Pastor Jen Hoffman Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This week I cleaned out my garage, and it was work. There’s a reason I put off this chore for as long as I did. We had a literal mountain of cardboard boxes taking up a third of our garage space. The floor was covered with dirt and rocks and leaves and grass and salt and dead insects accumulated over the seasons that had passed since its last cleaning. (I will refrain from stating just how long ago that was.) Branches we had cut off the Christmas tree last year had dried to a brittle, flammable consistency by our smaller garage door that we keep closed at all times. Sports equipment took up space in every conceivable bit of floor space, and long broken snow blowers and guinea pig cages and old bits of roofing and flooring were mixed in with rakes and shovels and a lawn mower and bike still useful and in good condition. I spent about six hours cleaning this space, and as I worked I was reminded of baptism. You might be thinking, “what does a dirty, messy garage have to do with baptism?” I will admit that baptism was on my mind because I was preparing to talk about it the next day with a young couple desiring their baby girl to get baptized, but I found that dirty garage to be a good analogy for our state of being most days...an illustration for the great significance of our baptism and what it brings to our lives. You see, each day we accumulate so much dirt and grime: negative thoughts and feelings, angry words and responses, lies both big and small, unkind words and/or actions towards ourselves and others. We see the broken relationships, broken trust, brokenness spread around us like so many long forgotten, disused, and nonfunctioning pieces of equipment. The weight of that can settle like a thick layer of dirt on a garage floor, or loom over us like a giant pile of cardboard boxes waiting to topple and possibly crush us. It’s enough to make us want to crawl under the covers and sleep for an undetermined amount of time and leave the mess for someone else to deal with. But God doesn’t leave us there, and God doesn’t make us do that cleaning work on our own. The promises made at our baptism provide us the opportunity for an instant spring cleaning every single day. With God’s help, it doesn’t take six hours of backbreaking work to get our hearts and minds and souls in order for a new day. It just takes one conversation with God. “Hey God. Yesterday was a rough one. How about a new start today? Help me to live into this new life I have in you.” Through that conversation, and the help of the Holy Spirit, that mountain of boxes is broken down and recycled, the grime and cobwebs are swept away, and all the nooks and crannies are put in order. I’m not trying to make light of the sin and brokenness in the world. Putting ourselves right with God does not mean the pain and heartache or the consequences of our actions just disappear. But it does mean we have a clean, less-cluttered, healthier place from which to work. And I don’t know about you, but I am much more productive and much happier when my surroundings are clean and organized. It’s true for our work that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as well. It’s difficult to move forward with it when our hearts and minds are so cluttered and disorganized. I don’t know if you remember the words that were said at your baptism, but I thought today would be a good day to remember. As your parents brought you forward (or as you brought yourself or your children forward), they/you were asked, “Called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love of God, do you desire to have your child baptized into Christ?” “As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities: to live with them among God’s faithful people, bring them to the word of God and the holy supper, teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, place in their hands the holy scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer, so that your child may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” Then, the parent(s), sponsors, and congregation pledge to support and pray and nurture and guide them in their new life in Christ and then profess together their faith in the Triune God. Only after all those professions is the water poured over the forehead in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and a cross in oil is placed on the forehead accompanied by the words, “child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” I love the prayer that we say right before that moment: [God] sustain this child with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen. It is these words, along with that cross that we bear on our foreheads to this day, that remind us again and again that each day is a new day in Christ. Each day the Holy Spirit is with us ready and willing to counsel and guide us, and to welcome us once again “into the body of Christ and into the mission we share: giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.” In the year ahead, we at St. Stephen will be opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit leading us to opportunities for mission in our community. Volunteer opportunities. Evangelism opportunities. Chances to share our gifts, our time, our talents with the larger community in which we find ourselves. We will have a chance to search out the greatest needs and discern the actions that will be life giving for both our community and ourselves. And in all that, we will celebrate that each day the cluttered, grimy garage of our heart will approach once again the baptismal font and receive the new life and new start offered in Christ, through our greatest successes and even more through our greatest failures. Thanks be to God that we belong to Christ, in whom we have been baptized!