the 13th Day after Pentecost
September 8th, 2019
The readings for this day were
Canticle 9, the First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
The worst thing you can do with a piece of pizza is put it in the microwave. And I’m serious. If you want to put anchovies on it, that’s cool, go wild. In Japan, I found that some people like to put mayo and corn on their pizza. And I was like, really, but, you know, it wasn’t all that bad. It was still a pizza. But if you’ve got some left-over pizza from the night before, and you need to warm it up, don’t put it into the microwave. Like all bread-based food, when you put pizza in the microwave, it comes out all tough and chewy and hard. It’s inedible. Sure, it’s still got the cheese and the sauce and all, but you just can’t eat it. It’s not pizza anymore.
And I say all this because, in a way, the prophet Ezekiel is talking about microwaved pizza. Because it seems to me that, if we updated Ezekiel’s language to be more modern, we’d get something like this: “[God says] A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body a heart like a microwaved pizza, and I will give to you a fresh heart, like a pizza straight from the oven, eaten on the streets of New York City.” Not a tough, plasticky, yucky heart, but a soft, pleasant, delicious heart that fills your whole body with light and joy. Here, Ezekiel’s writing about how God lives with us in our lives and what God’s presence does to us, how it affects us, moves us, breaks open all those hard parts so that we can live lives of freedom and grace.
Because we know what Ezekiel’s talking about, don’t we? Whether we call them hearts of stone or hearts of micro-waved pizza, we’ve experienced that, haven’t we? I know I have. I remember, back in middle school, seeing a good friend of mine get bullied. And all I did was watch, then turn away. And why? Why didn’t I do something to help my friend? I was scared of getting involved, really. I didn’t want to step in because, I thought, that was his business. And, hey, my friend was a little annoying, so maybe he even deserved being bullied. I knew it was wrong, but these thoughts took over, and I did nothing. Nor was it just when I was young, but ever since, I’ve turned my back, walked away, ignored a call. It’s something that happens, I think, to all humans, that we ignore those who are calling out for real and honest help.
But his is all more than just being a good citizen. I’m not just saying that we should all be neighborly and then everything’s gonna be alright (though being neighborly is a pretty good place to start). This is about God; this is about life and letting the life of God grow within us and, through us, out into the world. Because, just as much as we know what it means to have a micro-waved pizza heart, I think we also know, each one of us knows, what it’s like when our heart is freshly baked, straight from the oven. Have you ever given a gift, not because you’ll get one in return, or it’s just what you do, but because you loved someone so deeply, so fully, so completely, that you just felt the need to give? Have you ever stayed at the bed of a sick person, and stayed all through the night, even though you could do nothing, but just so that that person wouldn’t wake up lonely? When we give with this kind of heart, when we live with this kind of heart, we don’t think about what we’ll get in return. No, we give to the point where we become love, where we become life, and that’s because, the more we live this way, the more we are Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and forever shall be the fullness of life for evermore.
Now, in a few minutes, we’re going to baptize little Cooper, but this softening of heart, this un-microwaving of the heart, this isn’t what’s going to happen to him when I pour water over his head. It’s not like poor Cooper has some microwaved piece of heart in his chest and we all have to get him baptized so that *snap* he’ll have a heart of flesh and life again. That’s actually a lot like microwaving, and we know what that does to the heart.
But something does happen in Baptism. It’s not the sudden, boom, changing of a heart; it’s the planting of a seed. In Baptism, God plants a seed inside our hearts. It’s a Jesus-seed that will grow into a Jesus-plant (I usually think of it as a Jesus-tree, but if you’re more the Jesus-bush or Jesus-flower kinda person, that’s cool, too). And as Cooper grows, he’ll meet all sorts of adversity. He’ll get discouraged, he’ll get frustrated, he’ll doubt. Maybe he won’t make star player on the team the first year out, or he won’t get the job he wants straight out of college. Maybe, God-forbid, a deeper tragedy will strike. Life, we all know, is full of disappointments and griefs, and unless we’re careful, these disappointments and these griefs harden our hearts. But that Jesus-tree, it breaks up that stone heart not from the outside but from within. It pushes against those hard bits, that doubt and discouragement, it pushes against them so that they soften. It keeps the heart from turning in on itself in hatred or despair but opens that heart in freedom.
And here’s where you come in. Baptism in Christ means the planting of a seed, a turning of the person to God. And, like all seeds, that Jesus-seed needs to be nurtured. It needs to be watered, given fresh sunlight, even manured every once in a while (I’ll let you parents figure out what I mean by manuring the heart). This is all done by God, of course, but we, as the Church, will also take part in God’s work. And that’s why, right before the baptism, we’ll all stand up and make promises for little Cooper, who one day won’t just be little Cooper, but Cooper, a man in his own right. But until then, it’s our job, as family, godparents, other friends and acquaintances – as the Church itself, it’s our job to nurture that Jesus-seed within him.
And so, just as Cooper’s Jesus-seed is being planted by the waters of Baptism, so too will we be looking to our own Jesus-tree in ourselves. This morning, we’re checking in on it, seeing how it’s doing, maybe pruning a branch here or putting in new soil there. We will, yet again, renounce evil and all the forces of wickedness that enslave us. We’re turn again to the goodness in Jesus Christ and promise, yet again, to follow him, and to keep on standing up each and every time we fall. And we’ll make the promise to one another that we’ll help tend and nurture each other’s Jesus-trees. And then, at last, we’ll look out into the world and promise to be the gardeners of God’s seed, those seeds that he planted in the hearts of every single person, every place, and every thing, when he sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to bring life and love into this dark world.
Baptisms are a new beginning. They’re a new beginning for Cooper, who has just started taking steps into this world; they’re a new beginning for us, who so often in our wayward lives need new beginnings; and they’re a new beginning for the Church, which is two-thousand years old but still forever young, forever reborn, in these waters that reach to the depth of Creation and back.