The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

The Baptism of OCS—a BFD

I preached this sermon to Rick and all the other good people of Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, CO on the occasion of my bestie niece Olivia Clare's baptism.
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Grace and peace from God our Creator, Hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Good morning! It is such a privilege to be here with you. Full disclosure: I’m a brand new pastor. My ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA was just a couple months ago.

A thing I have learned very quickly is that most of my colleagues are introverts, but have to function as extroverts in the job—I am already an extrovert, so I usually come on pretty strong in the guest pulpit. My favorite task of my job is preaching—pretty related, my favorite task of being a human is talking—and so when Pastor Woody invited us to participate in the liturgy I replied to the email (first) saying “Sure! I’ll preach!”

Later, I looked at the texts.

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon proclaims “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” In his letter to the Colossians we have a classic list from the Apostle Paul about everything that’s wrong with us. And in this morning’s gospel, God says, “You fool!” To the rich man. Perfect!

Our narrator in Ecclesiastes may seem like a downer. “I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun,” he says, “so I turned and gave my heart up to despair.” Splendid!

And from Paul: “The wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” Encouraging!

And in the parable from Jesus, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kind of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions...You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” No worries!

These texts are challenging. These are texts it’s really easy to shrug off as ancient and out-of-context and inapplicable to our communities and our realities. But, are they?

The parable from Jesus this morning is particularly interesting to me. A man has asked Jesus to convince the man’s brother to share their inheritance fairly. We don’t get a lot of clues as to what that family drama is about, but we have all probably prayed that Jesus would set right the person who disagrees with us.

But for some reason, Jesus does not arbitrate this, but instead tells a story. In it, a rich man has too much, he cannot even store it all. Rather than share in his abundance, he has his barns torn down and larger ones built. Self-satisfied, he relaxes, knowing he will always have more than enough for himself.

On one hand, this sounds like a very responsible and conservative retirement savings plan. But what Jesus is reminding the crowd--and us--is that old saying, “you can’t take it with you.” When this rich man dies, what good will his riches be? When he decided to build larger storehouses, did he first consider how he might share his abundance with his family? With his community?

How has his wealth affected those in his neighborhood?

Is he prosperous only on the backs of his laborers?

Who do you think harvested those crops and built those barns?

Does he pay a living wage?

Provide health insurance? Adequate vacation? Paid family leave?

Does he invest his profits in his community, ensuring a good quality of life for his neighbors?

No, it would seem. Instead, he has succumbed to the idolatry of comfort, the slippery slope of greed.

The rich fool in this parable is not alone. Here in the United States, the majority of our citizens live in greater luxury than any other country on earth. But that’s not saying a whole lot.

Our desire for more and more and more has made beloved children of God around the globe survive on less and less and less. Like this rich fool, we have come to assume that we alone have garnered our wealth and we alone are deserving of its use. And we can never be satisfied.

Ecclesiastes calls this same vanity into question. “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest (2:22-23).” Theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim comments: “The West has become so individualistic that many of us have forgotten about community and have lost a sense of social responsibility to one another. Instead, we work so diligently to fill the void of our one greed and lust that we fail to understand that what we do will affect others. We quest for money and status, which is meaningless at the end of life.” [1] And this greed is not just manifest in having the biggest barns.

We are embroiled in wars and armed conflicts around the globe. Climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. Politicians in this country and others are spreading fear, proposing policy based in racism, xenophobia, ableism, sexism, and heterosexism—not to mention “anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, impurity, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)." I do not need to explain to a room full of Coloradans that gun violence is tearing our communities apart. It is easy to turn and give our hearts up to despair.

Thanks be to God, my dear friends, that there is another way.

This morning, like any given Sunday, we are gathered together to celebrate new life in Jesus the Christ. In this new life, Paul has written, “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free.” Our divisions, borders, and exclusions fall away. Truth, justice, love, compassion, kindness, joy, freedom, hope, and peace abound in this new life. And today, we are blessed to bear witness to the newest kind of new life—baptism.

If you haven't already been told, I met Kelsey Sprowell in seminary, as well as Pastor Amanda and Pastor Eric over there. Spring semester of our first year, we took a class about the sacraments, and practiced standing up at an altar and saying the right words and knowing where to put our hands. Inasmuch as this was going to be pretty fun, it also had to happen on a Saturday morning, outside of our regularly scheduled class time, and so some of us whined. I made the mistake of whining about it to Kelsey, who shot back, wide-eyed, “You get to practice BAPTISM! That’s a REALLY BIG DEAL!” You were right, Kels. As usual.

Baptism is a really big deal. This morning, it is our duty and our joy to gather at the font with Olivia Clare Sprowell, fresh-faced member of the family of God. I learned on Friday night, around the dinner table, that Kelsey Lynn Schleusener Sprowell was the first baby baptized here at Spirit of Joy, in December of 1984! The family of God, indeed.

You, Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church; you, Schleuseners and Sprowells and such; you, body of Christ; you have the honor, privilege, and responsibility to welcome this and every child of God into your midst.

In the liturgy of baptism, you will promise to support Olivia and pray for her in her new life in Christ. Olivia’s presence in this room and in the world is a fulfillment of God’s promise to always make things new. In order to keep up your side of this covenant, you must make sure that Olivia knows what her role is in the community and in the coming kingdom of God. It is your honor, privilege, and responsibility to make the world a better place for her and alongside her.

Her baptism into the family of God is your chance to affirm yours. Believe me when I tell you that you are beloved, dear ones. There is nothing that separates you from the love of God, no matter what anyone may have every told you to the contrary.

The world we have made for ourselves can be scary, I know. It can be so easy to see only scarcity and terror instead of abundance and hope. It can be so easy to put up walls instead of opening doors. But for the sake of Olivia’s shining face, you mustn't.

As witnesses to Olivia’s baptism, it is your honor, privilege, and responsibility to teach her—and remind each other—that all are welcome in this place. That God loves each and every one of us, not in spite of but because of our genders, races, abilities, and beliefs. That she is and that everyone is an equal member of the body of Christ. You have the rest of her life to show her the love of God, and—if you haven't already—you get to start today.

Thanks be to God!

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