This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Luke 17:5-10. We also celebrated the Holy Baptism of an infant child, whom I’ll call Paxton here.
Good morning, Paxton. I’m so glad you’re here today. Today you are baptized. Today God washes you clean of your sin. Today God proclaims that you are God’s beloved child. Today God promises to be with you now and forever. So many gifts from God today! But the gift I want to focus on with you today, Paxton, is the gift of direction. Today, God promises to guide you and lead you for the rest of your life, to give your life a purpose and a meaning and a calling, and that direction is so important.
It reminds me of a hobby I’ve dabbled in called orienteering. Orienteering is done on a course that’s set up in the middle of the woods. You enter the woods with nothing but a compass and a map. Your map shows where certain markers are in the woods, and your goal is to reach all of those markers. So you have to use the map and compass to figure out which direction to go, and how far to walk, to find the markers. The interesting thing about orienteering is that you really don’t have to be all that precise about the distance. But direction is really, really important. If I have to walk 2 miles at 84*, and by mistake I walk 2 miles at 48*, I’ll never find the marker. In fact, I’ll just be lost. But if I’m supposed to walk at 84*, and I do walk at 84*, but I forget how far I’m supposed to go, it’s really not a big deal. As long as I’m aiming in the right direction, I’ll find it eventually. In orienteering, it’s all about direction.
Today’s gospel reading is about direction, too, Paxton. Right before our reading today, Jesus told his disciples something really difficult. He told them just how often they had to forgive one another. I’ll give you a hint, Paxton: a lot. Well, the disciples said something like, “Jesus, that’s pretty hard to do. We’re not strong enough. But if you increase our faith, give us more, then maybe then we can do that.” Jesus said, “More faith? If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell that huge tree over there to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” Well. I don’t know about the disciples, but I know better than that. If I were there, I would say to Jesus, “Come on. My eyes tell me that a tree could never be ripped out of the ground and planted in the sea. And I trust my eyes.”
And then Jesus might say to me, “Right. See? You do have plenty of faith. You have so much faith in your eyes that you know what’s possible and what’s not. You have enough faith. But put that faith in me instead.” Change the direction of your faith.
See, that’s the thing, Paxton. Faith means trust. Sometimes we think that faith is about believing something. But that’s really not what it is. Faith isn’t belief; faith is trust. Faith means trusting in someone or something, trusting that that person or thing will be there for us when something goes wrong.
Honestly, Paxton, you probably understand faith better than the rest of us in this room do. Because right now in your life, you have faith in your parents. You know that all you have to do is cry, and they will be there. They will feed you, change you, comfort you, whatever you need. You trust that. That’s faith. Babies like you have amazing faith in their parents, and that’s good, because most parents are worthy of that faith. Yours certainly are.
But as you get older, your faith in your parents will start to fade. And that’s also good, because they won’t be taking care of you quite the same way. You’ll be able to do more and more things on your own.
But you will find as you grow older that you still have faith in something, or someone. And sometimes grown-ups put our faith in the wrong things. Sometimes we put our faith in money, but money can let you down.
Sometimes we put our faith in our appearance, but that can let us down.
Sometimes we put our faith in our job, but that can let us down.
Friends can let us down. Family can let us down. And even if you put your faith in yourself, well, nobody can hurt us quite as badly as we can hurt ourselves. Just about everything can let us down.
Now, Paxton, I don’t want you to despair. You’re way too young to be cynical like me. Money and your appearance and jobs and church and other people and yourself – these are all great things, all good gifts from God. It’s just that they’re not perfect, and if we expect them to be, if we put all our trust and faith in them, we will be disappointed and lost.
In orienteering, if you aim in any direction but the right one, you will end up lost. It’s the same in life. If you aim your faith at any of those things I mentioned, they will eventually let you down. But here’s the good news.
The good news is that you can rely on God. And God is always calling to us, calling our faith away from all those things that will fail us, calling us to turn our faith toward the cross, to Christ who will never, ever fail us. God is always calling, beckoning, even pulling us there, like the North Pole pulls a compass magnet. Do you know the simplest way to make a compass, Paxton? Just put a little piece of magnetized iron in a bowl of water. Just put it in water, and it will turn to face north.
That’s what God is doing for you today, Paxton. Putting you in water, and helping you turn north. Helping you face the right direction. Promising that throughout your whole life, God will always turn you toward the cross, where Christ is.
When we aim our faith toward the cross, we can see everything else in life as the gifts they are. And we can enjoy them as they were intended, without trusting in them to provide all our needs.
When we aim our faith toward the cross, we can see other people as the gifts they are. We can see that it’s okay if we disagree, it’s okay if they’re not perfect. We can listen to each other and forgive each other.
When we aim our faith toward the cross, we can see ourselves as the gift we are. Because we know that on that cross, Christ forgave us all of our sins. So we can forgive ourselves and grow. We know that on that cross, we were saved. Because of that, we can do good works, and make a real difference in the world.
When we aim our faith toward the cross, we find that the impossible is possible. We can forgive each other like Jesus said. A tree can be planted in the sea.
Paxton, you might think I’m nuts. That’s okay. You don’t have to trust me. Trust God. God is calling you, and pointing your faith toward the cross. Keep your eye there, and you’ll find that you have everything you’ll ever need. And that’s a promise for life. Welcome to baptism. Welcome to the best direction you’ll ever face.