THE LINEAR LIFE OF FAITH
June 22, 2014 by Ken Dale
If confession is good for the soul ? I will confess that I left the lectionary this morning ? but only partially. After some thought I decided that the gospel lesson from Matthew was doable. Special events in the life of family trigger so many thoughts ? memories and appreciations of the past and hopes for the future. It goes without saying that today is a special event in the life of this family ? my family. I am mindful of generations ? of the joy of baptizing my father at the age of 70 and of celebrating that sacrament when my son Matt (aka ?Porter?), Evan?s Dad, was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Burton Throckmorton and today we look ahead to the future as once again baptism is celebrated for that next generation. I remember when Matt was born, a deacon in the church I was serving came up and congratulated me but was quick to say this is a bad time to be bringing children into the world. That was 1979. But it brought to mind when I was an adolescent in the 60?s ? they were saying the same thing. And with the world the way it is today ? terrorism and shootings — well, we could be saying it still.
Baptism celebrates God?s love ? that we belong to God because God loves us first ? because of who God is and not because of who or what we are. Baptism is our response to God?s love. The hope in baptism is that one will live a life blessed with faith ? with an understanding of God?s love in their life and that it is a love to be shared in and through their life.
This morning we heard the call of Jeremiah who came at a time that saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God?s people to Babylon. It was a period of storm and stress throughout the entire world. Jeremiah was often in danger from religious and political leaders in Judah who were angry at his messages. Consider that call in Jeremiah?s life from God. God says ?Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.? In Psalm 139 which we heard the choir sing this morning (thank you Jane and choir!!) we hear the psalmist sing these words to God: ?You knit me together in my mother?s womb? and ?in your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.? So is it all predetermined? We might say poor Jeremiah didn?t have a chance ? God had him pegged for a purpose even before he was born. Is that true for Evan ? for each of us? Or do we have the freedom of choice and opportunities for learning and are we formed into the person we become by our interaction with others as we grow. What does determine the direction of our lives? Maybe it?s a combination of things ? or maybe that?s how God works in our lives and creates us into the people that we become. But then, when we think of some people we know we might think ? maybe even with a little humor ? why would God do that? Baptism celebrates God?s gift of unconditional love for us ? but we decide how we respond.
When Jeremiah is called by God his first response is a focus on lesser things ? ?I don?t know how to speak!?? I?m only a boy!!? But in essence, God?s response is ?do not be afraid? and ?I am with you.? Jeremiah has a sense of unworthiness or unpreparedness and it actually keeps him from fulfilling his purpose ? or rather God?s purpose for him ? in his life?s journey. But he also has that voice of God in his life which reminds him and encourages him to trust in God?s presence.
This past Tuesday evening Kathy and I had the pleasure of being part of a gathering at the Ives to hear Peter MacDonald speak about the Iona Community. It was just wonderful. At one point he spoke of ?linear space.? And how people experiencing ?linear space? often find themselves at Iona. The same is true for the Carpenter?s Boat Shop. Linear space is a time of transition ? illustrated by adolescence ? when you?re no longer a kid but you?re not yet an adult. Or after living many years in a relationship with a partner or spouse who dies ? and then you?re no longer part of a couple ? but immediately following that death ? in grief ? it?s a linear space ? a time of transition. As I thought about it I couldn?t help but think of the many experiences in life?s journey that we experience that linear space ? that time of transition. Sometimes it is a change we go through that brings us closer to our life?s purpose. I love telling the story of my youngest son Jeff and how all the years growing up he wanted to be a marine biologist ? even as a toddler I think he found 7th heaven in a tidal pool. But he became a school teacher ? and he loves it ? and from what I?ve heard, he?s one of those very special teachers that makes special connections and has positive impacts on his students. But there was a time of linear space for 6 or 7 years between high school graduation and returning to college with a focus and a passion.
The passage we heard from Matthew speaks of Jesus sending the disciples out ? telling them not to fear. I think his point is encouraging them about what truly matters ? and that is taking the long view. That long view is remembering that they ? and so we ? are always in God?s hands. Be who you are and trust God. That?s especially important in those linear spaces ? knowing that we are always in process, always becoming, and so we always have before us the opportunity to remember, as Jeremiah was told, that we need not fear and that God is with us. And in remembering, find the courage to be who we are and where we are. Nothing is greater than God?s love for us and so we continue in the journey of life and faith and become what God intends.
A favorite story I once came across is that of a man who went for a walk in the forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home, and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys and gave it chicken food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds. Five years later a naturalist came to see him and after passing through the garden said, ?That bird is an eagle not a chicken.? ?Yes,? said the owner, but I have trained it to be a chicken, it is no longer an eagle, even though it measures 15? from tip to tip of its wings.? ?No,? said the naturalist. ?It?s an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle and I will help it soar high up into the heavens.? ?No,? said the owner. ?It?s a chicken and will never fly.?
They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said intensity, ?Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.?
The eagle turned this way and that, and then looked down, saw the chickens eating their food and jumped down. The owner said, ?I told you it was a chicken.? ?No,? said the naturalist. ?It?s an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow.
So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said, ?Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.? But again the eagle, seeing the chickens, jumped down and fed with them. ?I told you it was a chicken.? ?No,? asserted the naturalist. ?It?s an eagle and has the the heart of an eagle. Only give it one more chance and I will make it fly tomorrow.
The next morning he arose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top of the mountain with gold? He picked up the eagle and said, ?Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.?
The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming into it. But it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight into the sun. Suddenly, it stretched out its wings with the screech of an eagle, mounted higher and higher and never returned. Though it had been kept as a chicken, it was an eagle. It?s true life began.
Today as we celebrate the beginning of the life of faith for Evan ? may we all be reminded of our true life ? our true identity as children of God. The God who gives us life and loves us into living that life to the fullest ? knows us and has consecrated us before we were born. May we each and all hear God?s word to us ? ?Child of God, thou art a child of God; thou dost belong to heaven and not to this earth ? stretch forth thy wings of faith ? and fly!?