Have We Forgotten Our Roots

Gospel of John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Today, Pentecost Sunday, is best introduced by the words of St. Luke in today’s 1st reading, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”

We, gathered here this morning, do not consist of the entirety of the Body of Christ, yet, we here in this place and at this moment of time are her representatives. We, being male and female, young and old, of many different races, nationalities, and origins may very well indeed be a reflection of the “devout Jews gathered from every nation” of which St. Luke described in the Acts of the Apostles. If you were to stand and wander about this sanctuary, it is very possible that you would encounter an individual very much different from yourself. You may encounter a different language, culture, place of birth, and quite possibly, different political opinions, yet the very thing that we all have in common is that we are here because we believe… and that is no small thing.

We believe in Jesus, the Son of God. We believe that he was a man who was crucified, died, and was buried, and was raised from the dead. We believe he ascended into heaven and we believe that God sent us the Holy Spirit, and that one day he will come again for us.

Now, I recognize that after these basic beliefs things can get a little less… unifying. Depending on individual differences of faith formation, personal revelation, and catechization it might be rather difficult to get from this group a consensus on just about anything beyond the very basic tenant of our faith.

Growing up a Protestant I heard stories about churches being torn apart by arguments on which side of the church the piano should be placed. My wife, a cradle Catholic, tells me about a Catholic church that experienced a tremendous riff when the Bishop decided against the purchase of an organ.

I have confessed this here, from this pulpit before, but I often find myself listening to evangelical radio programs that condemn other self-professed Evangelical Christians because they don’t hold the same end time, rapture, and second coming beliefs that they do. However, before I can get too much of a self-righteous Catholic, I hear about Catholics who condemn other Catholics because they do or do not hold hands with one another during the Our Father. Division and discord are not uncommon regardless of the church you attend.

Yet, what do we read about in today’s first reading. We read about a bunch of people, from many different places, of many different languages, with many different faith formations, and many different personal revelations all finding agreement in one thing. That one thing being, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Isn’t it interesting that St. Luke the historian records for us that the very birth of the Church occurred in the very midst of chaos. That thousands of people, with just as many ideas, perceptions, opinions, and beliefs all found common ground in the “mighty acts of God!” And, what were those acts? Those acts were the very acts of Jesus, of whom the Apostles bore witness. Those acts were the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those acts were the miracles he performed, the words which he spoke, and the love which he shared. Those acts were the sins he had forgiven, the sinners he had restored, and promises he had made. Those acts were the very embodiment of God’s love for humankind and for their salvation.

We here in the modern-day church are not unlike those early day Christians. They too possessed ideals and practices rooted in culture, tradition, and opinion that caused them to separate, segregate, and differentiate one from another. I have heard it argued that the most segregated day and time in our country is Sunday morning. The traditional day and time when those who are called to be one in Christ gather in their places of worship with people who mostly look, speak, and think just like them.

Have we forgotten our roots… our beginning… our calling?

My brothers and sisters, I am not calling out as some naïve Pollyanna professing that we ignore those things that divide us. Rather, I am calling out in hopes that we do the exact opposite. That we acknowledge the differences and that we embrace one another in spite of those differences. We do this not through the sacrifice of doctrine, nor do we stop professing the truth and wonder of the Gospel, but we do this by continually calling one another to be in community… a community of faith in Jesus Christ.

The hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians

Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Have any of you ever thought that the hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians? It’s not the faith part or the believing in the life, death, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that presents the most difficulty. It’s not the call to charity, to mercy, or to love the lost, hurting, poor, and vulnerable that causes problems. It’s not even that the entire world and all that is seen, unseen, known, and unknown created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God that creates the greatest stumbling blocks. No, typically, the biggest problem with Christianity is having to get along with other Christians.

Am I the only one who feels that way? I am serious… am I the only one who experiences moments of frustration, annoyance, disappointment, and down right anger with other people who are devoted followers of Christ?

On the one hand I hope that I am. I hope that I am the only Christian present who has problems getting along with other Christians. I hope the rest of you have it all figured out and that I am the only one here lacking in Christian charity and love.

However, on the other hand, there is part of me that hopes that I am not. I hope that I am not the only one who struggles with this issue.

I find comfort in believing that I am not the only one who struggles with relationships. I find comfort and hope in the thought that I am not the only believer who has trouble getting along with other believers. Believers who profess the same belief in the same God; believers who profess the same name of Jesus Christ; believers who rely on the same Holy Spirit, and yet, just like me, find it difficult to get along with one another.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A feast that recognizes our Lord’s voluntary submission for the fulfillment of all righteousness, and the manifestation of his self-emptying for the salvation of mankind, in obedience to the will of the Father. Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are called by the Church to recall the reality of our own baptism in light of the example of Jesus.

There are 4 things that I ask you to reflect upon this morning.

One, I would ask that you reflect upon the new identity of Jesus as revealed in the symbol of the dove and in the words of God the Father, “You are my beloved Son.” That is not to infer that Jesus was not always the Son of God (a many heretic has been burned at the stake, or worse, for such a claim) rather, that Jesus arose from the waters of the Jordan with the identity of service… service to mankind.

Second, reflect upon his obedience to the will of God the Father, “With you I am well pleased.” Jesus submitted himself to God and to his plan for salvation for the world and in so doing, fulfilled all righteousness. Jesus, a man without sin, yet in his holy perfection was obedient to the will of God the Father which was manifested in his baptism.

Third, consider Jesus’s visible demonstration of solidarity with humanity. He shouldered the burden of our sin, for he himself was without sin, and immersed himself in our pain, misery, brokenness, and suffering and carried our burden to the depths of the Jordan and, ultimately, to the height of the cross.

Finally, consider his self-sacrificing love. His baptism was a manifestation of his love for us. A love that was entirely of his free will and entirely for our benefit. A love that calls us to abandon our selfish desires and ambitions, and to cast off all our burdens, and pick up our cross, and follow after him.

I struggle today my dear brothers and sisters in Christ not because my fellow Christians are so difficult to get along with. I struggle today, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because I forget the meaning, significance, and reality of my own baptism. A baptism that calls me to live my new identity as a child of God. A baptism that has given me the power to turn away from sin and live in obedience to the will of my Heavenly Father. A baptism that allows me to live in solidarity with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. A solidarity that joins us together, in spite of our brokenness and pain, to be one in Christ. And finally, a baptism of love. A love that is so grand, so wonderful, so all-encompassing that God the Father gave his only Son for our salvation.

I would like to believe that I am not the only one who struggles living this pilgrim’s journey. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who finds relationships difficult and discouraging. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who needs to be reminded of the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and in that example find forgiveness, comfort, and hope.

As you come before this altar to day recall your own identity as a child of God, recall your own call to obedience and submission to the will of God your heavenly Father; recall the solidarity you share with the persons around you; and, finally, recall the self-sacrificing love which has called you, me, and the entire world, including those with whom we quarrel… to eternal salvation.