On Christmas Day, I took a flight from Boston to my hometown in Raleigh, NC. I visit my family one week a year and during that week I soak in warm weather without the threat of five feet of snow. I allow myself to eat all the southern foods I desire, meeting with friends who graduated from high school and college, and get to spend a great deal of time with my family. This recent visit left me missing the sense of community that my home church gives me. As your Director of Christian Education and Youth Ministry, I have found a place in this community, too. I was raised Jewish and was never a member of a church in the south so, on my second day in Raleigh I set out to find a place where I can meet my temporary need for familiar community.
For those of you who do not know, I am a certified group fitness instructor. I love creating spaces where minds, bodies, and souls align in creating community. It is not church as we know it here at Pilgrim but for some, people who take group fitness classes imagine those spaces as their spiritual home. I love when I get to lead group fitness but also when I get to participate in group fitness. Often, when I go somewhere new, I look for a group fitness setting for that communal experience looking to indoor cycling studios to meet my needs. So, my temporary need for familiar community was found at a local indoor cycling studio. When I arrived to the studio, people were setting up on their bikes, catching up after their holiday break, and sharing travel stories. Next to me, the guy turned to me and introduced himself. He attends classes daily, we spoke a bit about what we do in life. I shared I work at a church; he told me that he was a doctor. Once our class started, I assumed our relationship would end because even though my classes are about community not all studios create that same experience.
At one point during our workout, I found myself at a resistance that felt like mud. I set my resistance too high but I was too proud to turn it down. For indoor cycling classes, it is considered this would be considered a steep hill and I wanted the steepest hill to climb. I had sweat dripping down my face and I was dangerously close to causing some damage. My new doctor friend reached over and smacked my handlebar, yelled: “Turn down that resistance, don’t worry! You can do it! You’re still climbing!” I turned it down, smiled at him, and sped up a bit on a hill that still challenged me. He patted me on the back, gave me the thumbs up, and the woman next to me did the same. I had not realized she was paying attention. I was struggling and rather than judging, they encouraged me to listen to my body and to keep going despite what felt like a failure to nobody else but me. For the rest of the class, I cycled knowing I had community around me and focused on that mind-body-soul connection that made so many of my fitness experiences so spiritual. I found great community and after, others in the class introduced themselves to and we got snacks provided by the studio. It was a bit like our coffee hour except with protein shakes, Gatorade, and fruit. I returned each day, sometimes twice a day, for that whole week. Each time, I felt that same sense of community.
By now, you may be wondering: “What does this have to do with the Baptism of Jesus?” We read this morning that Jesus asks John the Baptist to baptize him in the same way John had baptized so many others at the Jordan River. John the Baptist questions Jesus’ request, almost to the point of denying Jesus’ baptism. I imagine that a present day John the Baptist would say: “I need to be baptized by you not the other way around! Why are you even asking me?” Jesus responds: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” After Jesus was properly baptized, God descends from heaven like a dove, shining a light on Jesus saying: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
For Jesus, getting baptized was not merely a desire but it was a requirement to fulfill all righteousness. At baptism, each person is ritually brought into the Body of Christ. Each person becomes one with the Body of Christ. What is this righteousness that needs to be fulfilled? The righteousness of community needed to be fulfilled. Jesus needed to be baptized in order for us to be a part of the Body of Christ, to be a part of a community deeply rooted in Christ with one another and what that community does for the world. Jesus baptism was an expression of unity with us, of knowing that Jesus is our Emanuel - God with us. By being baptized, Jesus joined us in community in the same way that we all join into the Body of Christ. Jesus joined us as we join the Church through baptism. My mission for Children’s Church and for the larger Pilgrim Church community is for each person to know that they are deeply rooted in a community led by Jesus. It is not just a worship community that meets on Sunday mornings; it is all that we do together in community, for the larger community, and in service to the world around us. That is the fulfillment of righteousness. For God, Jesus’ baptism was a symbol for Jesus’ humanity. Like Jesus, we are all beloved children of God. God is not just pleased with Jesus; God is pleased with each of us. When we fulfill righteousness, God is pleased. God is pleased whenever we are good to others and whenever we serve others. Through our righteousness fulfilled, we begin journey towards moving closer to one another and towards God. My vision for Children’s Church and for the larger Pilgrim Church community is that we all move closer to one another and to the heart of God.
Really, my theology of ministry is rooted in my interpretation of this text. I desire that through a community deeply rooted in Jesus’ teachings, each person will look beyond Sunday morning for their church community. Each person will understand that church is not just worship on Sunday morning. Church is what we do together in community and for our local and global community. I believe that engaging in church in this way will help us all move closer to one another. Ultimately, it is this engagement that will move us closer to the heart of our God with whom God is well pleased because we are beloved. So, you may be wondering: “But Devin, what does this all look like? What can we do? What does this mean?”
I want to answer that with a few questions. Who do you think drives this community? What do you think drives this community? Where is God in this community? Why does God want us in this community? In my indoor cycling class, there is an instructor who guides the group through steep hills and other crazy choreography. The instructor can help ensure that each cyclist knows what they are doing through instruction and empowerment. The instructor keeps their finger on the pulse, always aware of individual goals, needs, and strengths. The instructor does not drive the community alone. A good instructor ensures that the environment in the class where all cyclists provide support for others as evidenced by my new friends in my Raleigh classes. The combination of an empowering instructor and empowered community drive the community. It is not just the instructor, it is the cyclists that ensure that there the community exists. Otherwise, it would be just like any other cycling class.
I believe Pilgrim Church is a special place. It was founded as a small, family-oriented church. I am sure there are those who remember the early days of Pilgrim Church. This is a church deeply rooted in Jesus’ teaching, a church that desires to please God. Unlike most cycling classes, this is a community intentionally spiritual and oriented towards being Christ to one another. Our pastor, Reverend Lauren, is our instructor supported by staff like myself, Dan, and Diane. Really, though, she is empowering us all to emulate Jesus, our Emanuel, our God with us. Church is like one big cycling class, we can move together knowing that God is with us or we can be individuals struggling on our own. God gives us the gift of community, desiring for us to fulfill righteousness. God loves us unconditionally and calls us beloved at our baptism. Likewise, we are called to commit to those in our community both before and after their baptism. It is a part of our vows as community to the baptized, the same vows Jesus took, too.
We emulate Jesus by reaching out to one another with unconditional love desiring nothing but deepened relationships to build our community. We love one another and move closer to one another by getting to know one another during coffee hour, meeting up during the week for dinner, asking after one another, participating in bible study together. We emulate Jesus by teaching what we know to one another, even our youngest Pilgrims. We can share our skills and knowledge in service to one another and the church by volunteering with Children’s Church, various committees relevant to our skills, and giving our time, treasure, and talent. We emulate Jesus by taking on leadership roles. We can lead committees, participate on council, serve as moderator, and plan mission projects. It does not all have to take place on Sunday morning. In an effort to facilitate this, I have started a Church-wide Bible Study Project. You’ll notice in this morning’s bulletin, there is an insert kicking of this project that explains it further. Each week, I will have copies of the Children’s Story Bible available for you to take home and borrow with a sheet that includes discussion questions and activities to consider during the week as time allows for you and yours. I have provided wondering questions for all and activities to take on. I hope it will encourage you all to reach out to one another, deepen your relationships with one another, and move closer to the heart of God. I hope it will help you bring church into your daily lives, too. I pray that we each remember that church is community, church is what we do, church is how we serve, and church is for loving one another more and more. Amen.