Reflection by Rev. Christine Dudley
Let us pause for a moment, in prayer…
Gracious God, your presence is known to us,
in sacrament and song, in prayers of the heart,
in the face of a stranger, in stories of faith,
in the mystery and wonder of life on this earth
and in many ordinary ways each and every day.
In the harsh realities of our world
we pray for your guidance and persistence
that we may be carriers of the gentle touch of your love
and your deep and abiding peace.
With faith and thanksgiving, we pray. Amen
Our reading from Ephesians today is one of my favourite scripture passages. When I read this passage I hear the words as personal encouragement. I hear the author praying that I may be strengthened in my inner being through the power of God’s spirit and that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith as I am being rooted and grounded in love.
There’s also encouragement for Christian community, which I treasure, but none of that is what particularly jumped out at me when I reflected on this passage as I planned the worship service this week. The words that caught my attention are the ones referring to God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name” (Ephesians 4:15) The idea that we are all part of God’s family is an idea that I have long embraced. We are all God’s beloved, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinctions which human beings choose to use as labels, because in the heart of God we are all family. When I did some research on the Greek word “patria”, which is translated in the New Revised Standard Version of today’s text, as family, I discovered that this word is rarely used in Christian Scriptures. Normally it means tribe, clan or lineage (cf Luke 2:4) but the word also has the meaning of “extended family” which fits perfectly the context of today’s reading.
So it is in this sense of extended family that we belong to the worldwide human family – God’s family. And, within this human family we enjoy a special kinship as Christian community. The apostle Paul speaks of this when he talks about Christians as being members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Paul says that each person’s spiritual gifts are different and yet equally important and that no one person is more important than another.
It is with this in mind that we gather to worship as a church family every Sunday. We are reminded of this bond as we share our celebrations and concerns and remember that if one part of the body is hurting then the whole body feels pain and if one member experiences joy then we also share in that joy with them.
Human beings have an innate yearning to belong. To share our lives with others, to love and be loved, to feel valued and to value others. When we celebrate baptism in the United Church of Canada, except in special circumstances, baptisms are always celebrated in the worshipping community. In the act of baptism we remember that we are connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ here and in the farthest reaches of the world.
Baptism is both a promise and a call. As a promise it is our covenant with God; as a call it is the beginning of our life of Christian discipleship. Just as a pebble dropped in water is a catalyst for movement which radiates outward, so too Jesus is the catalyst within our Christian tradition for a movement of the Spirit which begins within each of us individually and moves outward into the wider community.
When we think of Jesus’ own baptism where he was blessed with God’s spirit and called “beloved” we remember that we, too, are God’s beloved; that we belong to God. We also remember that we are connected by a faith tradition rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We believe that Christ was a sign, an incarnation, an embodiment of God’s love in the world. Jesus showed a different way of being in the world. He showed by his words and actions a way of love and peace, of acceptance and inclusivity. And we, as his followers, seek to emulate his life and ministry and so we gather to remember the stories of faith from the Bible and from our own lives, we sing songs of faith and encouragement, we lament injustice and strive to work for peace and justice in our own lives and in the wider world, we welcome strangers as friends, we celebrate through the sacraments of communion and baptism, and we learn and grow together as people of faith. And, in all of this, Christ is with us as we become an incarnational community, a community of faith which embodies God’s love and Christ’s life and ministry.
A favourite quote of mine comes from well known United Church member and author, Donna Sinclair, who says:
I’ve sat in the same congregation for many years, and seen some miracles there. An angry, awkward child loved into gentleness by a patient community. A shy adult, who somehow finds the courage to step forward to say a prayer, or sing in the choir. …Over and over, I have seen hearts melted, eyes opened, voices discovered. Normally, serious grownups teach Sunday school and find the spirit of a child. In the fire of candlelight, the phrase of a song, cynical people rediscover mystery and are startled by their tears.
These miracles occur all over this country. They are why the church survives. Jesus is with us. He is talking politics, and breaking bread, and being held, fragile, in the minister’s arms to be baptized. Sometimes we recognize him – more often we don’t. But he is here, alive in those moments when we have courage and tenderness in the face of fear and loss. …
It just takes two or three called disciples, gathered together. And a journey and a meal shared in hospitality. All the rest is miracle. (Emmaus Road, p.173)
It’s important to remember that we don’t cease to be the Body of Christ when we leave this place of worship. We carry our faith, hope and commitment into the world. Whether we are at work, at home, the grocery store or foodbank, social gathering, volunteer project, or in the quiet of our own prayers, we take time to show our care and concern for others.
And so, on this day we are honoured and blessed to welcome Broden and Yvette into the worldwide Christian community. And, we recognize the powerful gift of love found in the arms of anyone willing to embrace another person, without reservation or judgment, and know them as God’s beloved.
I’ll finish with an excerpt from an Affirmation of Baptismal Faith from
Seasons of the Spirit:
We believe in the power of baptism.
We believe that something deeper than we know happens
and we are bound forever to a life
that is ancient yet born anew in us.
We believe in the power of baptism to transcend
time and space and call us to discipleship with Christ.
…We are no longer our own or on our own.
…We believe in the power of baptism to call us
to ourselves and to Christ.
We believe in the power of baptism to immerse us
in the waters of blessing and send us forth,
wet and wild with hope, to be a blessing ourselves.
Seasons of the Spirit worship resource, adapted
May we embrace the mystery and power of God’s love in Christ, this day and in the days to come. Amen
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