It was a great day yesterday at St. Mark’s. I was given the great blessing to baptize 8 young ones and welcome them on behalf of the church into the Christian faith. And whenever I baptize someone I am reminded to think seriously about my own baptismal promises, and the desire I have to follow Christ on the way. Our gospel was from John 14 when Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way. As I mention in the sermon, since I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way with the vestry right now, I couldn’t help but to draw form it and make connections.
So, here it is. A baptismal sermon on the importance of following Jesus on the way.
Our text was: John 14:1-14
I’ve been thinking a great deal about Jesus’ words that we heard this morning, especially when he says that his disciples know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas—always seeming to speak aloud what many of us are thinking—says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Jesus is the way.
And the way of Jesus is always a way of humility, of peace, of love. A way of sacrifice and of giving, a way of reaching out to those on the margins. It is a way of life. Your vestry has been reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way together this year, and in our reading so far we have looked at how the way of American culture—and even the way many churches operate in the US—is extremely different, if not downright destructive of, the way of Jesus. Peterson focuses on how our society and our churches have become places where consumerism is king. Our wants and desires need to be met and fulfilled, so we believe all that Madison Ave. has to tell us and go looking for salvation in a plethora of ways.
Peterson writes, “We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable…. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand.”
The problem is that the American way for church is downright more exciting to our tastes than the Jesus way. Especially when you have a story like the one we heard this morning about Stephen being martyred for his faith in Jesus. If the Jesus way leads to death, are we sure we want to follow this way?
And let’s make no bones about it: Jesus’ way does lead to death. Death to self, to our desires, to that which says “me first” in our lives. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross. And talking about self-sacrifice is not easy nor always appreciated. But it is the way of Jesus.
We’ll hear language about death as we go to the baptismal font today. Whey we gather there, we’ll pray, “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” We die to sin and are led to eternal life.
And the life we’ll invite these eight children into this morning here at St. Mark’s is one that is challenging. We’ll welcome these young ones into a life of building relationships, of serving others. When we give our lives to the way of Jesus, while we aren’t promised riches or having all of our needs met, or even happiness at every turn, we are promised a deep and meaningful life. The way of the cross is, as our prayer book puts it, the way of life and truth.
To be fully alive means above all else that we live relational lives, that we live incarnationally. We can invest in the people who live with us and near us—our neighbors—and recognize that we can make a difference in this world right now. Just before Jesus told his disciples he was the way, he showed them what his way meant as he washed their feet at the last supper. Taking time to serve, to take someone else’s feet and gently wash them, to see that we all need support and care and that we can truly change each other’s lives.
That’s where the American way has fallen down. We have lost our connection with one another. We have grown further and further apart from one another, thinking instead that people are merely objects, they are the way to meet our desires. We tend to think that we are islands, as those who can live walled off from one another. We need to be reminded from time to time by the John Donne’s and the John bon Jovi’s of the world that none of us is an island.
So when these children take these vows, and when we all renew our baptismal covenant this morning, what we say is that we will follow the way of Jesus, no matter where it takes it, as best we can with God’s help. We will not put ourselves first. We will seek to share the good news of Christ. The news that the Christian life isn’t spent to be worrying about when judgment day is coming, nor how to get to heaven, but how to bring Jesus’ message of hope, love, and peace to a broken world, to our broken worlds.
And that is ultimately what the Jesus way is about. Life. Healing. Restoration. Renewal. When we die to ourselves, we find life in Christ. We find a life that is based in the here and now and not just some time in the future. May we find Jesus to be the way we follow. May we see that the way to God entails self-sacrifice and extravagant love. May we become aware of Jesus’ desire to bring reconciliation, and may we bring his reconciliation to others. And may we, on this day, remember that we have been marked as his followers, and may we have the courage to follow wherever he leads. Amen.
 Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, pg 6.