What was your first church like? How did it feel to you to be there? Did you feel welcomed? Loved? Accepted for who you were? Did you have a niche to fit in? Space to grow in? Did people know your name and the names of those you loved? I can imagine that there are as many different first experiences of church as there are people in this room. Churches take so many different shapes and forms.
Was yours one of those churches where you knew you were loved right down to the tips of your toes? Could you count on someone smiling warmly when you caught their eye—even if you were in the midst of making mischief? When you shrieked—as most kids do—did folks turn to you and smile or did they turn and scowl or did they not respond at all just pretending that that noisy you wasn’t there?
One of my good friends often talks about the church she was raised in. My friend was never an easy person to pigeonhole or to control. She pushed every boundary she could find. But that church of her childhood not only accepted her, they reveled in her. My friend knew she was loved no matter who she was or wasn’t—no matter what she did or didn’t do. That’s how my friend came to know she was beloved of God. That’s how my friend grew to love God. She was loved and that was all she needed.
My friend was lucky enough to be born and baptized into a community that knew how to love the children in their midst. They weren’t perfect, but they knew how to love their kids. I suppose you could say that that was one of their special gifts, one of their charisms, one of the marks on their part of the body of Christ. What a gift that community gave their children! What a gift that community gave the future!
The community to which John wrote or maybe preached was also a community with charism—a special gift. The gift of that community was the gift of an active love for one another. It wasn’t something that came easy to them—time and again in the three short letters of John—we hear about the challenges they faced as they worked to live out their life in Christ as a life grounded in love for one another. But work at they did.
I wonder how they did it—I wonder how they kept coming back to that practice of love. How they returned to love when they felt cranky, hurt, ignored, misunderstood. How they returned to love when the love they gave was not met with love. I wonder how they learned to live that active kind of love—that love of neighbor that loves no matter what is given back. It couldn’t have been easy. If it were easy, we’d have no letters from John. He wouldn’t need to write. But write he does.
Could it be that that little community was one grounded in connection—connection with one another and with God? How does John put it—“we are God’s children” and “we will be like him”. They weren’t strangers tossed together, they weren’t people gathered together because they shared a common interest or a common end. They weren’t an interest group or a business or even a club. They were brothers and sisters—all children of God, all beloved of God. Children of God joining together to help one another live in love. How they lived with one another, how they treated one another, what they held dear mattered. Such things matter for us as well.
Today we are baptizing Silas Jude Ruiz. We are welcoming him into the Body of Christ. This is not something I do or his parents or his sponsor. This is something we all do together. We receive him into the Body of Christ and commit to helping him live his life in Christ.
We welcome Silas into a community where all are welcome. We welcome Silas into a community where all can safely live. We welcome you, Silas, into a community where you can grow into the person God created you to be. Challenge us. Inspire us. Help us to grow in our life in Christ. Shake the walls. Rattle the foundations. Keep us ever mindful of the One in whose name we gather. Like you, Silas, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. Thanks be to God.