On the one hand, here is this comforting passage in the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid. You are more valuable than many sparrows.”
Which is not to say that sparrows are of no value. As part of God’s creation they are of infinite value. It’s just that you are of infinite value too.
But then on the other hand, Jesus says, “Don’t think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Which is not to say that we are supposed to be literally fighting each other with swords. It’s just that “one’s enemies will be members of one’s own household.”
Wow, that’s harsh.
Jesus does the same thing elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, he says, “Come to me you who are weary and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And then elsewhere he says, “If you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better to enter heaven with one eye than go to hell with two. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better to enter heaven with one hand than to go to hell with two.”
Oof! That’s tough. So what do we do with this?
Of course, my personal preference would be to choose the comforting passages, the nice, uplifting ones that will make everyone feel good and put lots of money in the offering plate.
I could do that. But I am afraid that if I did, I would not be telling you the truth.
The truth is this: The realm of God is deeply comforting. It is also deeply disruptive. Our ideas about the way people should be, the way families should be, the way society should be are disrupted by the love of God. That disruption is going to cause conflict in families, in society, even in our own souls. God’s love involves both challenge and healing, condemnation and redemption, Law and Gospel.
Paul says it this way in our second lesson for today. “Do you not know that when you were baptized in Christ Jesus, you were baptized into his death, so that just as Christ was raised victorious by the glory of the Father, so we too might live a new life, for if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
We ourselves are disrupted in our baptism, in our relationship with God, and we ourselves are brought to new life every day.
So here’s one time I think I saw that happen. A long time ago, I had three young ladies in my confirmation class who had not been baptized. Two of them were sisters. Their mother was Lutheran and their father was Baptist, so they went to the Lutheran church but the parents had agreed that they would wait until they could decide for themselves whether to be baptized.
The third young lady, I’ll call her Lisa, her mother brought her to church fairly regularly but her father did not come to church at all. I’ll call her dad Joe. I got the impression that Joe stayed away from church not because he just couldn’t be bothered. Not because he was just sleeping in Sunday. There was something keeping him away: an objection or an experience or something.
I tend not to push that sort of thing because sometimes difficult things happen in the church, and they stay difficult because we choose to let them stay difficult, or we choose to keep them difficult. Other times, things are difficult in the church because we have run into bug-eyed monsters in the church. So I try to give people their space.
But I have to confess, I did want Joe to die and rise. I wanted him to have a change of heart about the church and to come to worship every Sunday and bring his family, and join council and serve on the property committee because he would have been great on the property committee. But he did not have a change of heart about the church. He did not die and rise in that way.
Confirmation went on, finally it was time for everyone to be confirmed or baptized. Now like I said, the two young ladies whose father was Baptist, their parents had asked if they could be immersed, that is, dunked under water. In the Lutheran Church, as I understand it, we do not have a particular problem with dunking people under water, we just don’t say that you have to. We believe that dipping water over your forehead is just as good.
But these two sisters, their parents asked if they could be immersed. So another member of the confirmation class, a friend of theirs, said, “Look, you all can come down to our house by the pond, and we could have the baptism there.”
So on confirmation Sunday, we had an extended worship service, where we started at church, and then we got in our cars and traveled a bit into the hills, to these people’s house on the pond. Half the congregation gathered and spread out along the edge of the pond.
It was a glorious day. The sky was brilliant blue, just the hint of breeze sent ripples across the water. It was late spring, early summer so the cattails and reeds along the edge were positively singing with this vibrant green and the new leaves on the hardwood forest across the pond rolled up into the hills.
I looked for Joe. I had hoped he would be there in the crowd for his daughter or maybe on the edge. Not there. I thought, Oh Joe, couldn’t you just die and rise a little today?
We started with the affirmation of faith, “Do you believe in God the Father?” “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” Then I saw Joe in the corner of my eye. He was in one of those inner tubes that you use for fishing, that lets you float on the water and cast your fishing lure up into the undergrowth and among the reeds.
And that’s what he was doing on the pond. He had a fly rod and he was casting up among the reeds. I said to myself, “Really? Fishing?”
We went on with the commitments that we make in Baptism, “To live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and to share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. If so, answer “I do and I ask God to help and guide me.”
Then we waded out into the water. The first two young ladies, stood next to me. I said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Splash! Down in the water. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Splash!
This is a great way to baptize, because even though you don’t have to do it this way, it really emphasizes the fact that when we are baptized, we are drowned. We go under and we come back up. We die and we are raised. We are annihilated and re-created. Our presumptions, categories, our systems and superiorities are knocked out of the place of God and put back into the place of tools, and we are made new.
Then it was Lisa’s turn. And I noticed, Joe had stopped fishing. He had positioned himself directly across the pond, so that she could see him. He had put his rod down and he had his hands out like this.
“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Splash!
I wondered whether he had been the one to die and rise, or me.
There is not just one way to be a family. There are many. There is not just one way to walk a journey of faith together or to be there for each other. There are many. There is, however, one love, from which all families emerge, by which everyone can be there for each other.
That love will challenge us and heal us. That love will shatter our understandings and deepen our wisdom. It’s terrifying and it’s comforting. It’s condemning and renewing. It’s Law and Gospel. Thanks be to God.