A sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
“If … you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility … you will acquire many exotic new facts.”
Thus begins my favorite passage in David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest. It’s almost seven pages long, and it’s composed of a series of observations about life, about being human. Here’s a sampling:
“ there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness …  everybody’s sneeze sounds different …  the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened …  the cliché ‘I don’t know who I am’ unfortunately turns out to be more than a cliché …  100% of the things [compulsive thinkers] spend … their time and energy … trying to prepare for … are never good …*  ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.”
You get the idea. Seven pages of the stuff we don’t notice, or don’t want to admit, or that we always assumed was uniquely bad about us. Reading it for the first time, I still remember wondering how long Wallace could go on with this list, and how much more of it I could take.
There’s so much to celebrate about being human, and so much to mourn. Reality touches us so deeply that sometimes it does just come pouring out of us, heaving out of us, as it does in those pages. It comes with tears and laughter and the occasional long pause to gather our strength.
And then at some point we’ve said our piece and the narrative of our life continues, which is what happens in the book. Lying there in an upstairs flat on Old University Avenue, I continued reading as seven beautiful, heart-rending pages just sort of give way to a digression about the permanence of tattoos. The spell was broken, but I never forgot the passage.
The verses we heard this morning from the Letter to the Ephesians are a little like that passage from Infinite Jest.
The grammar is similar, for one thing. To make it easier to read, the translators have split these verses up into six sentences, but in the original Greek it’s just one long run-on, going and going and going.
Like Wallace, the author of Ephesians uses this approach to … unspool a series of profound truths. It’s as if the message is too important for more traditional phrasing. “Just let me get this down and then I’ll worry about readable sentences. I just have too much to say about God’s blessing.”
There is a lot to say about God’s blessing. In this passage, we hear about the blessings of spiritual gifts, forgiveness and redemption, wisdom and insight, divine guidance, the scriptures, the gospel, belief, joyful praise, and the seal of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure I missed some.
Ultimately, the author speaks of the great blessing of a divine plan, but not in the simplistic way that assumes everything that happens to us as individuals is the direct result of God’s allow-powerful will. “God’s plan” is for the whole human community and indeed for the whole creation of which we are a part.
The plan is an ever-expanding circle of relationship and love. The plan is full inheritance of God’s good gifts, shared freely by all—no prerequisite, no litmus test, no questions asked.
At the center of the passage, at the center of this vision, is Christ. From the very beginning and for the fullness of time, Christ is the Holy One, the Chosen, the Beloved.
Christ who invites us to share in God’s abundance, Christ who frees us from shame and regret and whatever else holds us back from living with devotion and with joy. Christ who shows us God, models unselfish love, binds us together, and who—whether we notice it or not—is with us always unto the end of the age.
Our destiny, says the Letter to the Ephesians, is to be gathered up.
God longs to see creation flourishing and free and also one. And by God we are longing for it too. How could we not, whatever our political or cultural or other myriad identities and affiliations, how could we not long for an easing of the division and the strife and the struggle and the separation we experience?
Holy Baptism, the sacrament of Christian initiation we are honored to celebrate today, is at the center of the part the Church can play in accomplishing God’s mission of making whole. In baptism, we practice what it is like to be gathered up in Christ.
Baptism offers us a new beginning, and not just in the sense that today is a new beginning for Daniel Rosario, whom we will baptize today [at the 10 am service].
When we are baptized into Christ, we are invited into a lifelong process of ongoing renewal. We commit to the traditions of Christian living that invite us—week by week, season by season—to drink anew from the waters of God’s cleansing and energizing Spirit. Every day we are a new creation by God’s mercy.
Baptism reassures us that we are part of something bigger, a household of God that looks ever outward, ever onward. We’re a people that at our best get caught up in this divine mission: more listening, more caring, more serving. More love. More life.
Most importantly, baptism reminds us that it is not our actions alone that will bind all creation together in loving and just relationship. Yes, we make promises, vowing to grow in our faith, proclaim the Good News, love our neighbor, strive for justice. These are actions and responsibilities.
But we do it all with a need for grace and goodness that is beyond us. Each year we renew our covenant with a humble trust that God in Christ will make possible what we cannot accomplish by ourselves.
That reality, for me, is at the core the Church’s teaching on baptism. It is a declaration and a promise: You are not alone. We are not alone. No one, ultimately, is alone. No matter our foibles and brokenness.
We are destined for adoption. We are born for redemption and relationship. We wait, in hope, with Christ, to be finally and fully gathered up, drawn together in God’s everlasting arms.
My friends, pay close attention: We are about to witness—and participate—as God draws the circle wider. Let us rejoice and be glad.
Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash