(such as it is)
(I want to give credit to David Lose of workingpreacher for some of these ideas.)
I love baptisms. I just want you to know this, and I hope you do too (love baptisms).
I love baptisms, and just the other day I was saying that I felt that a baptism was a visual sermon – why do I even preach when there’s a baptism?
There’s so much truth right there in front of us – first there is the person being baptized, a baby, or a child, or an adolescent, or an adult
– it could be anyone.
But whoever that is, whatever age, whatever we know or don’t know about them – that person is receiving something from God – promises of God’s eternal life, promises of God’s commitment.
I love baptisms! – that sense of receiving a totally free, unearned gift from God that I see whenever I witness or perform a baptism.
(I riff on a few memorable baptisms here.)
Then there is the part where we make the sign of the cross on so many foreheads and say, “You are marked by the cross of Christ forever.”
The person receives a candle and is told to “Let your light so shine....”
And then we welcome the person into our fellowship and say:
“We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share: join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.”
Creative and redeeming: those two words describe the mission of God.
God has a mission in the world, and everyone whose is baptized receives both a promise and a mission
– to bear God’s creative and redeeming word to the world.
I love baptisms.
So much a visual sign of God’s grace and unearned love.
So much a sign of our mission in the world – sharing the light, bearing the cross.
What? You might say.
What does baptism have to do with bearing the cross?
To be more specific, what does baptism have to do our gospel reading from Luke today?
Today’s gospel seems to be the opposite of unearned love and grace.
These words warn of the cost of discipleship, what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus tells his followers that they must pick up their cross and follow him, which, believe me, is not a walk in the park, not a piece of cake, not like rolling off a log.
Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.
Bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to the world is not easy, or at least – it’s not always easy.
We might even ask that very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”
Or, what does taking up our cross have to do with me, with my life?
What does taking up the cross having to do with the things I do every day,
like mowing the lawn and going to the state fair and going to work, or looking for work, or taking care of my children or my grandchildren?
What does taking up my cross have to do with that? What does taking up my cross have to do with most of the things that I do in my life?
I’ll be honest, I think we’ve been taught to hear this reading in a particular light.
We’ve been trained to think that when Jesus talks about “taking up the cross”, he’s referring to some major spiritual suffering or endurance test.
We’ve been trained to think of mostly pretty well-known people, who rose to the occasion in a time of crisis:
people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Corrie ten Boom, who, in one way or another, went up against the Nazis.
And we’ve been trained, I think, to consider “taking up the cross” as only in explicitly religious terms: what we do on behalf of the faith.
But, what if it’s simpler than that?
What if it’s more ordinary?
As one biblical scholar has put it: “Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships.
It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Think about that: taking up a cross is what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
And what if that includes – well – everything?
Yes, teaching Sunday School and helping with confirmation and taking communion to shut-ins and counting the offering,
but also – being an accountant, a teacher, a doctor, a machinist, a clerk.
Or changing diapers, mowing the lawn, voting, advocating, supporting international adoptions, volunteering, driving a bus.
Whenever we allow the whole of our lives to be shaped by our commitment to Christ – we are bearing the cross.
Mowing the lawn is God’s work – because it’s God’s lawn, after all.
Caring for your children is God’s work – they are God’s children, entrusted to us for awhile.
Someone I know is donating his kidney to someone else – except that he said, “Well, actually, it’s God’s kidney, I’ve just been using it for awhile.”
I consider all the people I know here, and the different things I know that they do, ordinary, extraordinary things “for the sake of Christ.”
One person I know speaks on behalf of cancer research, particularly childhood cancer; another assists with the youngest children in the Richfield Public School system.
Another person helps people with speech difficulties after a stroke; another delivers packages, and yet another works in public safety.
A young man from this congregation has completed basic training and has become a sort of informal chaplain in his unit.
I have to say that I had no idea when he was in confirmation, but God works in mysterious ways.
Everything we do, even the most difficult – maybe especially the most difficult – work that we do, we are invited to do for the sake of Christ, out of commitment to Christ.
For God cares about our immortal souls, and God cares about our daily lives, and the daily lives of our neighbors.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son.... to die for us...
and for God so loved the world that he wanted some of us to be teachers, and some of us to be machinists, and some of us to be parents, and some of us to be nurses, and some of us to be police officers, and some of us to go into the Peace Corp, all for the sake of Christ.
Knowing this, of course, doesn’t make life easier. When we are baptized, whenever that is, we are marked by the cross of Christ – and that means a least two things.
It means that we receive God’s promise of life, forgiveness, love and care for our whole lives.
We are marked by the cross of Christ, one of God’s beloved children, an heir of all of God’s gifts.
But we are marked by the cross and that means that we are God’s person, God’s representative, doing God’s work where-ever we go
– and some of God’s work is a pleasure to do, and some of God’s work is hard, and sometimes God’s work takes courage.
Just ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or Corrie ten Boom. Or any parent, at one time another.
Or ask a sales clerk, trying to be helpful, after standing for several hours, and dealing with crabby customers.
Or anyone who has offered a gift to someone who doesn’t want it.
In all we do, we bear God’s creative and redeeming word to the world.
In all we do, we share our commitment to the one who came to love, forgive and bless the world.
In all we do we show our commitment to the one who was rejected, but who loved the whole world anyway.
So, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked by the cross of Christ forever.”
So look at your hands this day. The work of your hands is holy work, the work of loving and blessing the world.
The work of your hands is Holy work.
I want you to put you hands out, palms up like this.
And I want the person sitting next to you to make the sign of cross in the palm of your hand.
And say these words, “You are marked with the cross of Christ. Blessed be the work of your hands.”
(Have them say that.)
“You – today – baptized children of God – you are marked with the cross of Christ. Let the light of God’s love shine in you. And ... blessed be the work of your hands.”