Church is a place where people come together to seek spiritual nurture and to offer themselves for the transformation of the world. If there is one thing that the church absolutely has to be it is a place of connection, care, and challenge. Yet time and again I witness the isolation of people in church and those who work in churches.
As a pastor in a church, one of the great privileges of my job is to hear people's stories. It is a sacred and holy experience to sit with someone and to listen to their dreams, their histories, their joys, and their struggles. On the days during which someone has honored me with their story I come home fully aware of the Divine that exists in the sharing of our lives.
During these moments of self disclosure we live into the fullness of our baptismal covenant. In the baptism liturgy we promise to love and support one another through all of our days. In the liturgy we remember the fierce faithfulness of God and we celebrate the many times that God delivered God's people from hardship. In our liturgy we vow to place Jesus at the center of our lives and to resist the evil and oppressive powers of this world. We bless water - symbolic of the powers of chaos and deliverance - and we mark our foreheads to seal the promises that we've made to one another and to God. This ritual initiates us into covenant life. It is our entry into radical connection with God, with one another, and with the church universal. When we open ourselves through the sharing of our stories - through the sharing of our lives - we make our baptismal vows real.
Why, then, do so many people who come to church remain isolated and wounded? Why, then, do so many people drift away from church worn out, tired, and weary? These are sad questions to ask. And I ask them not only of the laity but of the clergy. Too many of us do not feel the care we crave. We do not experience the nurture we seek. We do not find the connection that lies at the heart of authentic Christian community.
Today I feel the same isolation. Despite presiding over the holy and sacred ritual of baptism only yesterday, today I feel defeated, alone, and tired. I know that my feelings will soon pass, but I also know that too many people who sit in the pews in my small church have these feelings all too often. They are real describers of people's experiences. My heart weeps at the woundedness, and my soul longs for healing for my community, for the people I know (and don't know), and for my own sense of isolation on this day.
I wait for the day when Christians will believe in the power of our baptism and offer our woundedness to one another, trusting that care and nurture await us. People would find a deeper connection to God and to one another through the sharing of hurts and fears with each other. We might actually surprise ourselves if we dared to step into our baptismal covenant with trust in the promises that we've made.
Progressive Christianity struggles, in part, because many folks who identify as such tend to be individualistic and intellectual in approaching life (and faith). The problem, of course, is that our faith is communal and our God is a mystery. Sharing our lives together is part of what church invites us to do - even demands that we do. This is a challenge for many people. It takes time and trust; it requires us to extend ourselves in faith to one another. But I believe that we would all find something unexpectedly sacred if we would extend ourselves in this way, if we would open ourselves up to one another with faith in our baptismal vows. Through the sharing of our pain, I believe that we would find hidden strengths that would surprise and awe us.
If you, like me on this day, are tired to the bone...if you, like me on this day, wonder how things will figure themselves out...if you need something to act as a reminder that God is ever present, ever caring, and ever moving in our lives, remember the power of baptism - God delivers us from the evils, the sorrows, and the oppression of this world and the people who assemble (the church) has promised to offer needed strength and care during hard and painful times. Whether we're busy because we have young children, are sad because someone we loved has died, are weary of oppression and marginalization that never relents, or are struggling with the demons inside of our souls, we all need some care, connection, and strength from another from time to time. It's okay. That needed connection lies at the heart of our faith and is what holds us up when we know that otherwise we might drown. I know that I'll spend time this evening thanking God for my baptism and asking God for the strength that I did not feel today.
I hear too many church people express that they feel isolated while they sit in the gathered assembly. Somehow church has become broken. We need to fix it. And the only way to fit "it" is to open ourselves to one another. Remembering our baptism is a good place to start...
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