God told Moses, “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples . . . you shall be for me a priestly kingdom.”
Last Sunday I met with several of you after church to discuss our ministry to the youngest members of our flock, a number that continues to grow, as reflected in the five baptisms we celebrated over the past six weeks.
Even though every parent and godparent publicly acknowledges that the primary responsibility for bringing up their children in the Christian faith and life rests with them, and that is primarily through their prayers and witness that their children will grow into the full stature of Christ, all of us share in the eternal priesthood of God and therefore all of us have a responsibility to assist the parents and godparents of their children, who are no longer their children, strictly speaking, but now God’s children, adopted by him and marked as his own forever.
That is why we have a nursery, so that our infants and toddlers can grow in their trust of God beyond the arms of their parents and the safety and comfort of their homes. That is why we train acolytes, so that our children may learn to serve God around his altar. That is why we have a children’s choir, so that they may learn to praise God with their voices. That is why we have children’s church and EYC and EYC-2, so that they may come to better understand the teaching of the apostles and to enjoy the fellowship of their brothers and sisters in the family of God. That is why we have Vacation Bible School and a diocesan church camp, so that they can begin to appreciate how big God’s family is and can begin to experience their growing independence and maturity within that larger family. First Communion instruction, Confirmation classes, Stay-at-Home Work Camps, mission trips and other programs and activities also support the foundational effort and example of parents and godparents.
The message I heard last Sunday was loud and clear: “We appreciate the church’s help and we want to make sure that we continue to have all the help we need in order to fulfill our primary responsibility as parents for the nurture of our children’s faith.”
God reassures us this morning that each of us, including especially our youngest and most immature members, is his treasured possession. As the psalmist echoes, “God has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” God intends for us to be a kingdom of priests. This means that we are to be God’s go-betweens, to mediate between God and his world, to be useful to God, to be his instruments in accomplishing his purposes in the world, and when we do, to experience and share in his glory.
One of my treasured possessions is my digital camera. When I use it properly, it is able to capture and express the beauty and wonder of the world that God has made, redeemed and continues to renew and sustain. And so are we, in the hands of God, able to do what only God can do when we surrender our lives to him. And just as my current digital camera is so much better than my first, so does God intend to make us more effective instruments in his hands as we grow into the full stature of Christ through the ministry we offer and, as Paul reminds us, through the suffering that comes in life which God can use to produce endurance, character and a hope that does not disappoint us because of the grace that has been poured into our hearts in Christ Jesus.
Jesus spells out in today’s gospel in his charge to the twelve apostles what God is equipping us, as his treasured possessions, to do: to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God has come near, to cure the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons. That’s what it means to be a priest in God’s kingdom. That’s what all the ministry in our parish is designed to do, to make us more effective instruments of God’s will in these particular ways.
I read an awful story in the paper yesterday about two teenagers who made a covenant with death. I believe she has been convicted of murder for saying three words to her boyfriend who was scared about going through with asphyxiating himself with carbon monoxide in the cab of his truck: “Get back in.”
You and I have been commissioned to do just the opposite with even more powerful words from God to those around us, to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near, to get out of the cabs that are asphyxiating us and to breathe the fresh air of God’s life and love. Our touch, our prayers and our efforts to care for one another, whether with a card, a telephone call, a bowl of homemade soup, or even with a new and highly effective drug has, as an instrument of God’s will, the power to cure. God can even use us to raise the dead, whether it is a person or a hope that has died. And God can and will use us to cleanse those who are modern-day lepers, those who have been ostracized for one reason or another from the life and love and fellowship of their families and their larger communities, who aren’t even sure they will find a genuine welcome in the church because it may be tempted to think of itself as a society of saints rather than as a place where cameras of every shape, size and current condition are God’s treasured possession and instruments of his glory.
One of the most touching moments on the early Cursillo weekends was a video that was shared, a true story of a Mexican orphanage in which the priest introduces a ten-year-old boy with a face scarred by fire to the rest of the young men, explaining that he has room for him, but only if they would be able to welcome him as he was. After a pause of ten or twenty seconds as the camera panned across the faces of the orphans, one boy emerged from the assembly, walked up to the boy who was standing beside the priest, took his hand, spoke four words to him, “You are my brother,” and walked back with him to his fellow orphans.
Some of us may be called to cast out demons, to be hammers in the hand of God, extracting, with the claw of the hammer, leveraged on the firm ground of Christ’s redemptive love, the nails that bind the spirits of others to unholy spirits, to the spirits of greed or lust, pride or envy, gluttony or sloth.
We are God’s treasured possessions. He intends to be glorified through us and for us to share in his glory. May all our programs either help equip us to become the treasured possessions that we are, or may they give us opportunities to be used by God to proclaim, to cure, to resurrect, to cleanse or to cast out, that everyone may know that all the world is his and everyone in it has a place in his kingdom through the grace of Christ, mediated through the priesthood of all believers, young and old, parent and child, alike. AMEN.