St. Paul’s – Advent 4 – 12/19/21
Faith is a journey you don’t do alone.
This is one of the most important distinctions about the Christian faith. If you are Buddhist, you can and must pursue your personal enlightenment alone. If you are a Hindu, you can make your personal sacrifices, carry out your personal rituals, and attempt to attain nirvana alone. If you are of one of the other Abrahamic religions, you try to live morally by the laws and teachings set before you. It’s a personal journey.
If you are a Christian, you cannot live out your faith alone. Because Christianity is a relational faith. It’s all about relationships. Your relationship with God. Your relationship with Jesus. Your relationship with each other. Your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with the world. Your relationship with God’s creation. Everything about your faith requires you to be engaged with someone or something else.
When we engage in a relationship with Jesus, our next requirement is to live out that relationship in relationship with others. That’s discipleship. That’s the great commission. That is Christianity.
God’s promise to God’s people is a shared promise: salvation for all, including for the earth itself. Redemption and healing is a togetherness journey, abuilding of a Beloved community, a last will be first kind of loving and giving.
Whenever I hear someone say, they can have faith all on their own, I wonder what religion they could be talking about, because that is not the definition of Christianity. It just doesn’t work that way.
Christians were designed to be traveling a journey of faith with Jesus, and with others. This is not just a definition of what it means to be a Christian, but it’s one of our greatest blessings. It may not feel like it sometimes when we get annoyed at our brothers and sisters in the faith. But the reality is, they are part of who we are as a community of Christ. We may be a dysfunctional family. But we are a family just the same. We have each other’s backs. And we support each other in faith.
This is why during Whitfield’s baptism that we as a congregational witness vow to support and raise up Whitfield in the faith and support Charlotte and Kody and the godparents in nurturing that faith. This is why when we partake of holy communion, we do it together.
Christians are a people who live and love in community.We need each other. Faith can be hard. Discipleship can be challenging. Life can be even more challenging and sometimes frightening.
It certainly was for Mary. It certainly will be for Whitfield.
Look at the Gospel reading for this morning….the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. Young Mary travels to Judea to her kin Elizabeth, who is significantly older than she. We don’t know if Elizabeth was Mary’s aunt, or cousin, or half-sister, or in-law. But we do know she was in some way related. And we do know that Mary obviously trusted her. Elizabeth she must have thought was older and wiser. Surely, she could understand Mary’s experience and what she was going through. Surely, she would know what to do.
How wonderful it must have been to receive the welcome that she did –the non-judging, non-threatening, safe haven that was Zechariah’s home. There, the two women bonded over their mutual pregnancies. And Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s blessing from God and her role in carrying the future messiah.
In faith they bonded. And in faith, Mary would go forward to talk to Joseph, find protection in her future husband, travel to Bethlehem, and under cover there, bear her firstborn son.
Elizabeth was a mentor to Mary, a sister, a sojourner, an uplifter, a friend. And Charlotte, Kody, Elizabeth, Kelli, James and big brother Kolton are to be mentors to Whitfield.
It’s no mistake that the gospel writers tell us about this visit between Mary and Elizabeth. It’s important to understand what it means to be a brother or a sister in faith and an encourager when things get tough. It will be important for Whitfield to hear over and over again two important phrases—I love you & I forgive you. He can never hear and experience love and forgiveness enough.
I am sorry to tell you this: No one’s life is perfect. God never promises us a picture perfect life with no problems, stressors, or pain. Whitfield’s life will be filled with experiences, both good and bad, challenges and joys. And his life is and will be filled with people who can share both of them with him.
Whitfield’s parents and godparents will pledge to do this: All of you are to see that Whitfield is brought up in the Christian faith and life and helping him grow into the full stature of Christ. The good news is that this is not done in a vacuum. You are part of the community of the faithful. St. Paul’s is part of that community. Your home churches are part of that community. Whitfield and all of us are also part of a larger community, a world community. You have brothers and sisters all around the world, who know what it means to follow Jesus, to experience tough times and lean on others for comfort, to share the joys of mountaintop experiences and the Lord’s blessings.
Like Elizabeth and Mary, we all need those friends, mentors, colleagues, and supporters, who understand our dilemmas, our doubt, and our questions, who are there for us reminding us of Jesus’ precious gift of love and hope, and the messiah’s salvation.
Whitfield will need mentors, sisters or brothers in the faith. Everyone needs a community, in which we are not judged but accepted for who we are, in all of our struggles and celebrations.
This is what it means to be part of a Christian community. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is what comes with being baptized.
Whitfield is going to want to know…..Are we a safe place for him to be when he runs into trouble? Will we be a place of support and comfort to Whitfield who might not know where to turn or what to do? Will Whitfield be able to walk though our doors to a place without judgment, a place of Christian love and acceptance? Will Whitfield journey together with us all, in all of our diverse personalities, with all of your differences and directions, because our faith in Jesus creates a bond among us that cannot be broken and shines like a beacon to all who can see?
If we can answer yes to these questions, then we will be a true Elizabeth. And our church will be a blessed and holy place.
This morning we heard the Song of Mary. I wonder what Whitfield’s will sound like and say? A lot of it will depend on each one of us and and how we provide for Whitfield’s journey with Christ beginning today.