Chain reaction of love

Chain reaction of love

This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at Trinity, Fort Worth, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22, 2022.


Trinity Fort Worth 2022          6 Easter – Year C               May 22

It’s wonderful to see you in person. It’s been three years since we have gathered for Confirmations, although we have celebrated your new ministry with your new rector, Robert. I want to express my gratitude for the way you navigated the pandemic as a congregation: the innovative ways you included one another in worship – especially the live-streaming of your services; the care you expressed for one another when you gathered; and the creative ways you continued your outreach beyond the congregation.

I would like to recognize and thank your clergy for their leadership and pastoral care during these past challenging years. Please join me in showing gratitude to Robert Pace and Amy Haynie.

I, also, want to thank you – the people of Trinity and your staff – for hosting diocesan-wide events, such as the recent gathering for all in the diocese to discuss the anticipated reunion of our diocese with the Diocese of Texas. And, thank you in advance for hosting the called Special Convention for our delegates and clergy to vote to rejoin with the Diocese of Texas in our common mission. That will take place on Saturday, June 18.

Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation as nine people deepen further their lives in and through this beautiful tradition, the Episcopal Church. To those of you being confirmed – and those who are reaffirming their faith – we want you to know that it’s a privilege to be a part of your lives on this day and on your journey. And momentarily, everyone gathered will make a vow to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ.

Every time we celebrate Confirmation, we say together the Baptismal Covenant, as all ministry in rooted in baptism. I want to say three things briefly about baptism; certainly there are more than three things to say, but this is Trinity Episcopal Church, so I’ll limit it to three.

First. At baptism what was true all along is made known. Remember the story of the baptism of Jesus?  Jesus comes up out of the water, and the dove descends, and the Voice proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

What was true all along is made known, which is the definition of an epiphany. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Before he was baptized, and before he accomplished one thing in his public ministry, and before he suffered and died, and before he accomplished what he was born to accomplish, Jesus was God’s beloved Son.

And that’s true for you, too.  You are God’s beloved child – before you accomplish one thing in ministry or in life. Nothing deserved. Nothing earned. All gift. All grace.

Second. At Baptism we are grafted into the Body of Christ as living members of the Body. Baptized people are living members of the Risen Body of Christ.

Third. We are called into this Body for a purpose beyond ourselves: to participate in God’s mission to restore all people to union with God and one another. That’s what the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer says about our purpose. And we participate in God’s mission when we embody and proclaim the love revealed in Jesus: undeserved forgiveness, unmerited grace, and unconditional love.

So, we have a purpose together. We are living members of the Body, and like the members of the human body, each member has a role or calling. In the prayer for the consecration of a priest at ordinations we pray: “having ascended into heaven,” [the ascended Christ] “has poured his gifts abundantly upon your people, making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry and the building up of his body.”

Ascension Day is this coming Thursday, and the Opening Collect for Ascension Day begins like this: “Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things … .”  The ascended Christ pours his gifts abundantly upon God’s people, and yes, some are apostles, and some serve on the altar guild, and some are church sextons, and some are treasurers, and some are chancellors, and some are greeters and ushers, and some are dedicated to intercessory prayer.

The list is long. And it all builds up the Body. And it’s all meaningful. As the Apostle Paul says, all members of the Body are equally valued and equally needed. All true.

I want to suggest this morning, having said all that, that baptism is more than plugging into the body to do a job, however true and valuable. It is more than a job assignment.

I watched a wonderful movie recently – an animated movie by Walt Disney, named “Encanto.” I suspect many of you have watched the movie with your children or grandchildren. I watched it by myself.

“Encanto” (a word that means charming or enchanted) tells the tale of an extraordinary family who lives hidden in the mountains of Columbia in a magical house in a vibrant town in a wondrous charmed place named Encanto. Every child in the family has been blessed with a unique gift, a miraculous gift given to serve a purpose in Encanto.

One has the gift to heal.  One can hear a pin drop. One can grow beautiful flowers. One has visions.  One is super strong. And one has no apparent gift. If you have not seen the movie, I won’t spoil it.  But everyone who has a gift knows their purpose and responsibility in keeping Encanto the miracle it is.

And they know the pressure. The strong sister – the one physically strong enough to move mountains – the one on whom everyone relies when the gift of physical strength is needed – knows the pressure. The strong sister, Luisa, sings the following:

“I’m the strong one / I’m not nervous / I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is /I move mountains / I move churches / And I glow ‘cause I know what my worth is/Under the surface / I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three ring circus /Under the surface / was Hercules ever like ‘Yo, I don’t want to fight Cerberus?/Under the surface / I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service/”

Luisa, the strong sister, sings what the others in the family feel – that their gifts and the way they use their gifts determine their worth.  And one lesson they will learn – among other lessons – is that each one is worth more than their gift. You are more than your gift. It’s a beautiful message for children and adults.

When Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism, and the dove descends, and the Voice proclaims, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” notice what the Voice does not say.

The Voice does not say, “This is the Savior of the world,” or “This is the Redeemer,” or “This is the Lord.”  The Voice says, “This is my beloved Son.” This is my child – fundamentally and foremost, God’s child.

After his baptism, Jesus will gain a following. Sometimes he will attract large crowds.  And at one point, he will ask his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” Remember that story, known as Peter’s Confession?

Jesus does not ask, “What do they think I am?” or “What do they think my mission or purpose is?” or “What do they think I can do for them?”  It’s not “What is my function, what is my role, what is my purpose in the grand scheme of things?” Those are good questions, but that’s not what Jesus asks.  Jesus says, “Who do the crowds – who do you – say that I am?”

As Jesus grows more and more famous, and as his reputation grows as one who is amazingly gifted as one who can heal the sick, and cast out demons, and teach, and perform miracles, and save people from disease and even death, Jesus wants to know, “Who do people say that I am?”

There is a great Christian writer from the 20th century, a contemplative named Thomas Merton who wrote: “The ‘What’ in Christ is vastly less important than the ‘Who’.”  He says: “To love Christ merely [for what he can do for us] would be like loving a friend for his money.”  He says, “We do not love Christ for what he has, but for who he is.”

And furthermore, Merton says, “… God is neither a ‘what’ or a ‘thing’ but a pure Who.” God is a pure Who.  Jesus is a Who, not a What. And YOU are a “who.” You are more than a “what.” You are more than your gifts. Those being confirmed today are loved by God no matter what they are, or what they become someday, or what they can do to further the mission of God. You are a “who.” You are God’s child.

You are loved already. We are loved already. And believing that – knowing that at the cellular level – is what liberates us to love others.  A theologian named Beatrice Bruteau makes the following observation: she claims that the human energy in any person is activated when that person is loved personally by another person. When you are loved by another person, the energy in you to love others is activated.

That lack of energy to love others, she says, is a result of spending our energy on protecting ourselves, defending ourselves, augmenting ourselves, and justifying ourselves out of fear and insecurity.  And as we protect, defend, augment, and justify ourselves we actually reinforce the fears and insecurities of others. And then they do the same to others. Bruteau calls this a “chain reaction.”

To break the chain-reaction, someone is needed who can enable others to experience themselves as worthy, valuable, and secure. Someone is needed to show personal love.

And once the one “loved” accepts and is convinced of this love – once we are convinced of this love – we will experience security, and we will be liberated to love others.

And another, different chain-reaction is started. The other chain-reaction is reversed. Energy once used to defend, protect, augment, and justify is now activated to love.

But someone had to start it all: Someone free; Someone who experienced himself as accepted and worthy and beloved; Someone secure and unafraid; Someone with the abundant energy to start the chain of love; Someone who can liberate the energy to love in all who are willing to be loved by Him – Jesus of Nazareth.

We have no need to justify ourselves with our gifts or our accomplishments or any of the many ways we tend to justify ourselves in the eyes of the world. We don’t need to prove our worth.

That’s true for us. It’s true for the whole world.  And that is the loving, liberating, life-giving Gospel message we are called to embody and proclaim in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.