Beloved friend and Eddie-Vedder-loving preacher, Laura Aase, from River of Hope in Hutchinson, MN, preached this sermon on November 18th, 2012 at Elliot Griffin Davis’ baptism.
I have blown the ending and a major plot point of a book and a movie for my younger sister. It was in quick succession that I did this, years ago now, and I felt awful for having taken the punch out of these stories for her. One movie required you to be oblivious to the state of the characters (they were all dead) and another involved revealing a major character’s untimely death. I felt bad at the time, knowing she wouldn’t experience these stories in the same way. She knew the endings. She knew too much.
Being a Christian in 2012 involves us knowing the ending, doesn’t it. We know how it works out for Jesus, for his followers, in the bleakest times. We can think, ‘well, he resurrected. It’s ok.’ Yet, this doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. This doesn’t mean we have easy answers.
I really think the disciples thought they’d get an answer from Jesus. They wanted to know the ending. They were making small talk on the way out of the temple, remarking at the wonderful building it was, and Jesus, who never seemed to be any good at small talk, says – it’s all gonna be thrown down, gone.
So the disciples go right where I think I’d go. “When, Jesus? When is this going to happen? What should we be on the look out for? Guys at the Metrodome carrying signs about end times? Street corner preachers, yelling about our damnation? Hurricanes and earthquakes? Tornadoes and drought? Election results? When, Jesus, when?!”
Of course, Jesus doesn’t answer them the way they want him to answer. No one knows, he says.
Great. What’s the use of hanging out with the Savior of the world if he’s not gonna at least give you some hints about things!?
No, instead Jesus gets all apocalyptic-y, all end of the world-ish: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. And then, this: This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
The ending is the beginning. It’s just like Jesus to make the end the beginning. For him to paint pictures of destruction, upheaval, and general unpleasantness – things we would certainly define as endings – and then call them beginnings. But I suppose it’s about right. I mean, Jesus is one to talk about power through weakness; the poor being rich; the small thing doing the most good. Victory through death. Yes, this is the Jesus we know. The end is the beginning.
Things look pretty bleak, don’t they Elliot? Here you are – pretty new to this whole outside the womb living, on the day you’re baptized, and this is what the Bible – your story – has to say to you? The end is the beginning?
Well, dude. It’s tough stuff, this baptism stuff. Because it is the beginning of everything. It’s the beginning of your life with God because it’s all wrapped up in an ending. The ending of you ever having to explain away your sin – to try and earn God’s love. This water takes care of that. This water, this simple, ordinary, every day water is no longer simple and ordinary when God’s promises are spoken into it. This water is full of promise – so it means that this water says no matter what, you belong to God. No matter what, you are forgiven. This water means you get a new start every day, or on the really bad days, every minute of every day. This water is an ending to you saving yourself. It an ending, but your life doesn’t stop. It all starts. It all begins from here.
And how do we know that? How do we know this is a beginning out of an ending? Well, the reading from Hebrews assures us of this beginning, this new life. A life not spent trying to pin down a date on the calendar for when to expect Jesus. A life not spent paralyzed by the question “when”- but instead a life lived knowing the “when” is now!
The writer of this letter talks about the Jesus Christ that is alive and among us now. Forgiving sins now. Writing the law on our hearts now. Infusing our lives with the purposes of God now. This writer is begging the people to take their eyes off of some imagined horizon and to see Jesus right there right now.
You see, if we spend too much time demanding “when” from Jesus, we forget about now. And getting so fixated on the future with fear in our hearts turns us in on ourselves and we start to imagine falling buildings and earthquakes, death and destruction. We fixate on all the signs that must mean our end is near. And then our Hollywood brains take over and everything is bleak and dark.
One of my favorite singers is Eddie Vedder – a favorite I share with your pastor. This week, in light of these scripture readings, I turned to a song by his band called The End. He sings it right at the breaking point of his voice – you just wait for it to fall apart, for it to break either high or low or into silence or sobs. His voice is strained, urgent, asking. You can almost hear the furrow of his brow. (The live version at the end of the link highlights these very qualities.) As he sings, it seems he’s getting farther and farther away from life, his family, living in regret, looking toward death, even putting himself at the bottom of a well. It’s from that vantage point that he sings, Give me something to echo in my unknown future’s ear.
You see, Elliot, we all know the ending. We all know that Jesus defeats death – that life comes from death. That’s why we’re all here. But then, we forget. Plain and simple, our lives take turns and we shake off this story, believing it only to be a story, or only a sliver of our lives instead of it being our life. This truth we know in Christ Jesus becomes a faint memory, not even an echo. We start to that other things or people will save us. Or worse yet, we believe that we’re unsaveable, unloveable. Lost causes. That we’re far away from the people who love us most – that no one can hear our yell from the bottom of a well. We forget the ending all the time.
So Elliot, that’s why we’re all here. Because we forget the ending all the time. It’s why we get together at worship. So that we can practice these words of promise and love. So that others can say it for us on the days we can’t quite get our mouths around those words. So that we might remember – that our bodies might remember this love, this promise in our every day life.
It’s why we get together today, Elliot, to pour water over you – so that we might remember that this water claims us too. That this water changes us, cleanses us from evil, says the writer of Hebrews. So that we can form words of hope confident they are true.
There will always be rumors of war. There will be earthquakes and tornadoes and election results. So we turn to simple things like gathering bodies together in a building to sing praise and ask for mercy and to practice loving. And we turn to water, which has the power to destroy and the power to build up. In water, there is ending and beginning. You can’t have one without the other.
So when this water of new life is splashed on you, Elliot, may it too wash over us, reminding us these promises are for us, that we are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world right now. Help us to remember the ending, Elliot, so that the beginning will take hold of us again and again.