Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
13 February 2022
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
I was baptized in the east crypt of the cathedral in our home town. It is a beautiful space and the oldest part of the Cathedral and dates back to the 11th century. My parents were not active in the church then. They were part of what we now call Christendom, which means that Christianity and the dominant culture somehow overlap, which makes it difficult to distinguish which is which.
In Christendom most people baptize their children, though even then, Christendom was waning and I had a number of friends in confirmation class who were not baptized because their parents had wanted them to make that own decision. That, of course, presumes that children can make their own decisions. Besides, it doesn’t seem to know that that’s what confirmation is about. It’s not about pleasing your parents but about growing up and answering to God’s “yes” to you in a way that is authentic to you, not your parents. Of course, that’s hard for a 14 year old to do.
Now if it’s hard for a 14 year old to do, it’s hardly any easier for parents who may be in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. For baptism is a whole lot more than getting your kid done, more than fulfilling a cultural expectation, more than pleasing your own parents by having the little one baptized, though they are right if they are hoping you would.
I was ordained at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Vancouver in 1994. Ray Schultz was my pastor from my days at the Campus Centre, and that’s how I found my way to Redeemer. I am thankful they adopted me, even though they did not know me.
Ordination is when someone who has fulfilled the requirements of seminary and church, and who has been called by a congregation, is entrusted with the office of pastor.
I remember coming into my first congregation, a congregation with a German background and contingent, a congregation was very formal, how people, even as they met me for the first time, extended to me much respect and reverence on account of the office entrusted to me, not on account of anything I had said or done. It was humbling.
Everyone called me Pastor Reiners while I called them by their first name. I didn’t like that kind of inequality and I suggested people call me Pastor Christoph. Now I am happy with being called Christoph. You know I am your pastor and don’t need to say it all the time, unless you want to.
Being entrusted with the office and being treated with reverence (I never cared for the title Reverend) set me apart when the fact is that we are all set apart because we are all children of God. I am not saying that I am not your pastor, but while I am perhaps the only one who is ordained, we are all baptized and our baptism sets us apart as God’s beloved and as disciples of Jesus. I am not the only one who is called by God, all of us are called.
And that’s what our Gospel reading is about. You see, Jesus has just called the Twelve and now he gives them the 101 of discipleship.
He turns their world upside down.
• In the world we consider blessed the Jeff Bezos’ of the world, even though we may rightfully loathe them, yet somehow we wouldn’t mind their money and their power.
• In the world we bless those who are full, not those who are hungry, except being full can also mean to be full of yourself, which is a crass way of saying that one is not very introspective or self-aware, for being full of oneself means to think one is self-sufficient, when clearly none of us are. And to be self-sufficient is to have no room for God or others.
• In the world we want to have fun. We want to laugh. Happiness is our goal, and the wisdom of the old hymn “In Thee is Gladness Amidst all Sadness” is lost on us because we no longer understand paradox, and not understanding paradox leads us into a life of denial where all things need to be beautiful and happy all the time because we can no longer imagine God’s presence in suffering.
• And in the world we want to be popular. We want to be popular because being popular gives us the idea that people like us, and if others like us, it may drown out our own self-doubt. In the political world, truth is measured in popularity. What the majority likes and wants must be good, and if not, at least it can give us a sense of belonging.
But Jesus tells his disciples the opposite. They will be poor, they will be hungry, they will mourn and weep, they won’t be popular (there goes my dream of being a mega church pastor), and they will be persecuted.
Had my parents known this passage and its context, I think it is unlikely they would have brought me to the church to be baptized. Maybe they would have thought that Jesus was a worthy teacher to pay attention to, but you don’t want your children’s life to be hard. A hard life is the last thing you want for your children.
Now, I don’t think that Jesus suggests that life should be hard. I think that Jesus simply says that life is hard. And to reject that would be to live in denial, which is what is one of our favourite preoccupations, about climate change, about inequality, about ourselves, about progress, about death. You name it.
Jesus is not calling us to a life that is extraordinarily difficult, though life is not easy, but to a life that is honest and authentic and beautiful. A life that has room for God and for others, a life in which we do not see ourselves as self-sufficient and the sky as the limit, but a life where we are not ashamed to be dependent, not ashamed to be poor, not ashamed to be finite, and not ashamed to find the truth not with the masses but with God (which does not mean it should not be scrutinized).
To be baptized into such dependence on God grants us humility and the ability to pray that our help does not come from the mountains or from any other place, but from God. And such humility is refreshing in a world where people claim to have all the answers.