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Sunday, January 09, 2022

You can't sell soap if you don't take baths


A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
and live streamed on Facebook Sirach 26:10
January 9, 2022 

There’s so much to say about baptism. Well, first off, it’s the first of the two primary Sacraments of the Church, the other being Holy Eucharist; the others being sacramental rites. Many of us remember that from our Catechism (found in the BCP on page 845 ), we are taught that a sacrament “is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”


In the time we have together this morning, I want to talk less about the outward and visible stuff and more about that which is inward and spiritual.


I want to start by telling you about one of my dear friends and spiritual guides and the one person who lived life closer to the teachings of Jesus than any other person I’ve ever known.


Her name was Terry Parsons and for about twelve years she was the Missioner for The Episcopal Office of Stewardship and Discipleship in New York.

In that capacity, she got to talk about money but for Terry, the topic of money couldn’t be unlinked from stewardship - tending to the gifts God gives us, and  discipleship – being a follower of the teachings of Jesus – and evangelism – bringing others to also follow Jesus and ministry – serving others in the name of Christ Jesus.


She liked to talk about her self as just a simple girl from Berea, KY, a small town near the edge of Kentucky’s Blue Grass Region, but oh, my, how her simple wisdom moved not only mountains of resistance but hearts and minds and souls.


I remember one gig she had as keynote speaker for a certain diocesan convention.  During the convention, an issue arose: They could no longer afford to support their own summer camp for youth, but a Delegate had found another camp where their young people could gather for $5,000.


At the Mass that night, Terry also took up the cause of that youth camp. She said: “We have all the money we need to support this project. The problem is …. It’s still in your pockets!” The next morning, less than twelve hours later and during the Diocesan Convention, the Bishop had the joy of announcing that $5,000 had been raised.


It wasn't a magic trick and it wasn't a miracle. That was Terry. It wasn’t so much that she used that old saw about money being in our pockets. It’s that it came from a place of truth and conviction deep in her soul. You knew this woman was baptized not just with water but also in the Spirit. She lived her baptismal vows. And, because of that, she moved people to believe the impossible was possible.


She often quoted Audrey Hepburn who apparently once said, “Nothing is impossible. It’s even in the word ‘impossible’ which is I’m possible. And with God, all things are possible."


That’s in the bible, in Matthew 19:26. Jesus had just told the rich young man who wanted to have eternal life to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor, and follow him, but the young man walked away. Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”


Terry knew her bible. It was from Terry that I learned the source of something we say at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. As soon as I say it, you’ll know it. In fact, I’ll start it and you finish it. I raise the elements and I say, “All things come of thee, O Lord.. .” And you say, “…and of thine own have we given thee.”


Now, if you look at those words in Rite I in the BCP, there’s no biblical citation. Honestly? I never thought much about it. I just figured it was a lovely thing Thomas Cranmer or some priest in the Elizabethan court had written.


It was from Terry that I learned the source. The words are from King David, found in the Book ofChronicles, chapter 29, vs 14. It’s part of David’s prayer before the whole assembly which begins with: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” I’ve often threatened to add that first sentence to the Offertory Verse. In fact, I think after today, I will.


But, here’s the real gold nugget of wisdom and knowledge and truth which Terry Parsons gave me – and so many others. She said these words in the context of talking about Stewardship as a form of Discipleship. She wasn’t just talking about money. She was talking about what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus, and what it takes to make other disciples.


Here’s the pure gold from the simple girl from Kentucky. She said, “You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”


I’m going to say that again because it so simple, it makes such pure sense, you might miss it. She said:  “You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”


Mind blown, right? 


You and I are baptized. Our catechism says we are baptized by water and in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and that we are marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever.


So, here’s the question: How will people know that about you? How will people know that you are baptized? I’m not talking about the fact that you wear a cross, or that you carry a bible or a BCP in your car, or that you let people know that you go to church on Sunday.


As my kids used to say when they wanted to torment me, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car.” If you don’t believe what you profess, if you don’t live what you profess, people will sniff you out as a phony in half a heartbeat.


Here’s the thing I think we miss in this story of the Baptism of Jesus – the important piece that animates this story and makes it transformative and healing. 


After he and everyone had been baptized by John and Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."


We who are baptized into Christ’s body are also God’s own. We – you and me – are beloved of God. In and through our baptism in Christ we know three things: 


We are loved. 

We are worthy. 

We are not alone. 


Jesus is in the baptismal water with us. Jesus will never leave us. Because we are loved, we are worthy, we are not alone.


If you let the truth of that sink it, it is transformative. It has the power to heal sin-sick souls.


It’s in knowing this truth and living this truth that we become disciples. And, as disciples of Jesus, we bring others to him not by the beautiful words of our prayers or the hymns of our faith – although they certainly don’t hurt; in fact, they often make it easier to talk about Jesus.


But we ought not let our beautiful words and music be the only way we live out our baptismal vows. We bring ourselves and others to Jesus by the lives of faith we live; by our generosity of spirit; by our willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven; love as we are loved.


Because of our baptism, we are all – every last one of us – ministers. There are no volunteers in the church. Everything you do in the name of Jesus is ministry- inside and outside the church. Please don’t ever let me hear you call yourselves volunteers. You are baptized into the ministry of Jesus Christ and made servant leaders of the church. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.


This, my friends, is discipleship. This is stewardship. This is evangelism. This is ministry


Discipleship, stewardship, evangelism and ministry are part of the inward and spiritual graces of our baptism. No, that's not what it says in the Catechism. Nevertheless, they are gifts of the spirit which Jesus means for us to share with all people.


If you want this church to grow in spirit and faith as well as numbers, I urge you to remember the five promises we make as we reaffirm our Baptismal vows. We’ll be repeating them in just a few minutes. I encourage you to take home your bulletin and reflect on that statement of faith and those five promises and open your BCP to theOutline of Faith (Catechism p 845) and read what it says.


Then ask yourself the question David asked and join him in his prayer, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”


All things come from God. Including our baptism wherein we are loved, we are worthy and we are never alone.


And remember the wisdom of my dear friend and spiritual guide, Terry Parson, who went home to Jesus 10 years ago and now soars with the angels high in the heavens:


“You can’t sell soap if you don’t take baths.”



Image by Waiting for the Word on Flickr.


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