Jesus "went up the mountain: and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak to them, and he taught them sayingâ¦" And what is it that he taught them? First of all, he taught them out of the deep interiority of his own life and prayer. He shared with the disciples the fruit of those times when he had headed into the hills to be alone with the one whom he addressed as "Abba, Father." He taught them out of his temptations, his near despair over the seeming failure of his mission to move the hearts of his people, his inability to crack them open by the proclamation of the liberating of the Lord's favor. They were too defended, too caught up in the religious structures which claimed to mediate God's compassion while keeping God safely at bay. He taught them out of his continuing struggle to remain faithful to the mystery of his own belovedness, a fidelity that required him over and over again to cry out as he did in Gethsemene on the eve of his crucifixion, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
The beatitudes he sets before his disciples represent an act of profound intimacy in which Jesus hands over to those who have companioned him the secrets of his own heart, not in the form of a command: do this, do that, but in the form of brief declarations, some of them quite paradoxical, that can only reveal themselves as true as they are experienced and lived.
Contrary to the way in which the beatitudes are frequently presented, their message is not always self-evident. They are elusive and make sense only to those who are available to the driving motion of the Spirit that blows where it wills in sovereign freedom, turning things upside down and inside out, including our tidy structures and well-ordered pieties.
In a few moments we will, as we near the end of this General Convention, renew our baptismal vows. In so doing we reaffirm our availability to God's project of reordering all relationships in the purifying fire of God's deathless love made known in Christ who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. These powerful words defy easy explication, but suggest by their sheer force and weight something of the foundational relationship between Christ and ourselves, which baptism celebrates and our vows and baptismal covenant affirm.
It is in Christ who is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" that we discover our true selves, not in some finished state but very much under construction, both personally and as a community of faith, and it is the baptismal covenant with its dynamic of believing - or rather trusting - and then continuing, persevering, repenting, proclaiming, seeking, serving and striving that accomplishes within us, in God's own way and God's own time, what the 18th century priest and mystic William Law called the "process of Christ." The very terms of our mission, our particular function within the context of God's on-going work of reconciliation - as limbs and members of Christ's body, draws us evermore deeply into the mystery of Christ, which is to discover who in grace and truth we are and are called to be.
And therefore, occasions such as this when we are asked to renew our baptismal vows and to assume particular responsibilities in the life of the church, we are not simply taking on tasks and duties, but are opening ourselves and declaring our availability to the deepest dimensions of our own belovedness. God's invitation to exercise ministry and service in any form is always an act of God's love and an invitation to grow in the awareness of who we are not in our own terms but according to God's seemingly indiscriminate pleasure and delight. If God's will for us is God's desire for our full flourishing, then every yielding to God's will is a gesture of possibility and blessing we extend to ourselves.
In baptism Christ offers us freedom: we are told "for freedom Christ has set us free." And yet that freedom does not stand on its own, it is the consequence, the fruit of our relationship to Christ. If you continue, says Christ, if you continue, if you abide, if you remain, if you make your home in my word, which is my deep love for you, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (John 8:32). Christ, who calls us friends, not servants, invites us into intimate collaboration with him in doing the will of the One who sent him and accomplishing his work. Christ, through the Spirit, gives us gifts, charisms, as manifestations of Christ's loving desire that we join him in the ongoing task of binding up, setting free and making all things new.
May each one of us, as we renew our baptismal vows today and take on responsibilities of leadership and service in the life of our church, do so with open and available hearts ready to hear Christ the Risen One in whom we are set free say: you are gifted with my grace. You are the light of the world. Now go forth in my name, proclaim jubilee and above all, surprise me.
May we do so indeed. Amen.