Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the first Sunday after the Epiphany.
And the first thing I have to tell you is that I can take very little credit for the ideas in this sermon.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the retreat conference of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, and the presenter was The Reverend Alan Storey.
Alan Storey is a Methodist pastor from South Africa.
His father is Peter Storey, the famous anti-apartheid faith leader who began his pastoral career as Nelson Mandela’s chaplain during Mandela’s 27-year prison term.
On our trip to South Africa, we had the opportunity to meet and spend time in conversation with both Peter Storey and his son Alan, and it was immediately obvious that Alan had inherited a double share of his father’s prophetic spirit.
So of course I was excited to see and spend time with Alan again at that retreat, but I wasn’t expecting to be presented with remarkable new theological ideas that galvanized my imagination. That retreat has continued to significantly influence my thinking and my prayer life.
One of the ideas that Alan expanded on was a rethinking of the nature of baptism, and those are the ideas I want to share with you now.
Baptism is our entry into the church, it is how we become members of the Body of Christ.
And so Alan began by asking us: this community that we join at baptism, what is it?
What is the purpose of the church?
To answer that question, we have to ask what problem the church is trying to solve.
If we go back to the Garden of Eden, we see Eve in conversation with the serpent, and the serpent introduces the voice that will forevermore drive our grasping after power and things and control.
That is the voice that says, “You are not enough.”
Our sin is driven by the falsehood: “You are not enough.”
We hear that voice and we do anything to hush it up, to somehow augment our faltering self-image so we can drown out the words: “You are not enough.”
And so we sin. That is what that voice forces us to.
And we have talked about this before here at St. Francis: sin is an addiction.
We are addicted to a way of life that kills us, kills our planet, kills our future.
We as Western Christians cannot seem to do anything that is systemically constructive to end the poverty and suffering that plagues the rest of the world.
And so our addiction traps us and everyone around the world in a planet and a society hurtling toward death.
So what is the purpose of church? Continue reading