One Table for Everyone

 Sermon ispired by 1 Corinthians 11:17-29

 4th in a four-week series on the Sacraments

Today we finish up our four-week series on the Sacraments, and that means next week is all about stewardship! Yay, stewardship! Everyone’s favorite topic! It’ll be fine! Painless! Mostly. But today is all about the table and what happens there. The question we explored last Sunday was, “What does communion mean for me?” Today, our question is, “What does communion mean for the world?” What does that table mean for everyone else outside those doors? How can what happens with us here at this table, have any effect on everyone else, especially when they aren’t even here? Last Sunday we also talked about three gifts that we receive at the table: 

(1) we get quality, personal time with Christ; (2) we get fed by Christ which reminds us that we are alive, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually; (3) and we get sight, as it causes us to see things differently. So, we’re gonna revisit each of these gifts that we receive at the table and see how they affect the rest of the world. Let’s start with that last one, the gift of sight, and work our way backward this time. Because this one’s a biggie!  This gift is kind of the key to unlocking everything else. If we walk away from the table and are seeing the world and everyone and everything in it just the same as when we walked into this room, then we can forget about there being any effect at all on the world when we leave this place. So, how are our eyes opened, how does the table help us see anew? 

Our reading from First Corinthians is quite enlightening. This church is having a really hard time with this particular gift, and it’s having an effect on others. Apparently, they aren’t just having a little morsel of bread and half a sip of wine at their communion service. They are having an entire feast. But that’s not their problem. Having a big meal during a worship service would actually be kind of cool. Their problem was, that some were going hungry, while others were overindulging. And the reason why they had that problem is because, as Paul put it, there were divisions among them. Meaning, there were inequalities among them, which resulted, as it always does, in a group being disenfranchised. Tell me that doesn’t sound familiar! This is such an old behavior of ours! 

We see this everywhere we go. We can’t drive a mile without seeing an unhoused neighbor. We can’t scroll through our social media without seeing another person of color, or a woman, or an LGBTQ+ person, being mistreated in some way. We can’t turn on the news without hearing about how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And don’t get me started on how there always seems to be money to bail out the banks and large corporations but when we little people need bailed out all of a sudden there’s no money for that! But I digress. This is what we humans do. And in that church in Corinth, two thousand years ago, this same behavior had seeped in. So badly, that Paul told them that it wasn’t even Christ’s meal anymore that they were eating, but something else altogether. 

For Paul, and more importantly, for Jesus, no matter who comes to the table, everyone comes to it on equal ground. No one is more important, no one in particular goes first, and no one goes without. I hate to use an airplane analogy two weeks in a row, at least we’re not crashing this time, but it’s almost like there was a priority line at that church in Corinth. Some got to go first, and some had to wait, some got nice seats, others didn’t, and some didn’t even get a seat! For Jesus, there ain’t no first-class line to the table. Why? Because what we do in here, is supposed to be mirrored out there. If we can get in the habit of maintaining equal ground here, the hope is that we carry that habit out there. If our eyes see this in action here, week in and week out, the hope is that our eyes naturally look for it out there. And when it doesn’t find it, help create it. 

The next gift is the gift of being fed. This one might sound simple, as if God is just calling us to feed people food whenever we can. If that was the case then most churches are doing a pretty good job of that, including us. But physical nourishment isn’t all we talked about last week. We also talked about being fed emotionally around this table, being fed intellectually around this table, and being fed spiritually around this table. And in the same way that we are called to mirror the equal ground here, out there, we are called to feed out there, in the same way we are fed here. Think of your own families. Are parents expected to only give their children physical nourishment, and that’s it? Give them three squares a day and their responsibility is fulfilled? 

Of course not! Parents are expected to feed their children emotionally, intellectually, and for religious folk like us, they are expected to feed them spiritually as well. Those same expectations hold true out there. When we leave here every Sunday, Christ says, “Now, go feed my people, in the same way that I have just fed you.” So, what does that look like? What does it look like to feed people emotionally? Intellectually? Spiritually? And how are we doing in each of those ways? I think you might find that we do more of those than you think? At the same time, if we put our heads together, we could come up with new and adventurous ways to fulfill Christ’s call to feed God’s people out there. And just so we’re clear, who are God’s people out there? Everyone 

And that brings me to the last gift of the table, the gift of quality time with Christ, and also to something that Paul said in our reading. Paul has some pretty harsh but profound words for that church in Corinth. Clearly, he is disturbed by their behavior and isn’t holding back here. He writes, “those who eat the bread or drink the cup inappropriately will be guilty of Christ’s body and blood. Everyone should examine themselves, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment.” Now if we’re supposed to mirror this gift as well out there, this gift of quality time with Christ, by spending quality time with people out there, then I think we have to re-examen what Paul is saying here. 

The traditional interpretation of “understanding the body” as Paul puts it, is understanding not only the presence of Christ in the bread and cup, but also understanding the death of Jesus that brought us this bread and cup to begin with. However, I want to stretch that a bit. Surprise, surprise. Because I also think that “understanding the body” also means, understanding where Christ is, in the here and now, so that we can mirror that quality, personal time that Christ gives us in here, out there. Because Christ is everywhere, and in everyone. But for most of the last two thousand years, the Church hasn’t been willing to admit that, because the church has been too willing to maintain its safe, comfortable boundaries. 

It’s been too willing to maintain who is in and who is out, who is saved and who is damned, who is a friend and who is an enemy, which brings us full circle to the divisions that Paul talked about at the beginning of today’s reading. But what if that was never the way it was meant to be? What if, we were meant to go out from this table of grace, and recognize, with our new eyes, that the body of Christ that we just experienced here, extends out there to infinity and beyond! What if, the gift of spending quality time with people, just like Christ does with us here, was meant to remind us, and everyone, that we are all in this together, that we are all one body, no matter what? 

What if our job was not just to understand the body, as if it was an intellectual exercise, but to reconnect the body, every chance we get, by spending quality time with people we normally wouldn’t, by feeding people in ways that they’ve never been fed before, by seeing people, really seeing people and all that they have to offer, all their gifts and all their challenges, everything that they bring to the table, in the same way, that Christ spends time with us, feeds us, and sees us? Thanks be to God. Amen.


Table Gifts

 Inspired by Luke 24:13-35

 First of two-part sermon on the Sacrament of Holy Communion

Today we start a two-part sermon on Communion. And just like the two-part sermon on Baptism, we will be asking the same two questions, “What does this sacrament mean for us?” And, “What does this sacrament mean for the world?” which we will address next Sunday. So, what does this sacrament mean for us? As we explore the answer to that question, remember that us means two different things, us as individuals, and us as a community. One of the things that I like about separating this into two sermons is that today I can focus solely on us. But if this was one standalone sermon, that would be out of character because nothing about our faith is all about us! Or at least it shouldn’t be, but we humans have a tendency to want to make things all about us. 

However, it’s certainly ok to start there, and I’d argue that it oftentimes is necessary to start there, with us, either as individuals or as a community. Because, to paraphrase supermodel Ru Paul, if you don’t take care of yourself, how you gonna take care of somebody else? That’s not being selfish, that’s just being practical, with a future orientation of caring for others, but we’ll get into that more next week. For now, think of it like this. When you’re on an airplane that’s about to crash, and it loses cabin pressure, and the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, who do they tell you to put the mask on first? Yourself! Even if you have a child. Put it on yourself first they say. 

Again, that’s not being selfish, or cruel. That’s ensuring that you will be able to help someone else afterward. In fact, that’s operating under the assumption that you will help someone else after you put your own mask on, right! That’s the exact opposite of being selfish. And that’s why we come here first to receive the gifts offered at the table, before we go out there to do God’s work in the world. As I was writing this sermon, I was noticing just how similar my words were between what I wrote about Baptism and what I was writing about Communion, which made total sense because the two are indeed closely tied together. What we experience at the table is directly tied to our baptism. It is an extension of our baptismal call to be transformed into something new. 

It is part of that ongoing work of dying and rising with Christ through our baptisms. So, what are the gifts that we receive at the table? Well, you know how we pastors like things in threes! There are certainly more than three, but these are the first three that came to mind so that’s what we’re gonna go with: we are given quality time with Christ; we are fed; and we are given sight. And we are going to use this story that I just read, often called the Road to Emmaus, to flesh out each of these gifts of the table. Let’s start with the first one, quality time with Christ. The Road to Emmaus story is one of my favorite stories from the Gospels. And many scholars over the centuries have claimed that this is Luke’s finest work of storytelling. 

Throughout the story, these two travelers, of whom we don’t know much about, get the gift of all gifts, and get to spend quality, intimate, personal time with Jesus. It’s like they won a contest or something! Or like an evening with Jesus was auctioned off! Imagine the opportunity, to have this time with him, just you and Jesus, away from the crowds, away from the chaos, away from the enemy spies, away from any distraction. Just you and a road and Jesus. It’s the road trip of a lifetime! When the pandemic first broke our broken world, and the claustrophobia of sheltering in place was pushing the limit of our sanity, my daughter Jesha and I started taking evening car rides, just to get out of the house. She and I share a love of music, and so we often would introduce each other to music that the other hadn’t heard before. 

When the sheltering-in-place ended, the car rides didn’t, and they have become a staple of our diet. Thankfully my car is a hybrid! When they started I remember my wife asking me, “So what do you all talk about for so long on your rides?” The question kinda caught me off guard, but I said, “Honestly? Nothing.” We don’t really talk a whole lot, unless it’s about the current song or band that’s playing. And I know, many people might think I missed a golden opportunity as a dad there but for us, it was enough, more than enough, to just sit with each other, be present to each other, and experience something together. It’s this same kind of quality time together that Christ gives us when we gather around the table. And it might come in different forms for everyone. 

Maybe it’s in the teaching, maybe it’s in the eating, maybe it’s in the singing, or maybe it’s in the sitting together. Point is, it’s together, and it’s personal, and it’s such a gift. The second gift given at the table is being fed. Now, that might sound obvious, but you and I know that we’re not talking about being physically nourished. What’s a little morsel of bread and a half a sip of grape juice gonna do for us anyway! But, it’s not so much about what we are being fed, but more about what Christ is implying in the meal, what Christ is communicating to us in this meal. At the table Christ is reminding us that we are alive. Because God don’t feed the dead, my friends! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are alive! Alive in every way! 

If Christ is feeding you, that means you are physically alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are emotionally alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are intellectually alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are spiritually alive! Cuz God don’t feed the dead. And I know that might sound like common sense but I also know that many of us come to the table with our souls limping, with our minds weighing us down, with our hearts battered and bruised, with our bodies failing us, and so to be reminded by the creator of the cosmos that you are indeed alive, in every way imaginable, isn’t merely common sense, but possibly the most profound thing you may experience all week! When those three broke bread together in our story, they not only experienced the resurrected Jesus, but they too, came alive! 

Which leads us to the third gift of the table, the gift of sight. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there is something special that happens when a group of people gather to eat. Whether it’s your family, friends, coworkers, soup kitchen, or here at church, the shared experience of a meal changes something within the group, changes the dynamic of the group. I have always urged the church councils that I’ve served on, to begin with a meal for this very reason. I imagine that there’s a lot of reasons that this occurs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that from an anthropological perspective, there’s probably an evolutionary reason why meals connect us so, but that’s probably a discussion better left to our Wednesday evening Bible discussion. 

Anyway, there are too many reasons to explore for this sermon but one thing that this story points out is the connection between sharing a meal, and seeing something new. For them, it was recognizing who Jesus was. Up until that point they didn’t know who they had been walking and talking with. It was the shared meal that did it for them. In hindsight, they realized that there were clues that Jesus had been there all along, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t recognize him. And isn’t that relatable! 

Imagine how long a list we could make of all the things that get in our way of recognizing Jesus by our side in our everyday lives. And that list certainly must include ourselves. We get in our own way all the time! Which is why this gift of sight, given at this table, is so important. This is our weekly reminder that Jesus is still with us. Every week we get to come here, and get quality time with Christ, to be fed by Christ, and experience Christ say to us once again, “I’m still here. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still here.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


Colonizing Our Hearts

 Inspired by Romans 12:1-18

 2nd of two-part sermon on the Sacrament of Baptism

Last week we started a four-week series on the sacraments, where we’ll spend two Sundays on each of them. So this is the second and final part of our time on baptism. Our question that we explored was, “What does baptism do to us?” And our answer was, a lot! Baptism has the capability to transform us down to our very core, creating us into something new, but recognizing that this is a lifelong process, not something that happens on the day you were baptized. And also recognizing that it is God who does the heavy lifting in this whole process. So, if you missed last week, that was the gist of it, that’s what baptism does to us. However, we didn’t go over the how and why, so let’s do that now. How does God bring about such dramatic change through the sacrament of baptism? 

Don’t forget to keep in mind through all of this that baptism is a lifelong process. I think a good analogy to explain how baptism works in us is to compare it to simple exercise. In order for exercise to have any significant positive change in you, ya gotta do it often and do it regularly, right! You can’t go to the gym one time and wonder, “Why is my belly still there?” You could compare it to just about anything that you have to do consistently in order to reap its benefits. Learning a new language is another one. I took years of Spanish in both high school and college! Do I speak it now? Nope. Why? Because I didn’t continue to use it. And if you don’t use it, you lose it! Just like playing a musical instrument or any other kind of art or hobby that you try your hand at. So, how does it work with baptism? 

How do you consistently work on your baptism? Do you dunk your head in a bucket of water every day? Or give yourself a little spritz every once in a while? No, for the answer to that we need to turn to the words of our baptismal rite that we Lutherans use. When we baptize babies, their parents are told this, “As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with these 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 children 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.”

It’s not magic. It’s just good ol’ fashioned hard work, determination, perseverance, and a whole lotta love! This is the spiritual equivalent of your doctor telling you to exercise and eat right. We don’t come to church because we think it makes us better than others, or even because we think it’ll make God love us more! We come to church to continue in this work of being made new, to be transformed into the people that God made us to be. And we do that by living among God’s faithful people, hearing God’s Word proclaimed, eating together, praying together, being around people who you think are better people than you in the hope that it’ll rub off on you. Newsflash, they think the same thing about you! 

I, like many of you, made these same promises when my girls were baptized, and I did my best to keep those promises. When they leave the nest, will they continue going to church? I don’t know. Will they pass on this faith to another generation? I don’t know. Will they end up appreciating those promises, or end up resenting them? I don’t know. I can tell you this though, that I am so very proud of the strong, compassionate, loving, fiercely empathetic women that they have become. And I have no doubt that they will leave this world a better place than the way they found it. How am I so sure of that? Because my sorry life has been made better for having known them. And I have to believe that those promises, and the many congregations that walked with us over the years through those promises, had a hand in who they have become. 

Which brings us to the question of why. Why are we called to such transformation? Why is this baptismal life so worth it? Why did so many biblical authors make it sound like a matter of life and death? Well, the old answer used to be, so that we can go out and save the world! In other words, we’re so good at transforming ourselves, now we can go out and transform the world! It’s an approach that elevates ourselves above others. It’s an approach that has led to colonization, genocide, slavery, and other atrocities. It’s an approach that said, “We’re gonna bring Jesus to them cuz they don’t know any better. They might not like it at first but when they get to heaven they’ll thank us.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t read the Bible in such a way that would support that approach. 

And speaking of the Bible, we read another passage from Romans today. And this passage says quite the opposite! Paul says, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to.” I love the way he can speak so plainly sometimes. Oh, he can wax poetic with the best of them but sometimes I’m just waiting for him to say, “Can y’all just stop being jerks out there, please?” So, right away Paul gives us a reality check, reminding us that we aren’t better than anyone. He goes on to say we are all one body, made up of different parts with different gifts. Like trees that grew from a sprout and are now bearing fruit. Side note, this will come up again when we talk about communion over the next two weeks. And where does Paul say we are to use those gifts? Just here amongst ourselves? Of course not! We practice them here for sure! 

But Paul immediately begins a focus on the outside world. The world we find right outside those doors. And he starts saying some very profound things, some even quite provocative. Like, “Hate evil.” Not, hate evil people, but hate evil. “Welcome strangers into your home.” “Bless people who harass you…don’t curse them.” “Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” Notice there are no conditions on these. It’s not, be happy with those who are happy, but only if you agree with what they’re happy about. It’s not, cry with those who are crying, but only if you are sad about the same thing. Paul continues, “Consider everyone as equal, don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.” 

I love that one but then he comes through with this grand slam, “Show respect for what everyone else believes is good…live at peace with all people.” Show respect for what everyone else believes is good, not what you think is good, for what they think is good. Imagine if that had been our approach all along, rather than the we’re gonna swoop in and save the world from their wicked and uncivilized ways. Imagine the atrocities that could have been avoided. Here’s a cold hard fact for ya, if the church had taken Paul’s approach, and thereby Jesus’ approach, I wouldn’t exist, my people would have never existed. Meaning, Mexicans, in the form we are now, would have never existed. 

We are a mixture of the indigenous Aztec people, and the Spanish Empire that swooped in to “colonize”, which of course is just a polite way of referring to how they conquered, pillaged, and raped their way through the land, all under the guidance of the church. That makes us, of Mexican descent, the walking, talking, breathing, living embodiment of one people’s assault over another. They didn’t teach that to you in high school, did they, when they taught you the history of Columbus Day that we have to endure tomorrow. This is not how it was meant to be. That is not what living out our baptisms was supposed to look like. 

Rather than swooping down to “save” people, our baptisms call us to continue the work of transformation that began inside our sanctuaries, out in God’s sanctuary, the rest of the world. Meaning, rather than going out to change people, we are called out to be with the rest of God’s people and be changed by them! It is in spending time with the rest of God’s people that lives are changed. Whether it’s our unhoused siblings, all of whom have real human stories, that are not stories of laziness. Or our siblings of color, who carry with them centuries of assault on their very bodies. Or our sisters all around us and across the globe, each of whom could share stories of what they’ve had to endure at the hands, eyes, and words of men. Just look to our Iranian sisters, or the battle for reproductive rights here in our own country. 

Last week we wondered, why is this baptismal business so serious? Because Jesus came into our world and saw that change and transformation was needed. Because Jesus came into this world and heard so many people crying for change and transformation. Because Jesus came into this world and gave a way to accomplish that change and transformation. Only for Jesus, that change and transformation starts here, in the heart, in this place, but ends, out there, with the rest of God’s people, so many of whom are crying for change and transformation. That’s what John the Baptist meant, when he emerged from the wilderness, urging people to change their hearts and lives through baptism. 

Serious business indeed. Which is why at every Vigil of Easter service we recommit ourselves to this work, and I thought today would be a good time to do it again, using those words that were said at your own baptism, followed by anointing with oil in remembrance of your own baptisms. So, let us now affirm this baptismal work that God has done within us, and that we are called to continue. In body or in spirit, please rise and face the baptismal font.


Living to Die

 Inspired by Romans 6:1-11

 1st of a two-part sermon on Baptism

Alright, so we wrapped up our series on the Apostles’ Creed last week. I had a lot of fun with that! I think because these series we’re doing this Fall are more topical, rather than being solely focused on one book of the Bible. They allow for a bit more creative freedom. I can see why some churches and their pastors do this all the time. I can hear my seminary professors now, “Scripture must remain central, not a topic!” Yeah, Yeah, I know. Anyway, I hope you are getting something out of these Fall series too. Today we begin a four-week series on the Sacraments. Next will be a three-week series on Stewardship, everyone’s favorite topic! And that brings us to the last day of the church year, and bam, it’ll be Advent! Where has the year gone! It’s October already! Can you believe that? But back to sacraments. 

We Lutherans have two, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We’re gonna spend two Sundays on each. And each of those two Sundays is gonna be like a two-part sermon. The first part of each will be focused on what that sacrament means for us. Meaning, what does it do for us. And the second part of each will be focused on what that sacrament means for the world. Meaning, after that sacrament has done its work on us, then what? Is that where the work of the sacraments end, with us? The obvious answer is, no, and that’s what we’ll explore in the second part of each of these two-part sermons. Today, the question before us is, “What does Baptism do for us?” Or, maybe a more accurate way to ask that is, “What does Baptism do to us?” 

Because, first off, as we’ll see next week, ultimately baptism isn’t for us at all but for the rest of the world, and second, to put it plainly, God already loves us from the day we are born! There is nothing on God’s green earth that could make God love us any more than God already did at our first breath. Baptism doesn’t change God’s love for us. Then what does it do? A whole lot, let me tell ya! And it ain’t for the faint of heart I can guarantee you that! Because what Paul, John the Baptist, many authors in the Hebrew scriptures, as well as Jesus himself have taught, is that baptism can change you, to your very core. And we don’t need Jesus to tell us how tough change can be!

But before we go any further, I have to be clear with how I use the word baptism. When I, and I hope all pastors, of the Lutheran kind at least, use the word baptism, I’m not referring to an event that occurred on the date that appears on your baptismal certificate or in some church record book somewhere. When I use the word baptism it is in reference to everything that has occurred from that date to this very moment. Because baptism isn’t a once and done event. Your baptism is an ongoing, daily process, daily working, daily practice, daily discipline, that just began on that date, but isn’t completed until, as Luther put it, until the day we die! I have a feeling most parents don’t realize that’s what they’re signing up their baby for when they get them baptized! But it is! 

So, when I use the word baptism, please keep in mind that I’m referring to your whole life from baptism to death, not just that one event. But back to our original question, what does it do to us? Well, there’s a long biblical pattern of God intervening on our behalf using the element of water. This pattern starts all the way back in the first story of creation, when God separated the water from the land for inhabitation. God rescues Noah and his family from the waters of a flood. God rescued the Israelites from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, and after wandering through the wilderness for forty years, they pass through the waters of the Jordan River to the Promised Land. These are just a few examples of God intervening on our behalf to create opportunities for life, to create hope when there was little to none. 

What I would like to point out here before we turn to our Christian scriptures is that in each of those instances, something or someone had to die or cease to exist, in order for that life and hope to come to fruition. In the Noah story, the rest of the world had to die. In the Exodus story, the Egyptians had to die. Even in the creation story, the world as it was had to cease to exist in order for life to have a place on it. Then, a character from the wilderness appears on the scene, John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, whose mission it was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. And this is where the pattern of God intervening through water takes an interesting twist. John the Baptist prepares people by telling them to “Repent and be baptized.” 

Now, repent is a very churchy word that we don’t really use anywhere else, and therefore, has lost a lot of its meaning, and power, its sting if you will. The Common English Bible translation, one of my favorites, doesn’t use the word repent at all. Instead, it uses the phrase, “Change your hearts and lives.” It’s a bit wordier than “repent”, but it gets at the heart of what is really being said, and gives back some of its power too. Because, what John the Baptist and many other biblical authors have highlighted is the total change that baptism can bring about, in your hearts and lives, inside and out, complete transformation. Then, Paul takes this even further, I mean, he pushes this to the limit. Paul compares the process to death, and not just any death, but Jesus’ death! 

Paul said, “All who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into Christ’s death. Therefore, we were buried with Jesus through baptism, and joined with Jesus in death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God, we too can walk in newness of life…For this is what we know, the person that we used to be was crucified with Christ in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin.” This is the twist I was talking about earlier. Now, what has to die? Us! Not creation, not the rest of the world drowning all around us, not our enemies who treated us badly, us! In order for new life to spring forth, it has to start with us, and it has to start with death! Total and complete death of who we were, so that who God is calling us to be, can sprout!

The church has used many analogies to explain this process. Our opening hymn for today used the image of smelting in what I think is one of the greatest verses ever written. This is the third verse: "When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply. The flames shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine." Dross is what accumulates at the top of molten metal, the impurities. This is how many interpret the so-called fires of Hell to be, more like a refining fire, taking out our impurities, rather than a place of eternal torment. If we are to be made into something new, then something has to die in us, something has to cease to exist. Paul calls it sin, which could be ego, anger, selfishness, greed, or any number of things. Only you can answer that for yourself. No human knows you better than you. 

Other analogies often used for this process can be found in our next hymn, whose first verse reads, “Seed that in earth is dying grows into ears of grain. Grapes that are crushed in the vessel turn into golden wine. God, through this mystery grant us faith in our deepest darkness, life in our night and death.” Unlike our opening hymn, this one is a good ol’ fashioned Lenten hymn! You can tell by how serious it is. Which makes sense because it is in Lent when we acknowledge how serious this baptismal life really is. A seed has to die, has to cease being a seed in order for new life to sprout. A grape has to die, has to cease being a grape, in order for something new to come, wine. This is serious work, this is life or death. Even our last hymn calls on God to grant us wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour, for the living of these days. 

Why is this baptism business so serious? Well, we’ll get into that next Sunday. But for now, let me leave you with this, so that I can put a star on my “I was a good Lutheran today” chart. This transforming work that I speak of, this baptismal life that calls us to die and rise into something new, in the here and now, is not a work that we do of our own accord. This is beyond our pay grade. This is a work that God does to us, within us, for us, around us. We have the option to either cooperate or resist, but ultimately, only God can create such change! 

Only God can create such transformation!

Only God can create such new life!

Only God can create gold from our dross!

Only God can create sweet wine from our sour grapes!

Only God can create life from our death!

Only God can create healing from our pain!

Only God can create abundance from our scraps!

Only God can create hope from our fear!

Only God can create a sprout from a dying seed!

Thanks be to God! Amen? Amen.