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Connected … (February 18, 2018)

In parts of the early church, Lent was a season to focus on baptism.

If you were a new convert to the faith, you would have spent three years learning how to live as a Christian. Lent was the final stage to prepare for baptism at Easter.

If you had been baptized before, Lent was an opportunity to remember your baptism, to reflect on your life in Christ, and to renew your baptismal covenant with God.

We will keep that ancient tradition this year. During the six weeks of Lent, we will reflect together about our baptismal vows and what it means to live as a Christian. Each Sunday in Lent, we will focus on one of the six promises we make when we are baptized. We renew these promises every time we participate in a baptism. Then, at the Easter Vigil, we will renew our baptismal covenant.

We begin with the first baptismal promise.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Our life in faith begins in community. We were created to be in community, to be in relationship with God and with one another. Christian faith is about being connected. Christian faith was born in community. It grows in community. It lives and changes in community. We find it at the heart of the great commandment—to love God, and to love our neighbours.

That’s where we begin with this first baptismal question. We promise to gather together week by week to be renewed in our relationship not just with God, but also with one another.

That’s a hard thing for us to understand. One of society’s values these days is individualism. But that’s not a gospel value. Christian faith is born in community, it grows in community, it is nurtured in community. Community is essential for faith.

In fact, most of the verbs in the New Testament are plural … whenever we read “you”, we should most often read “all y’all”. For example, the Body of Christ given for … all y’all. It’s plural. It’s given for all of us.

The story is told of a preacher who went to visit a man who hadn’t been to church for a few weeks. They sat together beside the fire while the man explained that he really had no use for the church. He did just fine on his own, reading his Bible, meditating quietly.

The preacher didn’t say a word. He drew a burning coal out of the fire and laid it on the hearth. In silence, the two men watched the coal burn out and turn cold.

Without community, faith grows cold. In community, however, we work together in partnership with God for the healing of the world. We encourage one another to live out the good news of God’s grace in the world. We live together as the household of God. We are the Body of Christ, who need each other for faith to be strong and vibrant.

The Greek word for fellowship is κοινωνία (koinonia). It doesn’t mean the kind of fellowship we enjoy over a cup of coffee, even though that is a good thing. κοινωνία means a deep fellowship of mutuality. We support and energize each other. We shape a shared ministry in which we all participate. We share the same gospel values. We live together in trust and hope. We look and work together for the renewal of creation.

We live together in ministry. We work together in ministry. That’s what this promise is about. We value being connected, and we promise to make this kind of κοινωνία a priority in our lives.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

The language of this first promise comes from Acts 2: 42: “the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.”

The life of the church revolves around these elements:

  • “the teaching of the apostles” means that we promise to learn the story of Jesus, to learn how our story intersects with the story of God at work in the world. This is our story, and we gather to rehearse the story so that we might understand our place in this grand story of love and grace;
  • “the fellowship” is the common life of the community, the κοινωνία, the life–blood of the church;
  • “the breaking of the bread” means Eucharist and worship. Here in worship the church is fed, nourished with the very life of God so that we might live our lives in worship out in the world; and
  • “the prayers”. When we pray, we learn to see the world from God’s perspective. We learn to look at the world through gospel eyes.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

A couple of years ago, I read about a Black preacher in Brooklyn, who had invited a white bishop to preach. The bishop contacted him and asked how long he would be preaching for. The Black preacher said, “As long as you need. Six days a week, the world tells my people they’re worthless, so on Sunday we take as much time as we need to tell them how precious they are.”

Six days a week, the world batters us with a different vision. I’ve said before that our gospel values and the world’s values are not the same. The world honours values such as Appearance, Affluence, Achievement. People look at us and ask what we’ve accomplished and how successful we are. In worship, we see with different eyes.

Six days a week, the world tells us we’re not good enough, we don’t do enough, we don’t look good enough, we don’t produce enough. Here in worship, God whispers to our hearts, “You are mine, my cherished daughter, my treasured son; I adore you. You are enough.”

Six days a week, the world tells us to look after ourselves, to get get get, to acquire. Here in worship, the gospel calls us to look after one another, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to share God’s bounty.

In worship, we celebrate God’s grace and compassion in the life of the world. In worship, we are nourished with love and hope. In worship, we are renewed in our identity as God’s people in the world.

You can’t get that stuff anywhere else in the world.

The first promise in our baptismal covenant reminds us that when we are baptized, we are given a new identity. We see the world through God’s eyes. We love the world with the heart of God. Therefore we set new priorities.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Your response is, “I will, with God’s help.”

That is to say, not in our own strength, but strengthened by the powerful love of God. In grace and compassion and hope and trust, we say “Yes!” Sometimes we whisper it in the silence of our hearts. Sometimes we shout it in celebration of God’s grace in our lives. Sometimes we struggle to make it here, because the past week has been tough, and we don’t feel very good about ourselves.

But we come. We gather. We add our story to the story of God’s people. We become part of the κοινωνία of the Body of Christ.

So let me challenge all of us: how will we live out our baptismal covenant this Lent? How will we live out our love affair with God and the world which God loves with an undying passion.

How will our trust in God shape the way we live?

How will our love for God make a difference in our lives?

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

I will, with God’s help

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

February 18, 2018 (1st Sunday in Lent)

Mark 1: 9-15

Genesis 9: 8–17

1 Peter 3: 18–22