A Sermon Preached
The Third Sunday of Easter – May 4, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
The church I served before coming to St. Augustine’s had a tradition of sharing what people called “God Sightings.” It began with their young people on the annual youth group work trip. They gathered each night, sharing ways that people had seen examples of God in their midst during the day, as they repaired fences, built wheelchair ramps, painted homes.
We continued that practice during the time I led the confirmation program at that parish. Each Sunday, three or four middle school students would stand up in front of their peers and share the ways they had seen God at work in the world that week. Sometimes it was as simple as a teammate helping one of our kids up on the field. Other times, it was profound – as it was when one confirmand named Peter (who was actually baptized at that font) talked about he light he saw in our columbarium. It was shining on his grandfather’s name as Peter went in that morning to pray before he was confirmed.
I would venture a guess that the disciples are not anticipating God Sightings of their own on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know why they’re headed that way. Are they trying to escape the same fate Jesus suffered? Are they trying to escape their own disappointment, their own grief, their own brokenheartedness? They meet a stranger on the way, seemingly the only person in all Jerusalem who doesn’t know about all that has unfolded in these last days. So they tell him about Jesus’ life, about his ministry and then his death. And then they say perhaps the three saddest words in all of scripture: “We had hoped.”
“We had hoped he would redeem us.”
“We had hoped…”
They go on, those disciples with broken hearts, walking with a stranger who is no stranger at all. But they don’t know that until he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it…and then in the blush of a moment, they have their own God Sighting, before he’s gone. Their hearts, first broken, now burn with recognition of the One – the One in whom they had hoped.
The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles actually takes place after today’s Gospel. In the time between the two, Jesus has ascended into Heaven. The disciples have cast lots to choose a twelfth disciple to take Judas’ place. And that crazy moment of Pentecost behind that closed and locked door, when all the twelve talk in different languages, and all the twelve understand each other. All of that has just happened.
So the people, flummoxed, say to Peter and the disciples – “What should we do?”
“Repent and be baptized,” Peter says.
I have to pause here to say that at first flinch, Peter’s answer feels less like a God Sighting to me, and more like a street corner preacher with a placard and a bullhorn.
But wait. Because repentance is really about orientation. It’s about deciding how we are going to focus, about who we are going to be. “Repent,” Peter says. “Turn away from those things that will not give you life. And turn toward the One who will.”
“And be baptized. Choose your identity, as one who is sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own, forever.”
So this is the God Sighting that Peter promises: you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. You will receive that gift, and also your children, and people who are far away, and everyone whom God calls.
Just as diverse as the many languages spoken by the disciples in that upper room and yet understood by all of them, so is this promise of the Holy Spirit to the same. It’s a God Sighting, to all who would turn toward it, who would seek that gift.
Today we welcome Brady Robert Curchin to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as he is baptized. We will gather around that font and remember the promise of our own baptism, as we help him to prepare for his. We will bless the water and remember God’s deliverance, how the people walked through the sea with a wall of water on their left and a wall of water on their right, and they walked through on dry land. We will remind Brady that he is sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own. Forever. We will receive him into the household of God, inviting him to confess the faith, to proclaim Christ’s resurrection, to share in his eternal priesthood.
And even as these next moments of Brady’s baptism may well serve as God Sightings for us, I hope we will recall those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Being faithful can also mean being disappointed, or grief-stricken. Being faithful can also mean being broken-hearted. Because grief is real, broken-heartedness is real. And in the end, even though hope prevails, love wins, there is still the path to follow on our way. We can teach Brady that, as he grows in his life of faith.
We can remember that Christ comes among us on the way – in moments of joy and moments of pain. I pray that we will look together for the promise for Brady, for our children, and for those who are far away, and for everyone whom God calls. I pray that we will look together, with Brady, for God Sightings in our midst.