This summer, on Sundays after worship, many of us have been discussing Phyllis Tickle's
book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.
She posits that the church is now in the midst of an historic upheaval, a time of
foundational change that cuts to the heart of our identity and leaves us anxiously
scrambling for order, authority, and a certainty that has disappeared.
This means God's church is in a wilderness time between Egypt and Canaan—no longer
slaves to yesterday, not yet settled in the promised tomorrow.
God's people have been here before, and have always emerged stronger on the other side,
but Scripture and history teach us that the wilderness passage is much too anxious and takes much too long.
Perhaps one day little Thomas John Loeffler, in the back seat of a car, will repeat the cry
of all God's people: "Are we there yet?"
There have been moments among us when versions of that same question have been asked: Where is this book going?
When will we get to a credible reassurance that this will all be okay?
Can we get to a point where we can talk about this without interrupting and
arguing so much?
The room has sometimes taken on the anxious tension of an awkward funeral—the
church as many of us know it has died, and some of us are grieving, and some say
good riddance, and who knows what others are talking about or why they think
I applaud and thank everyone who is hanging in there with this strenuous conversation,
because it is difficult, emotionally if not intellectually, and it takes courage, which is the soul of faith.
Faith is not getting religious facts right or ignoring evidence with belief.
Faith is trusting God when you are lost in the wilderness with no idea what's next.
Have no fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom,
Have no fear is how God's messengers always begin, because every little flock is afraid.
It is natural, and often smart, to fear what we cannot control—the divine, the
unknown, or anything else more powerful than we are.
We have yet to meet any god that cares more about us than about itself—the state, the
market, and Mastercard are not going to die for us to live.
It makes no sense that a God with ultimate power would give it all away.
But the Father of Jesus delights in doing just that.
God wants to give us the kingdom—but do we want to receive it?
Luke's gospel is page after page after page of joyful exuberance that our wildly generous
God is ruining the world as we know it.
The kingdom is a foundational upheaval, the undoing of everything we know and
assume, replaced by a completely different reality in which grateful masters serve slaves.
In this kingdom that God is so delighted to give us, the rich go hungry and the poor
receive windfalls and power is reshuffled like a deck of cards.
It is exhilerating, or terrifying, depending on the hand you are playing.
A newly emerging Christianity is good news that doesn't necessarily feel like it.
A new reality is coming, so Jesus advises us to get in on the ground floor: sell now and
give everything away, including your grudges and other rights, your ego and
certainty and comfort, your money and your stuff, your toxic illusion of self-
determination, and invest in God's future where people are more important than
money and souls are more important than security, because your heart will follow
Jesus does not get this backward.
Jesus has the audacity to point it out that we are backward as he teaches and
embodies this kingdom that flips our upside down world right side up.
The house belongs to a master with very different priorities than ours, and those
priorities—that kingdom—is the master's beautiful, lavish, suspicious gift to us.
When the Son of Man comes to bring it, we judge him (that's upside down) to be a thief
(also upside down) and hang the almighty utterly powerless on a cross—how
upside down is that?
That horror is where Jesus is headed as he says Have no fear, little flock.
The cross is the way to Easter.
The wilderness is the way to the promised land.
Life doesn't lead to death—that's upside down—death leads to life.
So the death of the church many of us know and love is somehow good news.
And so today we dare to celebrate the death of a baby.
We rejoice at the baptism of Thomas John Loeffler, where he is inseparably joined to
Jesus, who will carry him through death into life.
We mark that ugly cross on his forehead as the stamp of hope, the pledge of joy forever.
This beautiful little boy is baptized into Christ's death, thanks be to God, because
death is the doorstep of resurrection, the open arms of right side up.
Thomas John Loeffler, child of God, now you are going to die.
And I hope you die again, in the next few months, as your cries and wiggles give
way to crawling and walking and words.
I hope you die again, in the next few years, as childhood crashes around you and the
agony of adolescence propels you into the amazing new life of adulthood.
I hope you die again, in the next few decades, over and over again, as your greed and
fears and insecurities get buried, and from you rise generosity and grace.
I hope you die again and again and again, continually following Jesus through death into new life, until one day, many decades from now, a preacher stands over your still remains in a very different church somewhere and says,
Thomas John Loeffler, child of God, now you're going to live.