Psalm 139 and Romans 12:1-8
“Now here’s what I want you to do, God helping you. Take your everyday ordinary life, your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life, and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1)
These words, translated into modern language from the Greek, are Paul’s words to the church in Rome two thousand years ago. Paul wants the church in Rome to recognize that their everyday, ordinary lives, are sacred when we offer our lives to God. Our very lives are sacred— you might even say sacramental.
A sacrament, according to St. Augustine, is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In the United Methodist church we have two official sacraments— both of which you get to participate in today. The first one, which you already participated in, is the Sacrament of Baptism. This is the time when we either publicly declare our own faith in Christ and receive water as a confirmation of that faith; or someone else does it for us, as was the case for Hazel and Sawyer this morning. Baptism is something that Jesus experienced, as well as his followers, and so we, today, as followers of Jesus, also bear witness to what God is doing in our lives by being baptized or by bringing our children to be baptized because we want them to experience God’s grace for themselves. In the United Methodist Church we don’t believe there is a certain age that is preferable for baptism, but we do offer Confirmation, in which children who have been baptized can confirm that baptism for themselves and take the vows of baptism for themselves. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work through baptism, but that baptism is not needed for salvation— that baptism does not guarantee you eternal life, nor is it guaranteed you won’t have eternal life if you aren’t baptized. Instead, baptism is a time when the Holy Spirit acknowledges the beginning of our faith and we commit to follow Christ in this life. It’s also a time when we confess that we can’t follow Jesus on our own, and so through baptism the community surrounds us in these vows and we pledge to one another to support each other on this journey of faith.
The other sacrament we have in the United Methodist church is communion. This, too, was instituted by Jesus as he gathered with his disciples and broke bread. We often think specifically of his meal with his disciples in the upper room, but there are many other times in Scripture when Jesus shared bread with his friends and, after his resurrection, when he appeared to them and broke bread with them. We know that the early church continued this ritual, and so continue it today— experience God’s grace given to us through this bread and juice as the Holy Spirit still chooses to be present with us in this simple meal.
These are the two official sacraments of our faith— the rituals that we have to remember that God is with us; the actions that connect us to most other Christians around the world; and the two times when we sincerely believe that God chooses to show up— not because of anything we’ve done, but because God is faithful and good.
One of my favorite ways to understand these two sacraments was given to me by Barbara Brown Taylor. It may have been in a talk she gave or a book that she has written; but at some point I remember her saying that what we do here in church when we partake of the sacraments— either by once again renewing our faith in another’s baptism or by receiving the bread and juice—is to once again recognize how completely amazing and absurd it is that God chooses to come to us in the common things of life. By taking water; bread; juice— and calling them holy in this place as we are surrounded by the communion of saints and connected to God and each other— we practice naming God’s sacredness so that we can go out into the world and continue naming God’s holiness in the simple things in life around us.
If God chooses to show up here in the bread, then of course God is going to show up in your home when you are at your wit’s end and the only thing you have left in the cupboard is a bit of bread when your heart is breaking.
If God chooses to show up here in the juice, then of course God is going to show up at the corner lemonade stand as you plunk down your fifty cents and you are handed a sticky cup from a child who needs to know her neighbors.
If God chooses to show up here in the water that is placed on these beautiful children’s heads then of course God is going to show up in the lake water when you are out fishing one morning and the fog is lifting and it seems that out there in the quiet it is just you and God.
These sacraments are not meant to be exclusive— to get you to come to this place so that you can experience God. These sacraments are meant to point to the utter fact that can seem so elusive at times: that God walks with us every step of the way. And we come here to once again be reminded that yes, we are children of God and we can affirm God’s goodness and our commitment to fight against the evil of this world; and yes, we are all welcome at God’s table all the time no matter what because God never turns us away. And yes, we need each other on this journey because it can be difficult to follow Jesus in our world today.
One of the most important parts of my faith as a follower of Jesus and as a United Methodist Christian, is that everyone is welcome at this table. And often we say it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, but I’d like to say it the opposite way. It does matter. God knows who you are. And God wants you at this table. God wants your everyday ordinary life— your going to work, sleeping, messed up life. God doesn’t want you to wait until you have it all together. God doesn’t want you to wait to believe the “right” things— whatever those might be. God doesn’t want you to wait because you don’t feel worthy or you don’t know whether you should or even because you don’t know if you believe in God at all. God wants you to come and know that you are welcome— not in spite of who you are— but because of who you are. Whether employed or unemployed; whether born here or a transplant; whether you are Norwegian or Nigerian or Swedish or Dutch or Liberian or German or Japanese or Chinese or Peruvian or a mix of them all, you are welcome; whether you are gay or straight or transgender or something we don’t have a category for; whether you struggle with mental illness or a disability; married or single or divorced; whether you are old or young or somewhere in between; whether you are hungry today or you’ve come full of stuff that has made you ill; you are welcome at this table and you always will be.
Later in this same letter to the Romans, Paul compares the diversity of our humanity with the diversity of a human body— that each part has its own function; that each part has to be different in order for the body to work. You were baptized as a child of God not because you are like everyone else, but precisely because God made you you. And you are welcome at this table not because you share some attribute with others that makes you welcome; you are welcome because God is a God who welcomes you. Period. God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So let’s celebrate today the sacredness of these sacraments. Let’s dance in the aisles that we worship a God who loves us. But let’s not stop there. Let’s go out and proclaim to the world that all that God has made is holy; everything is sacred. Let us go into the world and work to end injustice and oppression; open our eyes to where God’s Kingdom is here on earth. Let us share God’s love and never stop until every last person, animal, creature, and part of the earth knows what love looks like and has experienced for themselves. Because when we love first, we get to be witnesses of who God is in this amazing world, and then all will know the abundant love of God.