Dive! Dive in all the way...
The following sermon was preached by Rev. Fred Kinsey, Acting Assistant to the Academic Dean, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, May 10, 2007.
Grace to you and peace from God Almighty, and from our Savior, who is Jesus the Christ. Amen
I was sent out from this place 22 years ago. And I'm happy to report, some things really have changed around here! One of the best things, obviously, is the construction of the Augustana Chapel. Every time I walk in I feel like falling down on my knees and praising God in joyful tears! As an alumnus I was happy to be asked to help pay for it. And I wished I could have given more. Anything to replace the old Chapel /"slash"/ Auditorium.
There was very little chapel about it! The huge bowl, from here to the 3rd floor was more like an old Roman Coliseum, mostly good for spectator sports. But the novel concept of being open to and connected with the world outside ourselves here in this worship space, was incorporated into the new thing that was made, and expanded on. Originally, it was only the front windows. Now, front and back, with beautiful font, living waters flowing inside & out. Then, only plain white blinds on the windows, for those days of glaring sunlight. Now these beautiful sliding stained glass windows.
Another huge step forward, LSTC is a Green Zone now, and helping to spread the Care for Creation message to congregations and synods! When I entered seminary, the new administration in Washington D.C. was removing the solar panels from the roof of the White House that the previous administration had installed, freezing our collective-national-environmental-conscience in a state of denial. LSTC is in the lead to thaw out our fear of change, and the urgent need to save our environment.
But some things never change around here. Nick (Spehar) is still here; and Gerry (Hubbarth) is still here. Jimmy's is still here. The U of C., still here. And love, still in the air, here! Yes, I'm talking the, "eros" kind. Not that I have specifics to report, except for the newsworthy campus engagement of Adam & Jordan. My point being, nothing new. My wife, Kim and I were married here, surrounded by the seminary community; our reception catered by Gerry in the Refectory, one week before Kim graduated, and I was sent out on my senior year of Internship. Love still happens here!
One of the best changes, I think, is a renewed and intentional commitment to diversity, starting with the hiring of the first African-American President of a Lutheran seminary, and subsequently a much more diverse Faculty. We can, and I think, should be, a model for the rest of the ELCA. For this seminary to live in the heart of Chicago means we have a responsibility to the rainbow collection of peoples that are out these Chapel windows, not only in this neighborhood, but wherever we serve.
One thing no one can change is, having to say good-bye and moving on to something new, at the end of the school year. Friends and relationships that are made during the year are altered again, without our permission, which can be character building, if it doesn't tear you apart first! And so the stability of this institution, year in and year out, often falls, to a large extent, on our Faculty & Staff. Today on this last Chapel of the school year, all will be invited to walk through these Baptismal waters together, that we may be blessed on our way, by the Holy Spirit, wherever we are being sent. Whether it's CPE, Internship, or the Parish; more studies, or the same old desk, shop or kitchen. In and out we go, through the baptismal waters, called and sent by God.
Do not waddle in the waters too long. Do not stay and build a tabernacle. No swimming allowed! These are the Exodus waters, bringing us out of slavery into the freedom of the promised land; these are the waters of the Jordan, where we rise up with Jesus to experience the Descending Dove and hear God's Voice Confirming that we are the Children of God; the same healing waters that Elijah bid Naaman the unclean Gentile to wash himself in – reconciling him to the One Sovereign God; these are the living waters that show us the way of Salvation, that we may have good courage to walk through them, down paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown, only trusting that the hand of Jesus is leading us, and his love supporting us.
In my 2-point parish in the wilds of the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we had been dreaming for a number of years of having a Baptism in Lake Ottawa. Ever since we started having our Summer Church Picnic there, we thought out loud with our congregation: "Wouldn't it be great, to have a baptism by total immersion in that clean crisp UP lake?!" After, I don't know how many years, when we were about to give up, suddenly a little family of two stepped forward, Lisa and her 6yr. old son, Brian. We were so excited! And so we prepared Brian for the big day, going over the service with him and his mother, explaining the meaning and promises of Baptism, we even went to the Lake on Saturday to have a rehearsal.
On the day of his Baptism, when Kim and I drove in, in our usual hurry from our other church 17 miles away, there was a large congregation waiting at the Picnic Area. Everyone wanted to see this! We set the picnic table with tablecloth, bread and wine, baptismal candle and chrism, and we had bought a brand new white towel for Brian to use when he emerged from the waters. We lit the Pascal candle, and, as that unpredictable wind wanted to blow it out from time to time - Cory, our pyromaniac-Confirmand, was right there to light it up.
One little thing we forgot – a little tip if you every try this in your parish some day – that unless you plan on having a naked Baptism, make sure the Candidate is wearing his swim suit under his church clothes.
A family friend quickly helped rush Brian to the Men's room to change, as the rest of us made our way down to the lake. Brian ran to meet us. The moment had arrived! We waded into the water, Brian in his swimsuit and Kim in I in clerics and shorts. We had told Brian he could immerse himself in the water all by himself, or, if he wanted, we would help him in the traditional way. Brian had his own style, which even we who were at the Rehearsal had only seen a glimpse of.
"Brian Wayne is baptized in the name of the Father…" And we paused. That's when Brian put his hands together, took a deep breathe, and did a cute little dive in the lake. And under he stayed, for as long as his six year old lungs allowed him. And then he came up with a big gasp for air. That's what he did all three times. For each of the Trinitarian immersions, Brian took careful aim as he dove in, while we all waited for Brian to run out of air and resurface.
It was Brian's way of offering up all he had, prepared and ready to dive all the way into his Baptismal life, to be washed clean and re-emerge gasping for the Holy Spirit to fill him.
We're all tempted sometimes to wallow in the water, to remain awhile with Jesus in the Jordan, to stay with our friends here forever. But we have to pass through to the other side, dive in all the way, to find where God is leading us next. Jesus has gone before us to Galilee, already. As we walk wet, through to the other side of this pool today, our footprints begin to reveal the path we are called to, in the days, and months, and years ahead.
Let our aim be through the baptismal waters, bearing the mark of Jesus' "New Commandment", "to love one another, just as Christ loves us".
Dive! Dive in all the way, that God in Christ Jesus may raise us up on the other side to live a new life, and to be sent out once again.