Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Truth Shall Make You Odd

Eagle Lake Lutheran Church, Battle Lake, MN
August 31, 2014
Pentecost 12/Baptism of  Aiden Curtis Haugerud
Matthew 16: 21-28

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”[1]

That line comes from the great American author, Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic from the deep South.  Her words are a riff on something Jesus says in John chapter 8:  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

But, as Flannery O’Connor would have it, the truth….the truth of God’s Word…will make you odd.

The first time I heard this line it made a deep impression on me.   It got under my skin and would not let me go.

And the reason, I think, is that Flannery O’Connor’s version is so jarring, so unsettling, so wrong.

Who wants to be “odd” after all?

As soon as we’re born we begin a lifelong quest NOT to be odd or “off kilter.”

Before we’re even a minute old, a nurse is checking us out to make sure we’re normal.

It’s called the APGAR test which stands for five things: appearance, pulse, grimace, activity and respiration.
 Appearance (is the newborn “baby pink” all over?), pulse (is baby’s heart beating at least 100 times a minute?), grimace—(does baby grimace when poked, are her reflexes normal?)...activity (are baby’s arms and legs “on the move”?), and respiration—(is baby breathing regularly and crying vigorously?)

Think of it, before little babies are even five minutes old, someone has already assigned them a “normality number”--a number that compares each of us to every other baby that’s been born, telling our parents whether we’re normal or whether we’re odd.

Now, even though the APGAR test is given to newborns for important medical reasons, it is our first experience of being tested against a norm, compared to everyone else, examined for any signs of abnormality.

Starting with that first APGAR test, we’re off….pushed out into a lifetime of trying to fit in, attempting to seem like everyone else, avoiding “oddness” at all costs….

This “first day of school” time of the year is such a great example of that.   Although it’s been years since my children headed off to school in early September….I remember well all the pressures, all the back-to-school purchases, clothes and shoes and backpacks and lunchboxes and other stuff our children begged for so they would fit in, not seem strange or peculiar or odd.

And so it goes for so much of life.   We avoid “oddness” like the plague.

So Flannery O’Connor’s little phrase seems, at first, to go against the grain:  “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

This same sentiment, though, is quite in keeping with whole swaths of the New Testament, including our gospel lesson for this morning from Matthew 16…

No sooner had Simon Peter correctly identified Jesus as God’s Chosen One….no sooner had that happened before Jesus was spelling out what, for him, Messiah-ship would mean:   betrayal, suffering, death and resurrection!

And Peter, who had just come up with the right answer, suddenly turns on Jesus and tells him how wrong he is---“No, no, no, Jesus… can’t mean that!   Messiahs conquer, Messiahs drive away enemies, and Messiahs set things right.  The Messiah does not get arrested, tortured and executed….you’ve got that all wrong…..”

But now it’s Jesus’ turn to shake things up as he sharply rebukes Peter, putting Peter in his place and making it clear that his way (Jesus’ way!) will be an odd way—odd to all our business-as-usual approaches to living in this world.

“Get behind me, Satan….stop being an obstacle in my path….stop clinging to human ways of doing things, Peter!”

And then Jesus lays out why his path, his way of living out God’s chosen-ness, will look so abnormal, so different, so odd, so contrary to the way things normally go in this world.

Jesus tells Peter, and us, that his path must be (indeed it will be) our path as well….the path of denying ourselves rather than indulging ourselves, the path of giving our lives away rather than clinging to life with a white-knuckled grip, the path of following Jesus completely—hook, line and sinker.

This is an odd path.  It goes against the grain, it has us swimming against the current.  There is nothing normal about it in terms of following the human way of living in this world into which we have been born.

Indeed, the only way to make any sense of what Jesus is after here is to think in terms of another birth into another world….a second birth, into a new world that is fashioned not after us and our image….but a new creation that comes purely as God’s unexpected gift to us.

And that new birth, that new creation is what we’re here for this morning!

In fact, this new birth will happen in a few short moments for little Aiden Curtis.

He has already lived through his first birth, which took place at 11:49 a.m. on July 1.  Aiden has already passed his first APGAR test for life in this world, the world of his first birth, the world that takes its cues from the human way of doing things.

But now, in just a few minutes, Aiden Curtis will embark on his second birth journey…..down the birth canal of the baptism font….out into the world of his second birth, a world that is shaped in God’s image, fashioned for the sake of living into God’s ways of doing business.

This second birth, the birth of baptism, if it “works”---this second birth will make Aiden “odd” all the days of his life!

That may not be exactly what you want to hear this morning, Neil and Ali (“you got a really odd kid, there!”)….but it’s the gospel truth.   Aiden’s baptism into Christ, his putting on of Jesus, will make him forever “odd” in terms of what would otherwise be the normal “human” way of living life.

And what will such “oddness” look like?  

Let me describe that with another little APGAR test—not just for the first five minutes after his baptism, but for all the days of Aiden’s life…..

….and, if you haven’t figured it out by now this sermon isn’t just for Aiden—it’s for all of us who have been baptized into Christ, all of us in whom Jesus is being formed and shaped for as long as we live.

The APGAR test for our second birth, our baptismal birth looks something like this:

A stands for Appearance:  As we live into our baptismal life, Jesus shows up and we even start looking  like Jesus.  Rather than being all curled up, turned in on ourselves, God daily “uncurls” us and opens us up to a new way of living in which we trust God, love our neighbors and care for this good earth.

P is for Pulse:  As we live into our baptismal life we come to realize that this life isn’t something we made happen.  We are not self-made, self-directed beings….but rather because God’s own heartbeat, God’s own lifeblood, the “circulatory system” of the Body of Christ courses through our veins, we are given all the oxygen and nutrients we need to live into the new creation of our second birth.

G stands for Grimace:  As new creatures in Jesus Christ, whenever we encounter the hurt, the pain, the need, the injustice of others….rather than turning away or looking past it, our baptismal reflex is to grimace and to respond with the love Christ has already poured into our hearts.   It becomes natural for us to think and speak and act as people who reflexively respond in care and compassion.

The second A stands for Activity:  This new life that flows forth from the waters of Baptism sets our hands and feet in motion….because in the Body of Christ we are God’s hands and feet and voice.  The faith that claims us doesn’t leave us like lumps on a log—but as Luther liked to say this faith is “a living, busy, active thing”….faith active in love, and finally

R is for Respiration:  The new creation into which God delivers us in our second birth is animated by the oxygenating breath of the Holy Spirit.   Every moment we depend on the divine CPR, the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of God’s grace that enlivens us, gives us breath and lets us communicate!

This, my dear friends is the truth of God about the way of God that makes us look odd in this me-first, self-indulgent, curved-in-upon-ourselves world.

It is the oddness of people whom Christ has set free—people who know that the only future that matters is God’s future—and that future is God’s gift to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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