This morning, we gather to celebrate the Baptism of Xavier Lawrence Huffine-Wright. Even if Xavier Lawrence were not the grandson of Gerry and Jerry Wright, and the son of Christopher Wright and Christopher Huffine,today’s baptism would be a great reason to celebrate, because anytime parents bring their children to and/or individuals choose to unite themselves in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have reason to celebrate, for this is always a momentous occasion.
Baptisms are also a time for us as a community to step back and ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be in 10, 15, and twenty years. Because the community we are becoming is the community that will foster not only Xavier’s understanding of what a community of Christian faith is, but will also provide the foundation of understanding for many, many more to come.
So what kind of community are we, who are called to “bring all people to God’s healing embrace, to be?” In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, St. Luke provides us with a snapshot of sorts of what an earliest Christian community looked like. Now to be honest, scholars are unclear if the community St. Luke’s describes ever existed or if this is his depiction of what Christian community could be. But regardless of what the reality may be, the elements he depicts in this community are important for us to understand as we continue to become a Christian community of the 21st century.
St. Luke’s first words or descriptors of this community are that the community was of “one heart and one soul.” What St. Luke is telling us is this community had a sense of unity. Later in the passage he identifies that they were all drawn together through the power of the apostles’ testimony of the resurrection. In a few weeks time we will again hear the story of Pentecost and how thousands became impassioned just by hearing the story of the resurrection. Last week, we heard Paul’s words to the Church in Rome that through Baptism we are united in both Christ’s death and resurrection. So as Luke describes this early community as “one in heart and soul,” one realizes the unity of the community arises out of a mutual understanding of baptism, of not only being united in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also, somehow united or bonded to each other through the act of baptism.
St. Luke describes that bond of inter-related unity when he tells us how there was no claim of private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Now this would be a great opportunity to move into a full homily on stewardship and how tithing is an indicator of not only our commitment to Christ but to this community and each other as well. But to do so; I think, would miss the greater point, for what Luke seemed more impressed by is the fact there was not a needy person among them. . .that somehow, the community not only understood themselves as united to each other through their baptism, but they were truly and deeply committed to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. They understood how they were interconnected and dependent on each other in the same way St. Paul does when he describes the Church through his famous metaphor of the body.
As I have read this passage over and over again, I realize, what St. Luke is describing is the first seed of the Kingdom now ready to be planted. Think back for a moment to the readings we heard last fall from the Book of Revelation. The passage from Revelation in which John describes the Heavenly City as a place where there is no darkness for the light of God fills every space. A place where all who have gathered have bathed in the River of Life (the waters of baptism) and are united in praising God.
Are we, the community of St. Luke’s, Camillus, a seed of the Kingdom, ready to be planted? Are we, as a community, of one heart and one soul? This is perhaps one of the greatest struggles facing mainline parishes today. Some how, over the years we lost our focus as churches who are centered on Christ. Most congregations today find themselves lost, unsure of who they are and what their purpose in the greater scheme of life is. Their ministry has lost balance, as one aspect of church life is emphasized over another. In some congregations this has led to an over emphasis on social justice, without being explicitly rooted in the compassion of Christ. Other congregations over emphasize music as they argue over genre and style, while still other congregations emphasize fellowship above and beyond every other aspect of church life. When church ministries loose sight of their foundation, congregations languish as factions develop and unity is destroyed.
Over these past few years, I believe this community through the leadership of your vestry has made great strides in restoring Christ to the center of our community. We have become unified in our mission to bring all people to God’s healing embrace. And I know this to be true because we have learned to articulate much of our decision making through the lens of our mission. I also know this to be true because the internal dissension that was so much a part of our life as a community when I first arrived has all but vanished as our enthusiasm for this community has increased.
But do we feel, as a community, we are inter-connected? In essence, do we feel as connected to Xavier’s baptism today as we would if he were our own child or grandchild? Are we as willing to be grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister to each other and all who have walked through our doors as I have seen Jane Wiley become to my own children and many of the youth who have come through our doors? Can we depend on each other, not just in bad times, but in good times and regular times as well?
While loosing Christ as the center of community may be the greatest issue that faces much of the main-line, commitment and loyalty within the community is our greatest challenge. Let’s face it, never before has there been so much competition for our time and attention. No longer do blue laws protect the sanctity of worship on Sunday morning or even the sanctity of family time. Being part of a community of faith is no longer a matter of convenience and cheap grace as it may have once been, but is now an act of sacrifice. And let’s be honest, sacrifice and commitment is not part of the vocabulary of a consumer driven society, where everything is available for a price and on demand, and going into debt has become as much a rite of passage as graduating from high school. Because if we want it, we must get it, and must get it now.
As we reflect back over the Gospels, we realize even before the death of Jesus, to follow Christ meant sacrifice. Remember, Christ told his disciples that in order to follow him we must be willing to pick up our own crosses and carry them, he also told us in order to follow him we must be willing to lose our lives in order to gain them, and tersely he told his disciples to sacrifice all family obligation by letting the dead bury the dead. And, according to St. Luke, the level of importance that the early community held in the lives of its members was so high that those who could, sold houses and all their property in order to support the mission and ministry of the early church, as well as the community of faith.
How do we compare to Luke’s ideal? I am not sure I can answer that, as there are as many opinions as there are people here. Let me suffice it to say, no community is perfect, and like every other community, we struggle to be the Kingdom of God in today’s world, and the work we have left to do, will continue until the second coming.
But despite our not quite yet making the mark of St. Luke and not being ready to be planted in the garden of the Kingdom, the Kingdom continues to grow among us. Look at what is happening in our midst today. While any baptism is proof that the Kingdom is among us, Xavier’s baptism goes deeper than that. As I prepared for today, I came to realize how far this country and we have come in terms of marriage equality. Twenty years ago, this day would not have been possible anywhere in this country. As a social worker for the State of Connecticut, it was clear back then, that only legally married couples could adopt children, and then only children of the same racial background. It is hard to believe that there were over 100,000 children languishing in foster care nation wide while there were hundreds of loving homes waiting to adopt. By the grace of God and the tireless work of child advocates throughout the country, our definition of what a loving home is has been broadened. What a family looks like now comes in many forms? And through these past decades the truth continues to be revealed. . . . love is love, no matter what form it may take, or what colors it may use. And where there is love, there is God, and where there is God, the Kingdom is among us.
Today, as we welcome Xavier Lawrence into the household of God, let us take pause to contemplate the community we hope to become, as we celebrate the Kingdom that is now among us.