The Rev. Matthew Ichihashi Potts, PH.D., Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications.
By the Rev. Matthew Ichihashi Potts, Ph.D.
Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals
Faculty of Divinity
(The following is a transcript from the service audio)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Good morning, everyone. So those of you who are on the radio, who are listening on the radio can't see what the sanctuary can see, which is the air cast on my foot and the cane. I'll get to that in a minute, but that's part of the reason why I'm not climbing up the stairs to the pulpit. But I'm also not climbing up the stairs because the big event today is the baptism of these four lovely children, and I just kind of want to get out the way and get to that as quickly as possible.
But today is a big day for the church, that's right. It's a big day for the church. It's a big day for the church. We're doing so many things today. It's All Saints' Day. One of the great feasts in the church year, a feast upon which we do have these baptisms and we're having four baptisms today, another great reason to celebrate. We've got a basketball team here, continuing an annual tradition, which is so great. It's a particularly embarrassing today, but I'll tell you more about that, it might have something to do with this cane. I'll tell you about that in a minute.
We're also the first Sunday of the month here at Memorial Church is traditionally a time when we celebrate communion, Holy Communion, but for reasons of the pandemic, we've discontinued that practice for the time being until it is more safe. But communion is a right of sharing and giving thanks, and the fact that we can't share Christ's body and blood in this space does not mean that we cannot still share and cannot still give thanks. So we are observing this new ritual of Eucharistic fasting today. We're keeping a fast and that's another thing we're doing today.
We also have these demanding lessons, especially the from John about the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In the next few minutes, I'm going to try to tie all those things together for you, and I'm going to do it on one leg.
Let's start with the reading from the Gospel of John, one of the most well known readings from all the gospels, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It's traditionally read on All Saints' Day, because All Saints' Day is a day when we remember the dead. We remember those saints who have gone before us. We give thanks for them and remember them. You can see in this moment from the gospel, you can see Jesus's pastoral presence, the grief of this family, even Jesus's grief. The translation we have is different but in the King James version the translation of verse 35, "Jesus wept." The shortest verse in all scripture, "Jesus wept." On this day, All Saints' Day when we remember those who have gone before us, this is a reading which invites us into these moments of mourning and lamentation. Just like Niam, mourning and lamentation.
But there's one thing that's always kind of struck me about this lesson. The miracle happens, Lazarus is raised, but Lazarus isn't still walking around. Eventually again, Lazarus had to die. Eventually again, his sisters would grieve, eventually again, the mourners would come. What are we meant to do with that? It's a good lesson for All Saints' Day, and All Saints' Day is today and All Saints' Day is not only the day when we remember those we have loved and lost. It's also a day when we remember all the saints, all those who have been sanctified by the love of God and in our Protestant tradition. That means everybody, not just the famous people of amazing and incredibly saintly works, not just Mary and Francis and Theresa or Nicholas and Patrick and Valentine, not just those famous saints, but everyone. All those who have been sanctified by God's love and that's everybody.
That's also the reason why it is traditional and customary and appropriate on All Saints' Day for us to do baptisms because that's what happens at baptism. We welcome children, and today these four children, into the fellowship of God. We mark the fact that they are beloved of God.
But I have to confess to you that I have a problem with some traditional interpretations of baptism and what happens. In some versions of baptismal theology there's this idea that the rite of baptism is the thing that makes God's love accessible to the child. That before that moment, the child is separated from God in some impossible way and after that moment because of baptism, God's love can reach the child and I'll tell you, I don't like that. God's love is infinite. These children are already beloved, ask their parents, ask their families. They don't need anything that I'm going to do or we are going to do today to let God's love get to them. They aren't changed or transformed in that way by this rite. What happens at baptism then? Why do we do baptisms? What has changed? Who is changed?
Let me tell you how I hurt my foot. I am not a basketball player. I like basketball. I grew up in Michigan when the Detroit Pistons were pretty good, they're not so good right now, but I was really into basketball in middle school and I tried out for the basketball team in middle school and I learned really quickly that I am not a basketball player even though I like basketball.
My son, Danny, my seven year old son, Danny, whom some of you have heard about before if you've been coming to church, loves basketball. Loves basketball. He will come home from school, we got a backboard in the driveway over at Sparks House. He'll come home from school and he will spend a hours out there, if he has to by himself, shooting baskets. But whenever he can persuade anybody else in the house, basketball's a team sport, he wants other people out there playing with him. On Tuesday he invited me out to play basketball with him and I did. We do this fairly routinely, Colette does it more than me. She's a great sport, she's also got better balance than me evidently.
But I was out there with Danny and we were playing basketball and we were having a good time and we had a play going because we're having fun. This is where it gets embarrassing, guys, so just bear with me. We had this thing where I was passing behind my back, bounce pass to Danny, who was running up to court and he grabbed it. He dribbled around some imaginary defenders and then tossed a pass to me, which I was meant, on this eight foot rim, to catch in the air as an alley-oop and dunk. I caught the pass, I missed the dunk, and I landed on the side of my foot and crumpled. Then Danny flipped out.
I am not a basketball player or I should say, I don't believe I was meant to be a basketball player. But because of Danny, I'm a basketball player. In six to 12 weeks, I'm going to be a basketball player again. I might not be attempting any alley oops, but honestly I can't make any promises because Danny, his presence, his existence, my love for him changes me. I didn't think I was a basketball player until he said, "Dad, I need you to play basketball with me," and then I became a basketball player, a clumsy and unskilled one, but a player nonetheless. Ask these families what happened to their families when these children who we are about to baptize came into their families. They were changed. They were changed.
It's happened in your families. When you have a new child or a new sibling or a new stepchild or a new spouse or whatever, this is the way family systems work. When someone comes into your family, the whole family is transformed, changed. You become a new person when you agree to love somebody, you become a new person. These children aren't going to be changed today by what happens here. We are going to be changed today by what happens here, because they're going to come up here and stand in front of us or be held in front of us, I guess, beloved children of God, and all of you are going to stand up and promise. You may not have realized when you walked in this building that you were going to make a solemn vow before God today, but you are going to make a solemn vow before God today, and each of you in this sanctuary is going to promise to love these children and to do all you can to support them. When you make that promise, you will be changed.
You might not know these kids. You might not have the luxury of a personal relationship with them beyond this day, but that vow stands. You'd better work to make the world that they inherit one which is more loving and more just and safe from things like climate change and racism and injustice because they're going to come up here and we're going to tell them that we love them and that is going to transform you. The church, you, the church will be made new when you say that, just as surely as a family is made new when a new child is born, this church family will be made new when we welcome these children into it.
I don't mean just this church. I mean church with a capital “C,” this is the miracle of God's timelessness and infinity. This is the miracle. Christians all over the world are going to be changed because we are welcoming these children into our fellowship today. Christians across time and place are going to be changed because we welcome them. Just as surely as what my grandparents' stories meant when I was born changed the story of all these saints from the past that we know, even these great saints like Mary and Francis and Patrick and Nicholas and Valentine, their stories are going to be changed and transformed. They will be made new, even Lazarus, dead 2,000 years ago and risen and then dead again, even his story is going to be coming into new meaning this morning by what we do with and for these children today because the church today is going to be made new again, four times in like three minutes. There is no more sacred thing that we do. We are going to be made new because God's love makes all things new and the sign of that love is and always has been a child and our promise. The promise that we make and the promise that we keep to love and protect that child with all that we are and all that we have. Amen.