When we baptized Simon this morning, his parents had to answer a few questions. Does anyone beside Chris and Andrea remember what the first questions was? ….. “Do you renounce sin and evil in your life and in the world?” When we met a few weeks back to talk about the baptism, both Chris and Andrea thought it was a really weird question to ask. Their response was, “Ah, yah, of course we renounce sin and evil in our lives and in the world.” And I am going to take a wild guess that there is no one here this morning who would answer this question with a “no.” Of course we renounce sin and evil in our lives and in the world!
And of course, it is much easier said than done. Now if we ask why it is easier said than done, the Reformed tradition would say, in some form or another, “cause we are sinful by nature. We are curved in on ourselves. We are inevitably self-interested and inclined first to secure our own lives and interests rather than the lives and interests of others.” And even though we may truly, truly desire not to live in this way, and try like crazy not to, we trip ourselves up, and fall short of what we truly desire. The Reformed tradition is not optimistic about our capacity to re-form ourselves. It is however, incredibly optimistic about the boundless riches of God’s unconditional love and grace. God promises to love us, no matter what, and, promises, through the Spirit, in us, in community, to re-form and trans-form us.
But let’s say you renounce the Reformed perspective on human being. Let’s say you don’t buy this explanation for why it is easier to say “I renounce sin and evil in my life, than it is to actually do it, consistently, on a daily basis, in all of your relationships, in all of the choices you make, in all that you say or do.” How about this explanation? As human beings, each of us is incredibly complex, formed by all kinds of events and forces that are beyond our control, shaped by personal histories that have injured our psyches and our souls, and we participate in socio-economic systems that are incredibly complex, both practically and morally. I’ve talked about this before. Do you know who sewed the clothes you’re wearing? Do you know how old they are, or if they make a living wage, or how many hours they are forced to work in a week? So much about the products we consume and the people who produce them is invisible to us. And so much about our global economic systems and our public policies and how they affect the poor, in this country and on the other side of the world is invisible to us. We don’t intend to cause harm. We do renounce sin and evil in our lives and in the world, but it is a whole lot of work to actually do it, consistently, on a daily basis, in all we say and do.
I don’t say all of this to make you or myself feel guilty. My intention is simply to tell the truth about our lives in this 21st century global village and this country we inhabit. These days, sin and evil in these divided United States don’t usually look like King Herod’s slaughter of innocent children in an effort to kill Jesus. I pray to God that I would renounce and resist this kind of gross evil, but history also tells me that lots of good people, Christian and otherwise watched their Jewish neighbors being loaded into cattle cars and were afraid to ask where they were being taken. The evils we face are far more subtle and hidden. But they are also way more visible than we sometimes care to see.
So is there any good news on this day that we baptized and welcomed baby Simon into this community of God’s grace? There is plenty. And it comes down to this. God is drawing together people from all nations and races and spiritualities and identities to share life together so that we can become wiser through our being gathered. The wisemen from the East are already wise when they set off on their journey. They know how to read the night skies. They are open to following a star, and open to finding out what they can’t know on their own. They are open to this boy child Jesus and offer him their worship and precious gifts even though he is not part of their tribe, or nation, or kin. And they are open to the dream that warns them not to return to King Herod—although the source of the dream is unknown to them.
This is what the Apostle Paul is so jazzed about. God is gathering all the world’s people to share life together in the community of God’s love and grace. For Paul there were only two kinds of people in the world, Jews and Gentiles, once separated, and now being gathered. But within these two people groups, there is immense diversity of class, race, ethnicity, age, gender and sexual identities, abilities, spiritualities, worldviews, philosophies. It is a lovely mixed up stew of people, trying to stay curious and open to God and one another. Learning to receive each other as gift. Worshipping in new ways; tasting new recipes; rich and poor, slaves and free, exchanging stories; people sorting through different moralities and visions for human life.
And this is what I’m jazzed about at the Old Dutch Church. As we become more diverse, and as we stay open to all of the richness that each of us brings, and the richness of the lives of all the people who gather in this building every week, we are getting wiser about the breadth of human being and experience, and wiser about the inexhaustible richness, love, and mystery of God. I was reminded again in Worship Committee this week that we get wiser precisely from our sharing of diverse perspectives and experiences as a community rooted and grounded in God’s love. It can be hard, painful, good work. But together we are the gift that God has given us, so that we, and little Simon, and his tired parents, can know that we belong to a generous, gracious, and welcoming God, who is renouncing and overcoming sin and evil, and whose Spirit is trans-forming our lives, in community, for good. “Now, to the One who by the Spirit’s power at work in us, is able to do far more abundantly that we could ever think, or dream, or imagine, to him be all glory and honor in the church and in the world.”