A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
The Baptism of Samuel Auten
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019
O God… Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As I’ve said many times in many different settings; the task of the preacher on any occasion is to proclaim the Good News of God as shown in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. So, at the very starting point of this sermon I suspect you might rightfully be wondering; ‘that’s all well and good, but what does any of this doctrinal “stuff” have to do with today’s baptism;’ and even more broadly speaking; how does anything that we do in this building, a building which stands as an aesthetic architectural monument of mortar and stone called “Trinity Church;” how does it all come together? Even more to the point; how does a composite of our various practices, traditions, and liturgies occurring here in this place build up the spiritual body of Christ, and help us to proclaim the dream of Becoming a Beloved Community that God intends for His human creation? All good questions.
Let me suggest the following, and offer perhaps a radical claim at the same time. When we gather at the font situated at the back of the church - which is really the front of the church – the place where we begin our rite of initiation in the life of Christ; what we will do today at that font as we baptize Samuel Auten, is the most significant action ever taken by people of faith. It is an act, actually a sacramental act, that could change the course of human history, and alter decisive events occurring in the world, a world that seems to be heading in the wrong direction. The baptism of one infant may seem somewhat obscure and remote; the renewal of vows by a congregation witnessing the baptism may seem quaint and mildly reassuring; but the power unleashed by the Holy Spirit as people take their baptismal vows seriously, could turn the world on its axis, and create a climate of hope, good will, and love - for all time.
In this regard, listen to the words of Henri Nouwen, a pastoral theologian, whose literary gift is to put things in perspective. He states:
The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is always up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.
By contrast, the way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of, just the opposite, downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why, then, is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the reign of God, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.
Did you hear that last line: “the way to the Kingdom of God is the way Jesus took, the way that brings everlasting life?” Baptism is very much like that because baptism, in a profoundly mysterious way, ignites the process of participating in eternity. When Samuel Auten is splashed at the font, he will be cleansed by holy water, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.
The words of the Baptismal covenant, therefore, are vitally significant here; especially the questions that are posed in the context of a creedal formulation. Listen carefully to what everyone will be asked very shortly.
-Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
-Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
-Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
The answer is simply - I will, with God’s help/…I will, with God’s help.
So by way of conclusion, we might consider one final query. What does baptism do to change us; and in a related way by virtue of that act; how does it transform the world? The answer is found, not surprisingly, in the baptismal collect at the completion of today’s liturgy. It says quite clearly:
O God, all praise and thanks to you, most merciful Father, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light;
As Christians we proclaim the Dream of Beloved Community whereby God is eternal Light, and Jesus is the Light of the World. As baptized people, we are all commissioned as ambassadors of Christ, striving to exercise His ministry with integrity and love.
And all this we affirm in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.