I shared with you last week some of the stories about taking the ashes of Ash Wednesday out into the streets and into our neighborhood, and some of the interactions that we had with our neighbors. How this ritual of the ashes reminds us of our connection with all of humanity, with the earth, with each other and with God our creator, as we take the ashes and say over and over again, from dust you have come and to dust you will return. Divisions were dissolved as I bent down to touch the forehead of the old man slumped on the sidewalk, or lifted the foils on the woman in the hair salon, or smoothed the curls of the little boy at the gate, and taking my thumb, dipping it in the ashes and placing it on their forehead, said, from dust you have come and to dust you will return.
As the ashes—the dust—pressed into the skin of the humanity around us, as I traced that sign of the cross, it dissolved the barriers between us, looking into the eyes of another human being and remembering our shared humanity. It a reminder of how we are all interconnected with each other, with the earth, created out of the expansive love and creativity of our shared Creator, who formed humanity out of the dust, shared even as the God of the universe, when incarnate, come and mixed with the ash and the dust of human flesh, came and walked among us as the Christ, the anointed one.
Baptized by water, reaching out and touching and healing, gathering people around the table, welcoming little children, blessing bread and wine, and inviting us to take and eat, remembering God’s love for us, remembering how we belong to God and to each other. Remembering how this child, prepared to be baptized here today, belongs to God, and we belong to her.
As the prophet Kahlil Gibran writes:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
Today Leia is getting baptized, and in her baptism we remember how she belongs to God, to life greater than us, how out of the Love of God she was created and to the love of God she will return, baptized to name and claim this belovedness.
This baptism is for Leia, and for her parents, Sarah and Ed, and for their family. But this baptism is also for all of us, as a church belonging to each other.
While baptism is an invitation into something so much larger than any one community, as it connects us with the church universal, the communion of saints, all people who are loving God and serving neighbor in a myriad of ways, baptism, also connects us and binds us to the people right here with us. There is a beauty in the expansiveness of the church universal, and there is power in the particularities, of the specifics. This child, this family, this community, this church naming and claiming God’s love and promise, here, today. Naming how this child belongs to God, and how we belong to each other.
Baptism is a sign of that belonging.
Signs of belonging are tricky, because it’s so easy to see and point to how signs of belonging can quickly be used to say how people don’t belong. We need to watch that and be aware of that tendency in ourselves as human beings.
Yet, this is not a reason not to engage this sacrament, in fact, I believe it’s all the more the reason to deeply engage the particularities of a path of faith, and to choose to live and embody our faith in the world in a way that claims this belonging, as a commitment to being people who value all of humanity, living lives that enact the compassion and justice and reconciliation and hope that comes when we remember how we belong to God and to each other.
When we talk about belonging here at the Garden Church, I often compare the images of the fence or the magnet. So often the way that we belong to things is by having to cross over a fence—to believe the same thing, to look the same way, to follow certain rules, in order to be accepted.
But here at the Garden Church, and in a growing number of gathering communities, we’re working to engage a different model. A reimagined model. One of a magnet rather than a fence. And the magnet is the table—God’s table where all are welcomed, to feed and be fed. We belong here, however we choose to engage, because we’re drawn to it, and in being drawn together, we encounter each other. However we engage, as we put our hands in the dirt, as we pray, as we serve together, as we welcome the next face through our gates, we all belong because we choose to move towards love, and in love, belong to each other, and to our creator.
So this act of baptism today, this choice to engage this sign of belonging, is a choice to belong to a community centered around a magnet, not one that is a sign of making it over a fence.
It’s the choice to name and claim what is true and available for all of us, regardless of our path. That the loving God of the Universe, the Source of all things, created us and claims us as beloved, and that we, choose to live and see and claim that belovedness, that care for each other as human family, with each other.
When Jesus was baptized in the river by his cousin John, it was an unexpected choice, not going to the religious leaders, in the temples, behind the fences and strict codes to ask for ritual purification through proper channels. No, he went to the edge of the Jordan river, the local basic water source, where all the people were, and asked his cousin John, the roving prophet dressed in camel hair, who was living on a diet of wild honey, this roving prophet who’d been calling for repentance, for a change of minds, preparing the way for the anointed one, the Messiah to come. And then, there’s Jesus, going to John, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all, amongst the people who were on the outskirts—curious, wondering, seeking—and asks to be baptized.
And when we was baptized, by a humble and reluctant John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
This is the message of the God of all things. This is the promise to each of us. This is the promise that we claim in baptism today.
God loves you. God loves us. God created us and created us beloved. And because of this, God is always drawing us closer, cleansing us, changing us, freeing us, creating us anew, drawing us around this table and reminding us that each and every day is a new day, and we are beloved and we belong to each other.