A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on August 14, 2022
Scripture: I Corinthians 12:12-26 (The Message): Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.
I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In Saturday’s New York Times, David Brooks offered an essay about the importance of friendships, and not just friendships, but friendships which cut across class lines… and I thought, “aha, those kinds of friendships that our children make in church, or at church camp!”
Because, you see, children who are part of friendship which cut across the social lines that divide us one from another – those children – do better in life than kids who don’t. He writes:
One of the most powerful predictors of whether you rise out of poverty is how many of the people you know are well off.
The size of the effect is astounding. Cross-class friendships are a better predictor of upward mobility than school quality, job availability, community cohesion or family structure. If these results are true, then we have largely ignored a powerful way to help people realize the American dream.
Now the essay is focusing on upward mobility, but I don’t think the positive effects of cross-class friendships are limited to just making more money or living. That’s because cross-class friendships are just one example of the reality we explore in baptism.
Baptism, you see, establishes the ultimate cross-class friendship. Think again about what Paul describes in our lesson from 1 Corinthians: Your body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. We are all part of something, something that is incomplete without what we bring to the body.
Today, right now, we are more complete now that Maeve is part of the body.
There’s more to this – because, you see, baptism, in its proclamation of radical inclusivity, drives inclusivity in our wider world…. not overnight, but inevitably. That’s because baptism is a foundational acknowledgement of humanity.
Look at it this way: we only baptize human beings. We don’t baptized dogs or cats or cows or sheep. We baptize humans. Therefore, anyone we baptize is human. Baptism is an absolute affirmation of our humanity.
That means that when slaveholders insisted that their slaves must be baptized, they were acknowledging that slaves were human beings – not sub-human, not animals, but people, and people loved by God. When we said Natives had to be baptized, we were acknowledging their humanity. I don’t think every slave holder understood what they were doing, but that doesn’t change the truth of the offer.
Baptism is Christianity’s response to the attacks on any of us who have been told that we are not fully human for whatever reason – women who’ve been told they are second class, trans folks, GLBTQ+ people, Black people, brown people, all POC, folks with intellectual challenges, immigrants, people who don’t dress right, eat right, talk right – it doesn’t matter to God, and it shouldn’t matter any of God’s people. Because God has recognized that each any every human being matters.
Once you acknowledge someone’s humanity, you can no longer legitimately deny them the right to live as they are, as who they are. They are real, as they are; they do not need to change to be human.
This applies to everyone, to the whole world. You don’t have to be baptized to be recognized as a human being. It’s not about being baptized, it’s about our unconditional welcome to every human in the world. It wasn’t baptism that made slaves human, it was God who made everyone human. Baptism helps us see that truth, and pushes us to make it real in our lives.
Baptism destroys the idea that the church is a club for like-minded people. And when we live up to our calling, we naturally create cross-class friendships. When we create those cross-class, cross-race, cross all the dividing lines-relationships, we change ourselves and our world.
It’s not easy, but that’s what we’re here for, that’s why we baptize. The struggle to change, to recognize the meaning of baptism, is the struggle of our world to grow closer to God’s intention for us, to be a place of peace, justice, love, acceptance, mercy.
Every time we baptize someone, we stand up for the equality of all humanity. And every time we seek to live into our baptism, we take part in that difficult, but foundational, struggle. Maeve doesn’t yet know what’s out there for her, but her parents have promised to teach her, and we have promised to help them, not just here, but standing in for every congregation which takes baptism seriously.
Today we blessed Maeve and her family, and we thank them for reminding us of the power of baptism to make our world better.