for us.
  • Our “temple” of St. Luke’s has been thrown down before–literally shelled only months after being established.  We have come out of the ruins.
  • We’ve been led astray by false teachers before–all of us.  Whether it be at work, at school, at church, or in our national landscape.
  • Our kingdoms have been at war, as the veterans we celebrate this weekend can so ably attest to.  In fact this church was born out of war.
  • We know something about natural disasters too–even as our neighbors just North of us suffer from wildfires–so close we can smell it if the wind blows our direction.
  • Betrayal, hatred and death are daily realities.
  • And YET, Jesus says we will not perish–we will endure.  And the fact that this church still stands and that this nation still stands is a testament to that truth.
  • Most importantly–Jesus says this is our opportunity to testify.  Every single one of us gathered in this room is called to testify.  To give witness.  To proclaim.  Not in our facebook statuses, but in our lives.  Does your life, does my life, testify that Jesus is the risen Christ?  That Jesus is the living Christ?  That love conquers death and faith conquers fear?
  • I know that it can be hard to testify when you feel your “temple” (whether it be our country, our church or our relationships) is in shambles.  It is so much easier to testify when we feel like we’ve been vindicated, when we’re making progress, when we’re on top.  The truth is that fear breaks down creativity.  And many of us are facing varying kinds and varying levels of fear right now.
  • But lets take a look at Isaiah.  “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Folks, testify from that hope–the hope of God’s vision of the future.  Read through that text again and remember that God is at work in the world–even at this very moment–and that we are invited to share in that work and creativity.  We don’t have time to be stifled by fear. It’s time to get busy.

All of this brings me to one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.  It’s one that can be used at various times, but it is always used at ordination services of deacons, priests and deacons.  I think it’s important to share it the week following baptism.  Last week we renewed our baptismal covenant, as we do several times a year.  We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons.  We promised to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for peace and justice in the world.  And in so doing, I want to remind us all that this week’s gospel calls us ALL to testify, for we are ALL among what church types like to call, “the priesthood of all the baptized.”  So remembering that you are all part of this priesthood, be it ordained or not, I share with you this prayer at ordination:

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are bing made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen.

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Lent Week 5

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 5: Wednesday, April 9

Mystery Informing Mission

In the Easter Vigil liturgy found in the Prayer Book, the Priest invites the people to renew their baptismal vows: “Through the Paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.”[1]

  • Look at the Baptismal Vows on pages 292-294 of the Prayer Book. What story do they tell?
  • Why do we make a practice of renewing our vows? What or who does the renewing of the vows serve?

Jeffrey Lee writes that: “The Baptismal Covenant says that faith is not simply a matter of giving intellectual assent to a series of propositions about God, but is a matter of lifestyle, behaviors, and concrete commitments.”[2]

We are not just Christians in the church, but in the world. Having been transformed, Louis Weil calls us agents of transformation: “The most common things in human life—a bath, food and drink, a human touch—can serve as instruments of an encounter with God. They can express a deep experience of human community and be signs of God’s grace in the fabric of human existence. So we may say that the starting point for a theology of Christian worship is to take the world seriously as the place where God acts. Or liturgical rites point to that activity, but they do not limit it. This insight offers us a guiding principle for the relation of each Christian to the world: the work of the church is not to escape the world, but to be the agent of transformation and healing whenever we encounter injustice, abuse, hatred or indifference. The ministry of each Christian, and of each Christian community is found right before our eyes. This helps us to understand why, during the early centuries of Christianity, a newly baptized Christian was referred to as “another Christ.” This had not so much to do with liturgical rites as with the fact that each individual Christian was called to be Christ in the place in which he or she lived. That is where ministry begins, and it is the work of every member of the church, not merely the ordained.”[3]

  • Next weekend we will renew our Baptismal Covenant. How will this renewal empower you to be an “agent of transformation and healing” in the world?
  • Think of the Paschal candle we will soon light with a “new flame” and think of the sparks you feel in your own life. Spend time reflecting on where you feel God tugging at your heart. Write some ideas down and consider them in prayer during these last days of Lent.

[1]Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 292.

[2]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 95.

[3]Louis Weil, A Theology of Worship (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2002), 17.

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Lent Week 4

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 4: Wednesday, April 2

New Life Dawns: Easter Vigil

“What we gather to celebrate in the Easter Vigil is not a fond reminiscence, but a present reality. We gather to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, principally in the baptism of new members, but also in the renewal of all the baptized.”[1]

Story: An early account of the Easter Vigil according to Hippolytus (A.D. 215)

“The candidates for baptism fast on Friday and Saturday; others fast with them on both days if they are able, or on Saturday if ill or pregnant. Saturday night is spent in vigil, listening to readings and instructions. At cockcrow the baptismal water is blessed, a prayer of thanksgiving is said over the “oil of thanksgiving” (chrism), and an exorcism said over the “oil of exorcism.” The candidates renounce Satan, his servants, and his works, then are anointed with the oil of exorcism. They are baptized, assenting to a baptismal formula which is a profession of faith, the basis for the “Apostles’ Creed.” When they emerge from the water they are anointed with the oil of thanksgiving in the Name of Jesus the Christ (the Anointed One). They are then led into the assembly where the bishop says a prayer with laying on of hands, completes the anointing, and signs each on the forehead. The newly baptized participate then in the prayers of the people, the exchange of the peace, and the Eucharist. On this occasion they receive water (an internal baptism), and milk and honey (the food of babies, the Promised Land) as well as the elements of bread and wine.”[2]

  • What symbols do we read about in the above passage?
  • What do symbols do? What do they mean?
  • Our Prayer Book states: “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”[3] What does this statement say about the symbols we’ve named?
Dean Patrick Malloy pours chrism onto Amelia Hall, held in the arms of her father, M.Div. Junior Pickett Hall. Photo: John Bethell

At the General Theological Seminary, Rev. Patrick Malloy pours chrism onto Amelia Hall, held in the arms of her father Pickett Hall at her baptism. Photo: John Bethell

“In the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrate and make present (anamnesis) the pivotal events of the Old and New Testament heritage, the Passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death, and our own Passover from the bondage of sin and death to the glorious liberty of new life in Christ Jesus.”[4]

  • What are we making present? What are we making real?
  • How do your answers this week compare to your answers from Week 1?
  • Ponder what it is we are participating in, and be prepared to share your stories when we gather together next week.

 

[1]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 91.

[2]Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 240.

[3]Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 857.

[4]Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book, 242-3.

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Lent Week 3

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 3: Wednesday, March 26

The Space Between: Good Friday

The Good Friday liturgy is simply a reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, followed by prayers, followed by anthems and the veneration of the cross. “The service has no formal entrance rite and no blessing or dismissal: since the church began it’s Triduum celebration on Thursday evening, the Good Friday liturgy is simply a gathering together or a focused offering of prayer at a particular moment in the course of the three days.”[1]

Story: Egeria is a Galician woman who made several pilgrimages to Jerusalem and kept precise journals, giving us an idea of early church practices:

“The pilgrim Egeria gives us the first evidence of special rites to mark the day in her description of the Good Friday rites in Jerusalem about A. D. 381-384. From eight o’clock in the morning until noon, the wood and superscription of the supposed true cross were exposed on a linen-covered table at the site of the crucifixion in the courtyard behind the Martyrium, the great church built by Constantine’s mother Helen. There the faithful came to venerate them as the bishop held his hands firmly on the cross while the deacons stood guard. At noon the people assemble in the courtyard for a service of psalms, lections, hymns, and prayers which lasted until three o’clock. They then moved into the church for a service and afterward to the tomb where the Johannine account of the burial was read (Jn. 19:38-42). A voluntary vigil at the tomb continued through the night. After a time other churches acquired portions of the true cross and conducted rites similar to those performed in Jerusalem. Eventually veneration of a cross became a practice in churches which did not possess any piece of the true cross.”[2]

  • What purpose does the cross serve in Egeria’s time? In ours?
  • The veneration of the cross is optional. The Prayer Book states, “If desired, a wooden cross may now be brought into the church and placed in the sight of the people.”[3] Our church chooses to share in this practice—why?
  • Does the cross mean something different on Good Friday than it does on Easter?

 

The cross sits atop Conejos Peak in Colorado, which I summitted this summer with my family.

This cross sits atop Conejos Peak in Colorado, taken this summer while hiking with family.

“The Christian’s participation in Jesus’ death in baptism is also a participation in his resurrection (Rom 6:5)…Baptism orients us to a future that does not end in death even while it initiates us into a cruciform pattern of life. This was Christ’s path to the resurrection, and thus it is also ours.”[4]

  • Christ cannot be resurrected without first dying on the cross. We can’t celebrate Easter without first observing Good Friday.
  • Is the cross a symbol of death? Or victory? Or…?

 

[1]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 89.

[2]Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 232.

[3] Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 281.

[4] Susan K. Wood, One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 8.

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Lent Week 2

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request. 

Week 2: Wednesday, March 19

The Triduum Begins: Holy Thursday

Read John 13: 1-15. Then read the following explication of our Maundy Thursday liturgy:

“The Three days of the Christian Passover begin with simple familiarity; the rubric opening the liturgy for Maundy Thursday directs: “The Eucharist begins in the usual manner” (BCP 274). On this night we share the meal that Jesus filled with the meaning of his death and resurrection, the meal that reconstitutes the church in that same paschal mystery week by week. The Eucharist is a fundamental means by which we are incorporated into the dying and rising of Christ, by which we renew our baptismal identity. The meaning of that identity in Christ is expressed in additional ritual actions on this night. The Maundy Thursday celebration allows for the ceremony of foot washing—from which the day actually takes its name. In Latin the word “commandment” is mandatum. At the last supper Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus takes the role of a servant by washing the disciples’ feet, revealing his identity as servant of all; servanthood was to be the sign of those who follow him. The washing of feet is meant to be a ritual identification with the servanthood of Christ, a declaration of who we are by baptism. At one time another mark of the liturgy of this day—expressing the same identification with Christ’s servanthood—was a special collection of gifts for the poor. Those who have been fed at the table of the Lord must become food for others.”[1]

  • In what ways does this liturgy make the Gospel come alive?
  • How important to our faith is Jesus’ command to love and serve one another?
  • Have you allowed someone to wash your feet? How did it make you feel?
  • Have you washed the feet of another? How did that make you feel?
  • What does Lee mean by, “Those who have been feed at the table of the Lord must become food to others”?

Story: Read “Gaining a Dose of Humility, One Washed Foot at a Time” from The Washington Post[2]

  • How do you feel about foot washing after hearing this story?
  • Does this story challenge or inspire you?
  • If we are united to Christ in our baptism, and we remember and experience this unification in the Eucharist, how do we express that unification in our service to others?

 

[1]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 88.

[2] William Wan, “Gaining a Dose of Humility, One Washed Foot at a Time,” The Washington Post, April 2, 2006, accessed December 8, 2013,   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/01/AR2006040100617_pf.html.

 

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Lent Week 1

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 1: Wednesday, March 12

Water and Spirit: An Introduction To Baptism

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” John 3:5

Story: Read A Rite Of Passage by Aidan Kavanagh [1]

  • What do you think and feel upon hearing this story?
  • Have you ever thought of baptism as initiation? Initiation into what? How does it compare to other initiations you have experienced?
  • Euphemius and the other candidates never even see a Eucharist celebrated before their baptism—what does this mystery create?
  • What are the symbols used in the story—what do they symbolize?
  • This story describes the tradition that shapes our liturgy. But the tradition and liturgy (then and now) are based on certain beliefs we hold to be central. How does our baptism illustrate our beliefs?
  • Does your baptism shape your identity? How so?
This is me celebrating the excitement of baptism in an early church baptismal font outside Ephesus, Turkey.

This is me celebrating the excitement of baptism in an early church baptismal font outside Ephesus, Turkey.

What about this “Triduum” thing?

Triduum means “three days” and it begins when Lent ends on Thursday evening, lasting through Sunday evening, encompassing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. “The Triddum, the very soul of our year, is what it is because of the baptizing: there is the passion, the dying and the rising of the Lord Jesus, met in our midst. There is the encounter with these death-dealing yet life-giving waters that forever define each of us as Christian and all of us as church.”[2]

“Even more than the participation in any of the liturgies…the manner in which this time is kept by individuals and by households will establish the Triduum as a holy time and will make the Vigil with its baptizing the center of our year. Fasting, praying (alone or with large or small groups), freedom from work when possible, time for the reading of scripture, an atmosphere of quiet: these being to make the Triduum presence in our lives, a presence to be received and honored and attended to. Likewise, the hours of Sunday need to have something more than “it’s all over” to them. The element of feasting, of some once-a-year foods, of another kind of restfulness filled with the sounds of the Vigil’s alleluia bring Easter Sunday into the home.”[3]

  • What traditions did you practice in your home or church growing up leading up to Easter? Who passed them onto you, and what did they mean to you?
  • What traditions do you continue to practice today—why?
  • How might celebrating the Triduum shape us?

 

[1]Gabe Huck, The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum (Chicago: Liturgy Training Pubns, 1981), 107-9.

[2]Huck, The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum, 1.

[3]Huck, The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum, 6.

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