Yesterday was an ordinary extraordinary morning for me at church. I say ordinary because it was a typical Sunday for Holy Trinity. And ordinarily, a typical Sunday for us is extraordinary. For me, personally, it happened to be my 61st birthday, and there was a sweet moment during the announcements when that was celebrated. It was also a significant day for me because it marked the 45th anniversary of the day water was sprinkled on my forehead as a community of the faithful gathered for worship.
Now, if you do the math, you know that I was 16 years old when I was baptized. I wasn’t raised in a church-going home, so my religious formation was rather random. When I was in junior high, my two best friends, Melody and Barb, went to the Lutheran church and I tagged along. I showed up at confirmation classes with them sporadically, yet it was enough for the pastors to go ahead and confirm me. But then, there was the matter of my baptismal deficiency that had to be dealt with first. So, I was quickly baptized in order to be confirmed with the rest of the class. At the time, I was mostly concerned about how the moisture on my forehead might have messed up my hair for the pictures later. And yet, now that I look back on that moment and all that’s followed, I know it was a complete game changer for my life. Because of that moment, I have had a lot of ordinary extraordinary days like yesterday.
Our worship began with a baptism. A beautiful child named Jackson was carried to the font by his parents, Mitch and Becki. I had been forewarned that he panics when someone else takes him from his parents, so I was as hands-off as possible. And he also wasn’t crazy about water, so it might be a bit tricky. As his father leaned him over the font, Jackson had a puzzled look on his face. I scooped some warm water into my hand and poured it over his head. He looked completely startled, like he hadn’t yet realized this might be something to cry about. And then I quickly scooped up another handful and poured it on him. Now his look of surprise turned to fear and I saw him look over at his mother. Her eyes were locked with his, telling him that he was safe. But he wasn’t so sure. When the third installment of water was administered, he was just about to cry, but his mother’s look of reassurance saved the day. His frightened eyes met a look of love and encouragement that said, It’s all right, Jackson. I’m right here. Don’t be afraid. Mommy loves you. The parents who brought him to the water were there to carry him through that moment and they will continue to give him all the support he needs for his great adventure of faith.
I thought about a story I heard that morning from Miguel in our adult class. I had asked members of the class how often they read the Bible. Their answers were all across the board with some reading the Bible twice a day, others never reading it at all, and everything in-between. Miguel told us that when he was growing up he watched his father reading his Bible every morning after breakfast. He would randomly open it and read wherever it landed. Now, I’ve heard of other people doing that, so it’s not that unusual. But then Miguel told us more. He said that he does the same thing now, every morning, just like his father. And all his siblings do, too. When his father died, Miguel had the honor of receiving his Bible, and now when he opens the Bible every morning randomly finding God’s word for his day, he does it with the Bible of the one who taught him this faith practice.
Later in the worship service, we received a group of new members. I called them up to the chancel, where they stood before me in a semi-circle. As I started to read the welcoming rite we use at Holy Trinity, I noticed they were hanging onto one other. Some had an arm around the person beside them, others were holding hands. It’s as if they were physically supporting one another in love as they took this next step in their faith journey together. When I saw this, I lost it, and for a moment I was afraid I couldn’t go on.
You see, this wasn’t a typical group of people joining the church. They had all been a part of another congregation. When their church closed, they were devastated. And yet, the Spirit led them to worship with us at Holy Trinity. The first few weeks, they were so happy to be together, despite all they had been through, that they huddled together in the back pews like they might never see one another again. After worship they lingered on the front lawn long after the rest of us had gone home. They were grieving and they needed to be together; they needed to talk about the emotional trauma they had endured. And then, over time, they came to see their struggle in a positive light. They realized that God had brought them to a new church family. They learned to love a new congregation in a denomination different from the one they had known for so long. And finally, it felt like they were home again. They stood before me on Sunday morning, dear souls holding onto one another in love, one community of the faithful being transplanted into a larger community of the faithful. It was a powerful moment that I will never forget.
Now, in case you haven’t connected the dots of the thread running through my Sunday morning, it’s community. If you could imagine pulling a plant up by the roots and expecting it to grow without the soil to nourish it, that’s what it’s like for a person of faith to survive outside community. At least, that’s the way I’ve experienced it in my lifetime. I didn’t grow up the way Jackson will, or the way Miguel did, but somehow, community has found me and guided me along the way.
I’m baffled by people who don’t get this. Especially people who aspire to follow in the way of Jesus and yet see no value in being part of a faith community. I wish they could spend an ordinary extraordinary Sunday morning looking through my eyes at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. I can’t imagine how they could do that and fail to see the amazing gift that God offers us in Christian community.