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Easter 6 May 1, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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EASTER 6 Year C 
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5:1-9

Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, May 1, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend

On March 30, 1920, a British soldier digging a trench in the desert of eastern Syria uncovered a set of vividly colored wall paintings. French and American archeologists, working in Baghdad, were quickly alerted and came to the site where they realized, to their astonishment, that this soldier, just trying to a dig a latrine, had stumbled in to the ancient city of Dura Europus, a garrison city that rested on a plateau overlooking the Euphrates River – a city that soon revealed its long hidden treasure: a Jewish synagogue and a Christian house church. What astounded the archeologists was the well-preserved collection of paintings on the walls of what, to date, is the earliest Christian baptismal room, a room with a large font dating from the 3rd c. Indeed, what they discovered were a series of painted scenes, inspired by the Bible, that were juxtaposed next to the font as if the scenes offered different understandings of this primordial Christian act of initiation.
 
For instance, on one wall, you can see three women, walking to a tomb, holding burning candles in their hands – a scene inspired by the end Mark’s gospel, the women coming to a tomb that is, to their utter surprise, empty: baptism as a resurrection from death, as a resurrection from meaningless living into a life marked by purpose in this world.  Above that scene, you can see this: one man holds out his arm, directing a second man, carrying a mat over his shoulder. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks the paralytic in today’s gospel. “Stand up, then,” he says, “take your mat and walk.”
 
I wonder: have you ever thought of your baptism and our weekly renewal of baptism as a source of healing? Have your fingers dipped into our blue and watery font, your fingers tracing the sign of the cross over your heart, with the recognition that you desire some form of healing in your life: healing of body, mind, or spirit; healing of a broken or uneasy relationship; healing of the wounds inflicted on others by poverty, hunger, or prejudice? Or this: is your life, your living, a source of healing for others?

Set next to the story of a destitute man healed by Jesus, we hear in today’s first reading of someone quite different: a businesswoman with a lucrative trade in the most expensive cloth on the market – a dealer in purple textiles, a cloth reserved only for the imperial family and victorious Roman generals – and thus a woman of considerable wealth, a non-Jew though a worshipper of the one God of Israel. “The Lord opened her heart,” writes Luke, opened the heart of a wealthy Gentile woman, who was then welcomed into this astonishing act of cross-cultural hospitality, of socially divided races coming together through the waters of baptism, those waters washing away what would normally divide people from each other in the larger society, washing away the socially constructed division between male and female, between Jew and Gentile. 
 
I wonder: have you ever considered your baptism and our weekly renewal of the sacred vows we make in baptism as the deeply radical act through which we resist racial and ethnic discrimination, through which we resist sexism and the ugly harassment of those marked by sexual orientations different than our own? When Katherine Jefferts Schori, the recently retired presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, was asked by a dumb-founded reporter why Episcopalians would welcome women, people of color, and gays and lesbians into public ministry, she said this: “For many years, we have made these vows at Holy Baptism, to serve Christ in all persons – not some persons – and to respect the dignity of every human being – not simply those human beings who happen to look like me and act like me.”
 
Could it be that our baptism into Jesus Christ prompts us, animates us both to defy the hateful rhetoric of discrimination and affirm the God-given dignity of every person, especially those who seem to have little in common with our various groups of like-minded friends?

Speaking of being dumb-founded, I am constantly irritated by those Christian voices who speak of an allegedly angry god who, they say, is going to incinerate the earth as punishment for the moral laxity of the rest of us (I think that would be me and a whole lot of you!). John of Patmos writes: An angel “carried me away to a high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down – coming down, coming down – out of heaven from God” – to earth. Is it possible that “the end” of all things might just look like “the beginning” of all things, that the garden we call earth will be restored by God, by God’s love, and by our cooperation with God’s invitation to “protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?”
 
I wonder: have your fingers dipped into our blue and watery font with the recognition that this water, drawn from the Green River, is also for us, “the river of the water of life” flowing from the throne of God, flowing down from the Cascades into our city, into our font, and into our lives? And this, too: will the dipping of your fingers into our blue and watery font be a sign of your commitment to care for the beauty and diversity of this earth?
 
Or this: have you imagined your life, suffused with the waters of heaven, as a source of refreshment for others?
 
After class this past Wednesday, a class in which we were studying German Christian resistance to the Nazi regime, a very frustrated student asked in controlled exasperation, “Isn’t it enough just to love Jesus and look forward to heaven when you die?” Well, here’s the challenge, I said, “To love Jesus is to love everything and everyone Jesus loves … and that love is indiscriminate.” I wonder: would that mean Jesus calls you and me to love the wealthy businesswoman, the dealer in purple textiles and a member of the 1% who control 40% of the nation’s wealth? Would that mean Jesus calls you and me to love the person who’s been collecting a welfare check for 38 years and can’t seem to get off his duff and into the swirl of life fast enough? Would that mean Jesus calls you and me to love those John calls the accursed of this earth and to love them in defiance of John’s apparent willingness to exclude them from the city of life?
 
Let’s be clear: to love someone does not mean that you and I sanction greed or abuse. To love someone means that you and I will not overlook their God-given dignity, will not forget that all of us are created in the image of God: for not one of us is pure or clean, and above reproach.
 
As if they are ancient paintings surrounding us and the baptismal font, the biblical readings proclaim the grace of diversity: the wealthy woman is welcomed to the font; the poor and disabled man can drink refreshment from its waters; the accursed of the earth will find a life-transforming power in our Water Man, Jesus Christ. Indeed, could we not place over the entryway to this space a large sign that reads, Do you want to be made well? If so, then I want to say: join us here at Christ Church, for we are not afraid to get wet with the water of heaven and make our life together a refreshment and a healing for any and every one.
 
Fr. Samuel Torvend