2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
What would you do if your child went out of his mind? Can you imagine it? One night in LA in 1985, Bruce Springsteen, told a story about growing up with a dad who didn’t understand him. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Springsteen was growing long hair and playing in a rock band. He wasn’t sure what he was doing with his life—his father hated his hair, his desire just to play music—everything that his son cared about and desired. “I can’t wait till the Army gets you,” he’d say. “They’ll make a man out of you. They’re going to cut off all your hair and make a man out of you.” Apparently Springsteen got in a motorcycle accident and while he was laid up, his father had a barber cut off his hair, Crosby, Stills, and Nash notwithstanding. There were a lot of fights. Then Springsteen got his draft notice, and he went down to get his physical. God was looking out for all of us—Springsteen failed. So he came back home, and his dad asked, “Where you been?” And Springsteen said he went to take his physical. “What happened?” his dad asked. “They didn’t take me,” Springsteen said. “That’s good,” his dad said. Maybe he didn’t want the Army making a man out of his son, after all.
I think most parents would be proud to know their son was casting out demons and healing the crippled. But who wants to be rejected? Who wants to hear their child say that—here are my mother and my brothers. Here—these rejects, these sick, these enthusiasts. These people I don’t even know. These are my mother and my brothers. Isn’t protecting your child the will of God? Tradition holds that Mary and Jesus’ brother James were revered in the early church—but in this instance they stand physically and metaphorically outside from Jesus’s family. Parents just don’t understand, sang DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Even his mother, out of love, opposed him; and so Jesus opposed her. Jesus’ family stands against Jesus, and thus against God. Whoever does the will of God is my mother and sister and brother, Jesus says. Still—is he out of his mind?
On an errand for some water exemption documents, I ran across the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping last week. I got to talk to the Reverend Billy for a bit—he mentioned that he’s like Robert Duvall in The Apostle—self-ordained, and out to prick the conscience of the populace. He was with his Church of Stop Shopping Choir outside Federal Plaza, singing and chanting about impeaching Scott Pruitt. There were tourists wild-eyed at a real, honest-to-goodness New York experience. I could tell they thought the weirdos with the giant cardboard flowers chanting about impeaching Scott Pruitt were out their minds. But Scott Pruitt decided the EPA didn’t have to evaluate the impact of toxins on water, air, or soil on Friday, despite a bipartisan law mandating that the EPA do so. He doesn’t seem to worry that chemicals that likely cause cancer may leak into the American water supply. Now, we can survive without dry cleaning. But can we survive without water? Who is out his mind—Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping or the Honorable Scott Pruitt?
I think we should ask all Caitlin and Walter if they’re out of their minds today. I mean that with all sincerity and with the example before us of Christ. I say this because today we celebrate the baptism of their sons, Harrison and Killian. Here’s what Paul has to say about Baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” In the liturgy of baptism I ask parents if they desire to have their children baptized. It’s just a nice way of asking if they want their children to die. Of course, if we are born we must die. Death is the door prize of life. We must put it off as long as we can, so it seems strange to bring it up when Killian and Harrison are still so young. But we do. We ask—do you wish to have your children baptized into the death of Christ? Do you want them to die?
I am a father. It’s only been three years, but that’s long enough for me to have lost everything that I am to the sparkling eyes of my daughters. I myself have come before this font, and very cavalierly responded to the same question—do wish to have your children baptized, do you wish for you children to die, and I have said yes. I must be out of my mind.
And yet, Paul goes on, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” So we also ask—do you want your children to rise?
We all must be out of our minds. What are we doing here? Can we see ourselves like the people who surrounded Jesus? Desperate, ill, sick, wondering, curious, attentive? I wonder if we can live our lives so that the world will think we are out of our minds. If Jesus is our Lord, I certainly hope so. If death is the door to life, let’s walk on through.
We hear a lot about Christian values, as if our faith were a set of proscriptions, as if there were a spreadsheet out there on Google Docs that would guide us. But we are not baptized into a set of values. Instead we are incorporated into Christ—we are conformed to him. Better yet, Christ forms us like sculptor forms marble through suffering, trust in God, obedience to God, and the love of God for all people. God baptizes us into death, so that we can live a new life, a life that will hopefully make the world pause and say—are you out of your mind?
Baptism is good place for us to begin. At baptism we begin with the end, the finality, and then go on to eternity. Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my brother and my sister, Jesus says. I know that this is the will of God, because Jesus tells his disciples to baptize and make disciples of every nation. I know this is the will of God because baptism is God’s moment to look at the little child say, “I will love you no matter what.” As much I love the sparkle in my girls’ eyes, God loves her more than I can. Baptism is the touch of God, and the promise that even a mother and father can’t make: I will love you through death, and my love will give you life. Amen.
The Reverend John Flack