When I was a teenager, I wrote letters back and forth for a few years with a friend in Jacksonville, Florida. She’d moved to Mobile for her father’s work when we were in middle school, but her family quickly decided to return to Florida a year later. We kept in touch by long letters, mailed back and forth along I-10, and we always signed them, “In Christ.” I felt untethered for most of my adolescent years until I found my home in the church, and finding friends who also identified primarily by their faith was a lifeline of identity for me.
I’m sure there was a dash of adolescent, evangelical superiority and judgement in that—we are in Christ but they are not in Christ. But I look back on it now and think we were somehow aware that even if we only got to be friends in real life for a year, we could continue to be in each other’s lives because we were in Christ together. There was a location beyond geography in those words. There was an interconnected family beyond family-of-origin in those words.
Yes, we’re behind on sermon updates! Two sermons coming shortly. Three Sundays do not have updates:
7.14.19 Impromptu Casual Sunday the weekend of Tropical Storm Barry; no formal sermon
7.28.19 Rev. William Thiele preached; Rev. Lott leading Family Ministries Beach Retreat
8.4.19 Sr. Alison McCrary preached; Rev. Lott away on Summer Leave
A lot of preachers, particularly in my circles, it seems, don’t like to spend too much time in the epistles because there’s so much to untangle and mend. In these old letters, we also come across an awful lot about avoiding sin and hear that as swapping one old purity code for a new one: staying clean for Jesus lest he take back that gift of salvation. As I’m sitting with the letter to the Galatians in one hand and Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ in the other, I find I quite love what Paul and his colleagues are writing to these early churches. They are saying: this way of doing faith that you are living out together in real time requires you all stick together, walk together, and share a common life together. You can’t do this alone.
Alone is how we spend much of our lives. I don’t mean alone in that really good, decadent sense. Alone for just a couple of hours in an empty house before kids and spouse come home. Alone overlooking the beach at sunrise with a cup of coffee in hand watching the sky turn blue. Alone walking a bayou at dusk as the night herons and ibis make their way home. That’s good alone, invigorating alone, overflowing with beauty kind of alone.
One of the loveliest parts of my role as pastor in a church tradition named for voluntary, believer’s baptism, is that I’ve had the honor of baptizing quite a lot of folks here in my not-quite-six years. I have baptized dear friends who stay late in the night at my house for that good conversation when all the dinner plates just sit empty. I have baptized a determined, funny, and kind octogenarian who had been baptized as an infant but wanted to have this immersion experience in the place we gather. I have baptized several young people who are ready to step into this faith tradition and call it their own, including my own son and daughter.
Every time, it’s something of a miracle. Physically: these old pipes still manage to pump water into the baptistery. This old baptistery will holds water unless the pastor forgets to shut it off after the hours it takes to fill. Even the old 1926 heater still manages to cycle all of that water and warm it up enough to take the chill off on a January morning. We step into the water like hundreds maybe thousands have before us. How many have entered the waters here? Steven Meriwether guiding them down the steps. Avery Lee lowering them under the water and raising them up again. Myron Madden welcoming them to walk in newness of life. It’s a central ritual in our story as a people as we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. That’s what we say at the end. We are being washed into this Christ-ness we follow.