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the sermon for

the Funeral of Charles Wrenn Hyde

08 January 2018

John 20:1-16
Love appears in places and at times just like this!

01082018Last week, at this time, I was about fifteen hundred miles away! My family and I had taken off for a few days and headed off to "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in Orlando. A little time away between Christmas and Ash Wednesday! And I have to tell you, it was wall-to-wall people! Hundreds of them! Thousands! Tens of thousands! No matter where we went! And we stood in line for everything! Checking our baggage! Going through security! Renting the car! And then at Universal Studios! Parking the car! Getting tickets! Getting in! We stood in line for the rides! We stood in line for snacks! For souvenirs! We were inundated with bodies! Overwhelmed by the humanity! And looking back now, just a few days later, I have to admit that I don't remember a single, solitary person. Not one name. Maybe a handful of faces. I remember the crowds, but not the people that made them up! Kinda like the opposite of not seeing the forest for the trees. Unable to see the individuals for the multitudes!

Well, I thought about all of that, again, this morning, as I was getting ready for this moment. Remembering Florida and, at the same time, trying to imagine what it might be like to be here, now. How different from all that this would be. Not a crowd but just a small group of family, friends, gathered off by themselves in a quiet place. No masses. No throngs. Just sitting here together beneath a green awning. And as I wondered, I realized something...

It's in places and it's at times like this that love becomes real! It's in places and at times just like this that god comes to us and love appears! Not out there! In front of the crowds! But here in between the two and the three! You see, love isn't an idea, a philosophy. Love isn't, simply, a way of thinking. Of loving people in the abstract. It's a way of living that happens when we are able to look people in the eye and call them by name! Love shows up in places and at times like this, when it's impossible to be anonymous! When it's impossible for us to hide! When it's impossible for us to be overlooked or forgotten! It's in places and at times just like this, when we're vulnerable, exposed. When we feel lost and alone. Our life poured out and drained. When it has no purpose or direction.

That's when love becomes real, once again! Just like that night in the stable around the manger! Just like that night in the upper room seated at the table! Just like that morning in the garden before an empty grave! It's not before the multitudes, in front of the crowds, that love comes. It's in places, it's at times, just like this! Love comes to us and looks us in the eye and calls us by name!

It's not, so much, the world that god so loves. The all! The everything! As it is the one, the individual! It isn't as much all the children as it is the child! It isn't the whole world god has in hand. But for now, it's Charles... and Anneliese... and all the rest of you! Here, now, you are the only thing that matters to god! God steps away from the crowds, god sets everything else aside, to be with you, at this moment! To be with you! To stand quietly beside you, between you! No lines! No waiting! No mankind, no humanity! Just you! Just us! Remembering! Giving thanks! Committing a friend, commending a husband, a father, grandfather, to a place he has always been... in god's care... in god's keeping...

And it's here, now, that we turn and see a stranger! A stranger until he looks us in the eye and calls us by name! We feel his arms around us! We hear him whisper to us! We feel his fingers wipe the tears from our cheeks! No, my friends, we come to this time... we come to this place... far from the crowds... because it is here that god comes to us... it is now that love finds us, one more time!

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the sermon for

the Baptism of Our Lord

07 January 2018

Genesis 1:1-5
In baptism, god continues creating!

01072018It's funny – in an odd sort of way – how the church when it talks about baptism always comes back to this passage! John! In the wilderness! At the Jordan! It's as if everything we need to know is contained in this handful of verses. Inerrant. Infallible. Letter-for-letter. But then, it pretty much has to be. After all, baptism is never, really, mentioned again in the gospels! At least, not according to Mark!

But we American Christians, we look at this passage, at Jesus coming up out of the water, and we jump to the conclusion that baptism is all about us! Our choices! Our decisions! Inviting Jesus into our heart! Receiving him as our personal Lord and Savior! For most congregations in our neck of the woods, it's then and only then that we are baptized. Baptized as a sign of our commitment! As a sign of our conversion! Submerged! Immersed! And, of course, baptizing babies just doesn't cut it! Truth is, god doesn't do all that much. Sits there. Watches. Listens. Maybe takes notes.

That's what you might call Faith Americano! Faith, American style! It doesn't come from the bible. It doesn't go back to the earliest days of the church. But it comes from our Puritan roots in New England! Popular religion's Calvanistic DNA! Out of that and the waves of revivals that washed across America in our earliest days. George Whitefield! Jonathan Edwards! Gilbert Tennent! They were the preachers who sparked the movement. Born againism it's called! And baptism is just one more item on the list! Read your bible. Check! Say your prayers. Check! Go to church. Check! Decide to believe. Be baptized. Check! And check! And right from the start, from the very beginning, it's been about us! All us! Always us!

But as Lutheran Christians... As the original "evangelicals"... baptism is something different! Something more! For us, baptism isn't so much science as it is story. Not formula or equation, but promise and proclamation! For us, baptism isn't about believing! And it's not about the water! It's about god! About god and god alone! In "our" baptism, god does something! God's more than just a spectator. God's a participant! Even here in the Jordan, it's not just John and Jesus. It's god, as well!

And the origin, the source, of it all isn't that day, in the wilderness, in the river. Baptism begins deep within creation itself! When god spoke! And it was! Listen, again, to the first reading...

In the beginning when God created [- or more accurately, when god began to create the -] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters...

Like I said, it's not rocket science, it's story! Poetry, not prose! Imagination, not history!

Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.

That, for us, is baptism! It's god! God bringing order out of chaos! God tearing the darkness in two by speaking light into being! Science is repetition, observation; faith's experience! It's purpose and it's meaning! And that's something different! Science is cause and effect; believing is once and for all! That day in the wilderness in the Jordan... it was the story that tore open heaven and set free the Spirit! Just like it's the story that does the same thing here at this font!

God says, "Let there be light!" And light there is! "Let there be life!" And life appears! It's not science; it's story! It's the story that converts us! It's the story that convicts us! It's the story that changes us and makes us new! Not because we ask for it! Not because we allow it! But simply because that's what the story does! What the gospel, what the good news, creates! Baptism is nothing more – and certainly nothing less – than the echo, the reflection, of creation itself! Of that first morning! That first dewfall! It's not just another sign hanging on the inside of a bathroom door reminding employees to wash their hands! It's a story – the story – that changes lives! That changes the world! Inspiring! Enthusing!

We're not Puritans! We're not revivalists! We don't believe faith, life, works that way. For us, baptism is not something god commands, but something god provides! Something god alone gives! Out of the goodness of god's own heart! God doesn't just sit back, watching, waiting. But god is active and involved, intimately and personally, from beginning to end! We are carried to the font – even the "adults" among us! Bits and pieces of a fallen humanity! An armload of earth and ashes and dust! We're that formless void, Genesis is talking about! We're the face covered with darkness! The deep churned by the wind! And god speaks! God speaks as god spoke at the beginning! And nothing is ever the same again! God speaks and we're changed forever! And we have as much to do with it as did the darkness and the deep!

That's why we call it "born again"! We're made new! Created all over, again! Once, god created! And god continues creating! Even here! Even now! Giving! Preserving! Providing! Protecting! Just like god did in the beginning! Just like god did at the start! And we have nothing to do with it! God does it all! Without our permission! Without our request!

Contrary to popular opinion, baptism is not – let me repeat that, baptism is NOT – our way to get to god. It's god's way – or rather, one of god's ways – to come to us! To come to us and rescue us! To come to us and deliver us! To come to us and set us free! Free from all the chains that hold us back! Free from all the anchors that keep us down! God enters into the chaos, god comes into the darkness, and in a soft, gentle voice, god, one more time, says, "Let there be!" And there is! There is!

Faith isn't what struggles up that long and winding road, taking us out of earth and leading us to heaven. Faith is what sees god at work right here, right now! True, most people's understanding of baptism doesn't go beyond that day in the wilderness, when Jesus was baptized by John. But truth is, baptism – at least, its heart and its soul – began long, long before that! When god began creating! When the earth was formless and empty! When the world was uncertain and dark! When a raging wind blew the flotsam and jetsam of chaos into the face of god! Then god said. .. . Then god said... Then god said... And there was... And there was... And there was...

My friends, as it was, is now, and will be forever... and ever... and ever...

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