“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
Today we have the privilege as a community to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Now, it is true, that baptisms are wonderful moments in the life of our community, in the life of the family who is involved, and especially for the person receiving baptism. But it’s also a bit strange, if we think about it. In a few minutes, we will embrace this child, Benedict, as a community. A child that is quite cute and precious like all children are. And we will admit something quite strange and countercultural: that actually, excuse me Andrew and Julia, despite how precious your child is, there is something about him that is a bit flawed. What I mean, is that somewhere underneath all the cuteness of who Benedict is, there exists that presence of original sin that will one day make him do the things he does not want to do: question his faith, turn his back on you, choose the wrong door, and wrestle with questions of life inside of him, and perhaps even struggle with the reality of God.
But he will not be any different from any of us sitting here. For it is the same condition that sadly faces us all. If we are in the least bit reflective, we know, that something inside of us just isn’t quite right. There is a pull inside of us to do the things we don’t want to do. However, recognizing original sin and its consequences should not be a moment of panic or despair for any of us. In fact, I would propose, in good company, that it can be a moment for us to rejoice. Because it is, paradoxically in many ways, the reality of this sin that warrants and invites us to long for something so much more: for a deeper relationship with the Vine, with Jesus, in whom we can all bear much fruit.
It was reflecting on the reality of the fallenness of the world and of his own fallen humanity that G.K. Chesterton, a 20th century theologian, actually, quite surprisingly, found tremendous joy. In his own experience of conversion, documented in his book entitled Orthodoxy, Chesterton, commented on his own feelings of being out of place in this world. He wrote:
“The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place [in this world], and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence [to the philosopher’s advice]. But I heard [from Christianity] that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. I now knew why I could feel homesick at home.”
In Benedict’s baptism, there is something admitted by all of us who are here today that has roots in the one to which he is named after, St. Benedict: there is always going to be a tension for us who live in this world. This is a tension between, on the one hand, belonging to the world and enjoying and transforming what it offers to us. And, on the other hand, the knowledge that what can be offered to us in this world is not the entire story. That we are called into a relationship with a loving God that transforms every moment of every day of every action that we experience: it is a relationship that brings eternity into our existence of time.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to explain to us all today in the Gospel. It is true that we can accomplish a lot of things apart from explicit recognition of God, and still experience some kind of joy in life. There still remains enough goodness in nature that allows even the most avid atheist to love in some manner. The beauty of the flowers will still be beautiful. The taste of an ice-cold Trippel will still satisfy our thirst. The smell of grass can still awaken our senses. We can still hope to find love among the people around us. But all of this can be placed in the scales and found wanting: for it cannot compare to our experience of life when we are in a relationship with Jesus.
In him, the flowers become even more beautiful. In him, beer is filled with even more flavor. In him, the smell of grass goes from being something earthly to heavenly. And in him, our love is transformed from merely human efforts to being something almost divine.
Today, Benedict will receive the forgiveness of original sin, he will enter the door to the sacred, he will become ontologically changed, he will be joined to people both living and dead in the one Body of Christ, he will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that will remain with him in both the brightest and darkest moments of his life, he will be given charisms that only time will begin to show how magnificent they are.
But above all, I think, he will be brought into a relationship with a community that will sustain him for the rest of his life, and a savoir whose love has no competitors, whose sacrifice ended all sacrifice, whose intimacy transcends all intimacy, and whose life was given so that all of us, including Benedict, can now be called children of God.
In the earnest desire of his parents, with the basic elements of water and oil, with the utterance of human words, another life is united with the Vine that it may bear much fruit, both now, and for eternity.