I was dressed in the soft, white gown that my father wore when he was a baby.
The pastor poured water on my forehead and baptized me in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This was one of the most significant moments in my life and it was pure grace.
I was only a few months old at the time. I had no choice in the matter. I hadn’t done anything to deserve God’s love; I hadn’t done anything that needed forgiveness.
But even though I had nothing to do with it:
I was named
I was included in the life of the community.
I was marked as a child of God
If I had been born in to a different family, this sacrament would have looked different.
If I’d been born into an Orthodox family, my little body would’ve been fully submerged under water three times.
If I was raised in a more evangelical house I would not have been baptized until I reached an age of accountability, a believer’s baptism where I could confess my faith as my own.
If we’d been Mormon, two witnesses would have stood on either side of the baptismal font to ensure my entire body was totally dunked in the water.
If I was born in Korea or India or Africa or Egypt, the ceremony in which I was named, welcomed in to the community, and marked as a child of God would have looked very different.
But I wasn’t.
I was raised by my Lutheran parents, I was baptized as an infant, and that was one of the most significant moments of my life.
The fact that I have no memory of this event speaks to the unchanging presence of God’s love. I have never known a time in my life where God did not love me.
I can tell you about when I fell in love with Jennifer, but there was a time before Jennifer.
I can tell you about falling in love with Noah and Nathan the day they were born, but there was a time before them.
There was no time before God.
There have been times when I have turned my back on God’s love, rejected God’s love, turned away from God’s love. But God has never stopped loving me. As our confirmands learned, in the Methodist tradition, we call this kind of love prevenient grace.
This concept of prevenient grace, God’s all encompassing love, is foundation to who I am. Just as God has loved me in an unending and unconditional way; I believe I am called to love everyone else in that same way.
My baptism gave me the foundation of who I am.
This baptism was nurtured by Sunday school teachers and youth leaders and pastors and my family. They gave me a wonderful foundation, they passed on the tradition of faith that began at the cross and the empty tomb and has been handed from generation to generation for the last 2,000 years.
This is part of what we do today. We, as parents, are passing on the faith we have received to our children, our confirmands. We do that in ways that we would expect by coming to worship, practicing prayer, reading the Bible. But we also do that by the example of how we live our lives, the words that we say, the way that we treat others. Our actions teach others much more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus than our words.
For the last several weeks we have been studying the book of Acts. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out and in response to that the people who witnessed that devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. In the scripture today, we hear how Peter and John laid their hands on new believers. In that very tangible way, they physically passed on the faith that they had received.
This is a key step in our faith. We need a foundation to begin from, a place where we learn the stories and traditions of our elders, a guide to live life. An absence of guidance is not freedom, it is anarchy. In fact, it is the absence of parents and elders and structure that so often leads to brokenness or addiction or incarceration.
We come to a point where we accept this faith as our own, this tradition as the ground we stand upon. When we come to this point, the point where our confirmands are today, where this is no longer simply the faith of our parents, but our faith.
In that moment, we experience something called justifying grace. The brokenness in our life is made right. Through justifying grace we experience redemption and forgiveness and salvation.
Think of it this way: often when you type something in a word processing program, the right margin is staggered. But then, you click on one button called justify, and the jagged column is made straight. It is straight, that is what justifying grace does for us.
So we are surrounded by God’s love from the moment we draw our first breath, prevenient grace; and, then we are made right by God’s love through justifying grace.
But here is the good news, as wonderful as all of that is, it is only the beginning. For God’s love is so great for us, that God is not satisfied simply in covering us with love from birth and correcting the mistakes we have made, but God invites us to a further journey.
This further journey is called sanctifying grace, in which God’s Holy Spirit is ever at work to mold us and shape us and fill us to be more like Christ.
We are not called to simply sit and rest in what has been given to us, but to go on a greater journey where we truly make this faith our own.
This is the story of David.
David was the youngest son of Jesse. One day a man named Samuel came along looking for the one who would be the replacement for the king. Samuel saw all of Jesse’s sons and none of them were right. He asked if Jesse had another and it was the youngest boy, the one who was out tending to the sheep that God called.
We know the name David: the mighty king, the one who killed the giant. But in our scripture today we hear this less familiar story that was an important moment.
Young David comes to the king with a word of encouragement. He tells the king not to fear the giant, for God is greater than any giant. When he offers to slay the giant, Saul is initially reluctant. How can a boy bring down a giant? But then, he offers him his armor, his sword and his shield. David tries them on and it is so cumbersome that he can’t even walk. He is frozen.
Now there is nothing wrong with the king’s armor. It is the best armor in the kingdom. Saul’s sword has been proved in battle and has successfully defeated many enemies.
But it does not fit.
Young David has the wisdom to set the king’s armor aside and take up what God has given him. He gathers together the tools of the shepherd: a staff, a sling, and a shepherd’s bag filled with five stones.
By using what God has given him, David kills the giant and goes on to live an incredible life.
David becomes the greatest king in Israel’s history: the one who builds up Jerusalem, the one who dances in the street when the arc of the covenant comes home, the one who writes the Psalms, the one who is described as having a heart like God’s.
His greatness comes from the fact that he was willing to take the further journey. He didn’t just sit back and rest in who he was, he had the courage to move forward.
This is God’s will for us: that we wouldn’t just sit back and be recipients of grace, but that it will enable and empower us to soar.
God doesn’t want us to just sit.
God’s vision isn’t even limited to walking together or even running the race with perseverance, God wants us to soar.
In Isaiah, Chapter 40, we hear the same message David proclaimed when he said God would help him defeat a giant. Isaiah said that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
Flying is one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world. I am lucky enough to have flown in everything from commercial airplanes to World War I era bi planes to Air Force fighter jets. There is nothing like the feeling of flight: it is exhilarating and exciting and humbling all at the same time.
As I was retiring from the Air Force, one of my favorite pilots gave me a ride in the back of a T-38 and he later flew to conduct my retirement ceremony. I asked him to share his thoughts on faith and flying and here is a part of what he said:
“Flying for me is a passion, a way of life…As a military pilot, especially as I flew in combat the visual of mounting up ‘with wings like eagles’ was very strong and gave me courage when at times I felt scared, real scared sometimes. Now, whether it be for work or play, I see flying as a respite from walking on earth. It truly makes me happy to be ‘free’ and three dimensional as I wheel and soar and spin….. When my Dad died I was very sad so went flying and just enjoyed Gods creation and felt closer to him, and God. After my daughter died I had vivid dreams of seeing my daughter sitting in the beautiful clouds waving at me and smiling. I felt I got to join her in her domain…I feel closer to God when I fly. I usually listen to music when I fly. I have a playlist called ‘go to church music’ and often I’ll play it and ‘dance’ with my plane to the tune. And have the most intense prayer times and just know GOD IS ALIVE IN MY LIFE and has blessed me being able to see and be in his creation.”
Now, my friend JJ has an advantage on us. He owns his own plane and can literally experience flight at any time he wants.
While we may not all have access to a personal airplane, we have access to something even greater, God’s Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit that poured over the waters of the deep at creation, God’s Spirit that formed the church, God’s Holy Spirit that fills us with all these gifts of grace.
We are invited to take a further journey. A journey in which we don’t just sit with the gifts that God has given us, but we soar on eagle’s wings.
My prayer for you, confirmands, and for you, church, is that you will fly.
That your spiritual life would be as exhilarating and exciting and frightening as flight.
If you want to fly there are three things you need to do.
First, in order to fly you have to know the rules. Ignoring the basic rules of lift and drag in aviation results in crashing, but within those rules you can soar. In the same way, we have to know the foundation of our faith and what grounds us.
Second, we have to trust. A pilot has to trust the airplane, the instruments, the gauges, the mechanic.In the same way, we have to trust in God as David did in confronting the giant. Trust that God will be with us and provide for us in all things.
Third, we have to be willing to let go. If you imagine an eagle soaring, wings are spread the eagles is being carried by something greater than itself. In the same way, allow God’s Spirit to carry you and lift you to places you never thought you would go.
This week I want you to look around and see what God has given you. God gave David tools as simple as a sling and a stone and from those things he already had, he became king. What has God given you?
Pray, seeking where God is calling you to go an in your further journey.
Trust God enough to lift you up on eagle’s wings.