St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 23 Sermon
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Rev. Janet Campbell

For those who came in after we began, I’m Janet Campbell, the Interim Rector of St. Stephen’s, Seattle.
 
This is my third visit to St. Mark’s –I’ve been coming here to help you all, those of you who could participate, to think about your worship space and how it’s arranged.
 
This morning, after some work of rearranging we did yesterday, I think it looks very fresh, open and inviting. And it’s very important, isn’t it, the look of the place where we gather to encounter God?
 
It’s a kind of home to us – after a week in the wide world it gathers us in and reminds us of what really matters, and who we really are.
 
We get a lot of messages from the world around us trying to tell us who we are . . .
or should want to be . . .what will make us feel happy or fulfilled:
 
we should be (or look) younger –
what about some miracle wrinkle cream? –
or we should be thinner, more buff –
all we need is the latest exercise machine.
 
Or maybe we need a better car,
more money,
more fashionable clothes,
a new smartphone with 8,000 apps,
or a vacation in Hawaii . . .
 
BUT
once a week, we can come here to be reminded who we truly are:
 
the people of God, who,
happy or sad,
rich or poor,
old or young,
sick or well,
hefty or skinny . . .
live in the joy of the risen Christ!
 
We may enter with the weight of the world on our shoulders, but we leave
remembering that we share one another’s burdens . . . and knowing that we are
strengthened by Christ.
 
So what does this space tell us about ourselves and about the God we worship here?
Who does this space say that we are?
Who does it say that God is?
 
 
Right at the door, the story begins to unfold. We almost bump into ourselves – the first sign we encounter  when we enter this space is the baptismal font –
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE FONT –
 
The font at the door is almost in the way . . . and so it should be, for it is the first step on the way.
 
We come in to the church through baptism – the font is our entrance – through these waters we are born.
 
So there it is – in our face – we are the baptized and the baptizers –people of the WATER.
 
(of course, in the Pacific Northwest, in November, we are ALL people of the water, aren’t we?)
 
But these waters of the font remind us that in baptism we have been washed into the forgiveness of Christ, drowned into the death of Christ, born into the risen life of Christ, made one with Christ and with each other – the FONT is the birthplace of the BODY OF CHRIST, the womb of the Church.
 
The font is right there, at the door, open, waiting, ready, making this new birth, this incorporation into the Body of Christ available to anyone willing to die for it, willing to give up the old life and old self, and live, made new,  for God alone.
 
I’m not sure which is more dangerous: being in the flood path of the Green River, or the flood path of the waters of Baptism!
 
 
Standing tall at the place of new birth is the Paschal Candle – the Easter candle – lit for the first time with the new fire of the Easter Vigil – symbol of Christ’s resurrection – the Light of Christ pushing back the darkness of our hearts and minds.
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE CANDLE, PEOPLE OF THE BRIGHT-BURNING FIRE, PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT: EASTER PEOPLE.
 
When we are baptized, we are given light from this candle – to show we are to be
Christ’s light for the world.
 
At our funeral, this Paschal candle, this Easter flame will burn at the front of the Church as a sign of resurrection – that in death, life is changed, not ended, for we were baptized into resurrection.
 
 
There is a path leading the way from the Font to the place of the Word and to the Altar/Table.
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, PEOPLE OF THE WORD – the Word of God, living and active . . .
 
Every Sunday we open our BOOK and the stories of our ancestors come to life, illumine our own story, become our own story.
 
Naomi, Ruth, Boaz . . . ordinary people whose choices for kindness, faithfulness, trust in each other and in God, created space for God to work in their lives, with their lives, through their lives to bring about God’s purpose for them and, ultimately, for the world, because they became the ancestors of Jesus.
 
When we read the whole story we can see that happening little bit by little bit, day by day, decision by decision.
 
Could it be that  God is working in our ordinary lives in the same way . . . finding ways, through us, to make Jesus present in the world?
 
Jesus, the incarnate, embodied Word of God: his life and teachings leap from the pages of the Gospel Book into our hearts.
 
Today we find him, with his disciples, in the Temple in Jerusalem.
 
His time is running out . . .
his ministry is coming to an end . . .
he knows what awaits him . . .
he has told his disciples three times
that his death approaches.
 
How poignant this time in the Temple, as Jesus watches the collision of the world’s values in the pious posturing of the Scribes – religious leaders whose actions are so sadly self-serving – the collision of the world’s values with the Kingdom’s values of faith and trust, generosity and self-sacrifice so evident in the widow who gives her two little coins, “all she had to live on” – or in another translation – “her very life” as her offering to God.
 
Jesus is about to do the same – give all that he is, his very life, on the cross.
 
Yes, the CROSS hangs at the other end of this path from the Font, the symbol of Christ’s self-emptying, self-offering, dying for our sake, giving himself to draw us,
to draw the whole world, back to God.
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE CROSS, because Jesus invites us to embrace this cross, pick it up, and follow him.
 
He speaks not of the accidents and misfortunes of life that we sometimes call “our cross to bear.”
 
These we have not chosen, these we are helped to bear with God’s help and our mutual support.
 
He speaks of the cross that presents itself to be chosen or not chosen – an opportunity to give deeply of self for the sake of another, no matter the cost or suffering that may come, no matter how it may re-arrange our life.
 
It is a cross the full cost of which cannot be known in advance of the choice.
 
This CROSS is empty – reminding us that despite its cost, the cross of Christ
always leads to resurrection – Easter life – now, and for ever.
 
 
In the midst of all this – or as close to the midst as we can get in this space – stands the Altar/Table.
 
Because all this – Font, Water, Candle, Light, Book, Word, Cross –
leads us here.
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE ALTAR, OF THE TABLE; PEOPLE OF THE BREAD AND WINE, PEOPLE OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST.
 
The ALTAR/TABLE isn’t tucked back,  away from the community as if it is too holy to approach – it is brought as much as it can be , in this space, into the community –
for the very reason that it is made holy not only by the offering we make there,
by the very presence of Christ in the BODY and BLOOD, but also by the COMMUNITY gathered here to share this Holy Meal.
 
We come to the TABLE bringing all that we are – our hopes, frustrations, successes, failures, sorrows, joys, weaknesses, strengths . . .
We leave, having become more who we already are – members of the living and active Body of Christ – through the gift of Christ.
 
We are PEOPLE OF THE TABLE, celebrants all together of the Holy Meal through which Jesus shares his very being with us in his BODY and BLOOD.
 
This meal is the weekly reminder of our baptismal unity as the Body of Christ,
the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the image of the joy of eternal life, comfort and strength for the present day – challenge for the future.
 
There is a rail here for ease of kneeling for those who kneel, and especially . . .
for ease of getting up for some of us! – but there is no gate, no barrier – for this meal is open, free, available to anyone hungry for Christ.
 
Anyone may come here to be fed by God – God who desires only to satisfy our hunger, and use us to satisfy the hunger of the world – not those hungers we spoke of at the beginning – the good life with a small “g” – but the hunger for the capital “G” good life: what is true and just and fair and kind and generous and loving – good -the hunger for the Kingdom Jesus came to bring.
 
And that takes us back to the FONT which is not only at the entrance to this space,
but also at the EXIT – as the sign above the font tells us.
 
Really, though, shouldn’t that sign read ENTRANCE*, for the Font stands at the entrance to the world, where we go to proclaim and be the Good News of the Good Life to the world.
 
Because we are PEOPLE OF THE DISMISSAL, as my good friend Deacon Dick Pemble used to say.
 
 
The whole point of being reminded who we are and strengthened to live who we are
is so that we, too, like the widow of the 2 coins, may know the very gift of our lives and choose, choose to give it away – as a gift to serve God’s desires for others – the lost, lonely, neglected, hungry, sick, despairing – all that is outside these walls.
 
When we look from inside here toward the font we can see right through that window behind the font . . . and there it is – the world we are dismissed to serve.
 
The Font is the entrance to WHO WE ARE and the entrance to WHAT WE DO ABOUT IT.
 
 
 
[* Thanks for the idea of the Entrance sign over the Font to The Rev. Glaucia Vasconcelos-Wilkey.]


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