“The Gift of Being Thunderstruck”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Job 37: 1-5
Feb. 21, 2016
The Word In Song
“In the midst of life I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the path.” These are the words with which Dante begins The Divine Comedy, and they are true to each of our lives. We can wake up where we had no intention of going and find ourselves disoriented among the shadows, feeling lost, just groping our way from moment to moment. Unexpectedly, however, those places of darkness can be the places where we are more apt to encounter God at work in our lives. And sometimes that presence is announced by flashes of intuition or an awareness that we are not alone. We call these times “light bulb moments,” or “a-ha moments” Moments of clarity when we have hope for new direction or new insight.
In ancient times, the voice of God was often associated with lightning and thunder, as the passage from Job clearly illustrates. Since our forebears in faith were much more capable than we of appreciating the poetry of scripture, they conveyed the majesty and power of God through the metaphor of the storm. The voice of God thunders; the wisdom of God blazes like lightning. And we who are observers of it, or more likely participants in it, experience momentary flashes of intuition, have our imaginations awakened, and find ourselves enlightened. We can be thunderstruck!
Mia’s baptism is one of those opportunities to be thunderstruck and we have experienced it together today. Her baptism reminds us that even in times of darkness, there is light, a light that the darkness cannot overcome. This is something worth remembering, for we can easily forget when we are in the midst of turmoil or crisis, that above it, beneath it, within it, and around it the light of God is always present. The psalmist says “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Ps. 139)
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism can give us a template for traversing the dark wood of our lives and show us where to find light in the darkness that surrounds us. First of all, baptism is not a private; it is corporate. We don’t baptize ourselves; none of us stands alone, not even at this first moment when we come before the baptismal font. Chad and Jamie stood here today to speak for Mia before she can speak for herself. They took serious vows for her. And you as well, as the congregation that will nurture her and watch her grow, took vows and answered questions too. We are all in this together.
We often refer to our growth and maturing in faith as a journey, one filled with twists and turns, some not of our own making. These surprises often come from the sources identified in the questions of baptism. The language of the liturgy may seem antiquated, but it comes from ancient ritual, and is designed to move us, to give us that moment of insight that shows us the way of life. Questioning characterizes baptism just as it characterizes our journey of faith.
The first question asks “do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” We don’t talk much any more about wickedness, much less sin. We use words from law or from medicine to describe a whole range of behaviors that characterize our fallibility as human beings and some of the ways we can get lost. But we know what is being asked – will you do your best to walk in the light, find your way out of the darkness, turn from what is destructive and evil for yourself, for your community, or for your world?
We also ask the question “will you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” These issues have forced many people and groups of people into a dark place, and our calling is to find our way through it and to help as many others as we can to find their own way. Resisting evil and injustice and oppression isn’t easy; it sometimes means doing unpopular things, standing against the crowd or the culture; seeing the light in a different place from where the majority is looking, and moving toward it even if it means moving alone for a while.
The last question asked is for a confession of Christ as savior, and a surrendering in trust to Christ’s grace rather than depending on our own wit and ability. That’s hard to do, maybe the hardest thing to do, because it’s about ego, and about control. We like to keep our options open, so we wait for the next grand idea, we put qualifications on how far we will trust, how far we will go. Like Job, who demanded answers from God, we want to go one on one with God to debate the questions and argue the answers. And if we’re not careful, we can spend our whole lives going round and round in this dark wood looking for the next best answer, never hearing the thunder, never seeing the light because we are too busy talking and listening only to ourselves to notice it.
Baptism serves as a template for our journey through the dark wood not only with its questions, but also with its affirmations. In baptism, God makes promises to us just as we do to God. We know sometimes we are not so great with keeping our promises, but we have the assurance that even when our love fails, God’s does not. We can, as the old hymn says, “stand on the promises of God.”
Today also Mia’s identity as a child of God was proclaimed, and in her baptism we are all reminded that we belong to God and God knows our name; we have been claimed by God whose steadfast love will never let us go, will never forsake us, never forget us. Like Martin Luther, we too can claim during our dark and difficult times, “I am baptized,” and this truth can give us strength and courage that it gave him to continue on.
As much as we might hope for Mia today a life uncomplicated by darkness and shadow, a life only full of joy and success and happiness, we know that is not the reality of life. Even as an infant, she already knows that life has its ups and downs – an unchanged diaper, an empty tummy, an unreachable toy, waking in the dark – can all be cause for tears of frustration, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness. And she has already learned that her mom and dad and brother – not to mention her grandparents and other family – will respond to her cries of distress; they are there for her.
And we are there too as her church family. We are all familiar with the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” but honestly, doesn’t it take a village throughout our lives? Is there anyone of us who can forever and always go it alone, never needing anyone or anything, capable always of providing for our needs, and not willing or able or even aware of asking for help?
There will be times in Mia’s life as there have been and are in our own lives when she will be asked to choose between the darkness and the light and when she will need to find the courage to renounce the powers of this world and to follow the promise of grace and love offered by Christ.
And maybe in one of those times she will remember something – remember you, remember something you said, or did, and then she’ll know what to do. Following Christ is not an easy road; and she will need our support along the way just as we need each other. We can be thankful today that Mia is part of a community of people who have stood and taken a vow before God to support her in her life in Christ. We can be thankful that she is a part of a community that will pray the questions with her for a long, long time. So she will know that through good days and through dark days, ordinary ones and extraordinary ones that God’s promises are forever, that she is God’s child, known, beloved and celebrated, and that she never walks alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.