Holy Cross Day September 14, 2009

Numbers 21:4b-9                                                                               

1 Corinthians 1:18-24                                                       

John 3:13-17

I want us to reflect together this morning on two things: desire and commitment. We will find, I think, that our reflections lead us to a deeper understanding both of baptism and of the cross.

This last Friday I drove up to Tilton to meet a friend for lunch. It was also an opportunity for me to pick up some socks and undershorts at the outlet mall. There, parked next to me, was one of those huge excursion buses – from New Jersey, no less – which had driven all that way with a load of people to shop. A few of the shoppers were straggling back to the bus, bags of purchases in hand, looking exhausted. Looking lonely, too. Malls are full of people, but they are not communities.

This, I thought, is what desire has come to. We have taken something at the very heart of what it is to be human and perverted it to feed consumerism. New things – even new boxer shorts – can give a momentary lift, but of course they do not really satisfy desire. Looking at those shoppers climbing back into their bus to drive back to New Jersey, I thought about the first time I went on retreat to the monastery in Cambridge. (Some of you may remember the story.) It was at a broken time in my life, a time of deep crisis, and I had signed up for the retreat hoping to escape. That first evening, meeting with the retreat director, we were told to pray about that thing which our hearts most deeply desired. For me, that was exactly what I had come to escape, so my prayer brought me to a sort of personal cross.

We all have, I think, these deep desires of our hearts. If we do not confront them, if we do not bring them to God in prayer, they lead us off, as it were, on lifelong shopping trips – sad diversions that fail to satisfy. Though confronting our deepest desires is painful, it is there that we meet Jesus and discover the path to redemption and true fulfillment. The way always leads through the cross. It involves the giving up of illusions, pretenses, false gods. It involves acknowledging our mistakes, our sins, the ways in which we have fallen short and hurt others. We can feel we are being asked by Jesus to surrender everything, to return to Go without collecting $200 and without any sense of where life will go next. But what is happening is that Jesus is transforming our desires, from something false to something true.

I spend much of my time as a pastor helping people come to this point of surrender. (And I should point out that for most of us it isn’t just a one-time occurrence. We are asked to surrender again and again as we move though life.) It is like the time as a little boy taking swimming lessons I was required to do a back flip off the diving board. Coach Kelly stood there with me at the end of the board, gently coaxing me as a leaned further and further over backwards, terrified to let go. “It will be okay,” he said. “It will be fun.”

Jesus is saying that too, coaxing us to let go of all the false things we have amassed, the false gods we have pursued. And he does not promise us just that it will be fun. What he promises us is that we will find eternal life. For as our desire is purified, gradually through many givings up and lettings go through life, we discover that what we really long for is no less than God. And as we find God, God gives us treasures beyond what we could ever imagine. We want the false things less and less and the true things more and more, because we ourselves are being transformed into the shape of Jesus Christ.

So that is about desire. Let us reflect now on commitment. The thing about our shopping mall society is that it requires no commitment (or at least no commitment beyond paying the credit card bills). Indeed, it discourages commitment. It promotes the idea that we should move from job to job, spouse to spouse, house to house, car to car as we go through life because commitments “tie us down,” prevent us from finding “true fulfillment.”

The service of Holy Baptism begins (for adults) with a simple question: “Do you desire to be baptized?” That is all – though, as we have seen, an enormous “all” if we understand the full dimensions of this desire. But the whole rest of the service is all about commitment. Especially the promises we are asked to make in the Baptismal Covenant. These are not promises just for the liturgy, just for the day. They are not promises just so long as we find them useful or personally fulfilling. They are promises for life, for ever.

We promise to continue for life in the teaching and fellowship of the Church; to persevere for life in resisting evil and repenting and returning when we sin; to live all our lives as witnesses to the Good News of Christ; always to seek and serve Christ in all persons; and to strive for justice and peace until our striving is closed in the grave. These are awesome commitments, but they are only our response to the awesome commitment Christ makes to us in baptism. For it is his promise to us that he will never let us go, never desert us on our pilgrimage, be with us for ever and to the end.

So, desire and commitment. Little Paityn Robert does not come to the Font today on the strength of her own desire and commitment. She probably desires only to go home and have lunch and her commitment is only to love her parents as they love her. No, we baptize her on the strength of our desire and our commitment. This little church is named Holy Cross for a reason; because it is the cross that symbolizes the kind of desire and the kind of commitment that alone offer a fulfilling life and the promise of eternal glory.

In baptizing Paityn Robert, let us open our deepest desires to the Lord and commit ourselves anew to crucified and risen life in him.

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