Fr. Bill Carroll – The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, August 1, 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today, brothers and sisters, we are baptizing a little boy named Daniel.  He is just nine months old, and we are initiating him into the Body of Christ.  Every baptism is a joyful occasion in the life of the Church.  Indeed, the saints in heaven are rejoicing.  And so is God himself.  

For today, we claim God’s awesome promises for Daniel.  Today, we hear God saying to him what he once said to Jesus at the Jordan:  “You are my beloved Son.”  

In Baptism, God is burying Daniel into the saving death of Jesus.  And God is raising Daniel up into the new life of grace.  God seals him with the Holy Spirit, and God marks him as Christ’s own forever.

And so, from now on, no matter what else life may bring for Daniel (whether it is joy, or suffering, or some mixture of the two like most of us have), Daniel belongs to Jesus.  This is God’s first and last word about him.  It is also his first and last word about us.  As Paul once put it, “We  belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”

Recently, I read a book by one of America’s most famous theologians.  He’s certainly the most famous one from Texas.  Stanley Hauerwas is from Pleasant Grove, Texas and was raised at the Pleasant Mound United Methodist Church.  Now, more often than not, he worships at an Episcopal Church, where his wife serves as a priest.  And, although he’s embarrassed by it, Time Magazine once called Stanley America’s best theologian.  

But Stanley knows there’s no such thing.  There’s no such thing as the best theologian.  There’s no such thing as the best Christian either—only a more or less faithful one.  Stanley’s the son of a master bricklayer, and he began work as a laborer in the family business when he was just eight years old.  He believes the best thing for a Christians to do is to find good, honest work —and then try to bless the people around us.  Throughout his career at Duke University Divinity School, he kept his father’s bricklaying trowel in his office as a reminder of the importance of hard work and striving to learn his craft.  He also used to joke that it reminded him that he had the privilege of sitting on his rear end and reading books for a living.

The book of his I read is called The Character of Virtue.  And it’s a collection of letters he wrote to his Godson at the request of the child’s parents.  These letters began with the boy’s baptism in 2002 and then continued once-a-year on the anniversary.  There are sixteen of these letters in all.  The book took almost twenty years to write.  And each letter describes a Christian virtue—everything from kindness and truthfulness to patience, faith, and love.  

What interests me most, though, is our brother Stanley’s reflections on the meaning of “friendship.”  Indeed, the Body of Christ throughout the world involves us in a kind of holy friendship that makes us brothers and sisters:  “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.  One God and Father of all.”  We are all brothers and sisters.  We are all children of God.  And, writing to his Godson on the third anniversary of his baptism (when he was a little child), Stanley, who by then was in his mid-sixties, tries to show the boy how such friendships—which transcend our differences in age or race or background—help us grow as followers of Jesus.  

As we baptize Daniel today, this is relevant not only for his Godparents, who are promising to bring him up in the Christian faith and life, but also for all the rest of us who promise “to do all in our power” to support Daniel in his life in Christ.  We must show Christian friendship to Daniel.  That means giving him stories and examples of Jesus-shaped people—and training in the Christian life.  It means giving him the tools that he will need to follow Jesus for a lifetime.  It means teaching him how to read the Bible, how to pray and worship, and, ultimately, how to love—how to love God and how to love all the neighbors God will put into his life.

Our brother Stanley notes that Americans are often outwardly friendly, but sometimes we struggle to form real, deep friendships.  Too often, our friendships arise from fun or usefulness, rather than a shared devotion to the truth (devotion to the truth as we know it in Jesus—a truth that is all about love).  God wants his Church to be a community of love and holy friendship.  The Church is supposed to be where we learn to turn from the ways of sin and death and follow in the steps of Jesus.  It’s a kind of school, really, where we learn to love the brothers and sisters God gives us—even when (perhaps especially when) that is very hard to do.  

“Friendship takes time,” Stanley writes, “because we don’t easily get to know one another.  But in a world that believes time is in short supply, God has given us all the time we need to become friends with one another.  And, in becoming friends with each other, we learn to become friends with God.”  For Christians, he writes, there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.

Friendship “takes time.”  It’s also hard work.  The more experience we have in sustaining relationships over time, the more we know we need help.  From the whole church community and ultimately from God, we need help—and we need time—to grow in the likeness of Jesus.  Friendship offers us many, many opportunities to practice forgiveness, justice, patience, and peacemaking with one another.  A friend is a companion with whom we strive to hear and speak the truth.  And so, “speaking the truth in love,” Paul writes, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  

The Good News is that God has given us all the gifts we need to do this.  God has given us every gift we need to grow together in Christ’s likeness.  Indeed, he has poured his own Spirit into our hearts.  He has given us the one Gift in whom all God’s gifts are given.  Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says that each one of us has been “given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

That measure is limitless.  Paul isn’t talking about a finite quantity.  The measure isn’t something that puts a limit on God’s gift.  What Paul is talking about is the Spirit poured out in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is the Spirit that will come down on the waters today as we plunge Daniel into the waters of baptism.  It is the Spirit of God’s infinite goodness and mercy—claiming this little brother of ours for God.  And it is the life-changing gift of the New Covenant in Christ’s own blood that assures us of God’s friendship.  For we have been called and chosen by a God who keeps his promises.  Today, we accept this gift and those promises for Daniel—once and for all.  

As we do so, let us renew our own renunciation of evil and our commitment to Jesus Christ.

May he turn our hearts back to God.  May we follow him in the ways of love.

For, in life and in death, Jesus has called us to be his friends.