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So this isn’t normally when you expect a sermon to come – maybe you thought you’d escaped it today, thanks to the baptism! Attentive churchgoers might recall we tried this liturgical order out last All Saints – it allows the kids to be part of the baptism before they go up to children’s worship, and they get to escape the sermon. Kids love baptisms, and besides, a baptism isn’t nearly as special without all the kids gathering around, this celebration of new life and new family. Amaya is an official part of the family now, baptized and sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever, and that’s a glorious thing for all of us together to celebrate. And now she’s gone upstairs with her siblings to enjoy that.

Which is not to say Amaya wasn’t a member of the family before – she and God have known each other well for a long time. Bur her being made official today is a sign for us – almost more than for her. Baptism marks what is already true, and holds it up for us all to see: Amaya is a beloved child of God. And so are all of us. That’s what we’re trying to remind you of when we splash you with water – in case you’re wondering. God loves you, even when it ruins your hairdo.

That is the message of baptism, and why we do baptisms all together as a congregation – because we all need that reminding of God’s abundant, unconditional love. John’s letter today spells it all out: God is love; love is from God; when we love, we know God. If you have ever loved someone – if you have ever felt yourself to be loved by someone – then you know God. It’s as simple as that. You can stop trying to figure it all out now. 

But we do usually want it more spelled out than that. Just exactly how far does this love go, and who is included in it? It’s the theme of some of the most beloved children’s books – The Runaway Bunny, to take one example. Over and over again the little bunny asks his mama, yes, you say you love me, but what if I turn into this, or that, something different and strange? What if I run away? What if I hide, fly away, disappear, reject your love? The mama replies, over and over again: I’ll love you anyway. I’ll come find you. I’ll still call you mine. At the end of that book, the little bunny gives up – oh well, then I guess I might as well just stay here and be your little bunny. Yes, you might as well, says the mama. ‘Have a carrot.’ (About the best last line of any book, I think.)

Jesus puts it another way: I am the vine, you are the branches. You’re connected to me. My lifeblood flows through you. You can’t really separate yourself and run off – we are one. So you might as well just abide in me and bear fruit. And if you abide in me, you abide with one another also. It all goes together: John’s letter says, ‘Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.’ It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

To bring the point home even further, we have the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It’s a curious story.  Philip, apostle and new deacon, has been in Samaria, preaching about Jesus and healing people – making new disciples amongst the Samaritans, despised enemies of the Jews. He’s called by an angel to get onto the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, ‘a wilderness road’ – words that have a particular resonance today, there’s a lot of wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza, isn’t there.  And on that road, a eunuch comes riding along. 

The eunuch is from Ethiopia, highly placed in the queen’s court, wealthy and influential. But in Jewish terms, he is an outcast, outside the law as a eunuch. He can’t convert to the Jewish faith he so clearly admires. He’s returning home from Jerusalem, reading from a scroll of Isaiah as he rides along. The Spirit tells Philip to catch up with him, and Philip begins to teach him. Passing a pool of water, they stop the chariot: what is to prevent me from being baptized? the eunuch asks. It’s a poignant question, because so much has already prevented him from full inclusion. But nothing prevents him – Philip baptizes him, marking him as Christ’s own forever, marking and blessing what is already true – this wealthy eunuch, just as much as ragged, crazy Philip, is part of God’s beloved family. Unalike as they are, they are one. And then Philip takes off again, to preach and proclaim some more in other Gentile regions. He just can’t seem to stop preaching to all the wrong sorts of people.

On the road to Gaza, two unlikely people, opposite sides of nearly every binary, have this encounter. They listen to one another; they engage with one another; they learn from one another. And lives are changed – and not just the lives of these two people. This eunuch is understood as the founder of the Christian church in Ethiopia, one that continues strong to this day. 

We are all of us branches of that one vine. And one branch can’t even live without the vine – if it tries to, it fails, dries up, is cut off. We only bear fruit when we’re connected to one another, stemming from the one true vine. Whoever does not love their brother or sister cannot say they love God. It’s all of a piece. 

We know what happens when we forget that. Today Mother Julie is at a service at our cathedral commemorating the Armenian Genocide of 1918 – remembering this history at a time when Armenians are seeing a repeat of the same catastrophe in their homeland. The state of Israel is causing unconscionable death and suffering in Gaza in a war of retribution for a terrible attack, a war that has lost all proportion, over 30,000 dead. Russia doggedly plows through Ukraine, claiming territory, possibly hundreds of thousands dead now in that war. It is the history of our world. This is where hatred and despising the other can lead. There are no conversations between opposing sides. There is no listening, no understanding – just the frenzy that leads to war. And safe here in our most privileged universities, students supporting Palestine refuse to listen and engage with Zionists, while supporters of Israel call them antisemitic. Free speech is hotly contested – but free listening, no one wants to do that anymore. Because those whom we oppose are the other, the wrong ones – why listen when you can just shout louder? With politics carrying the weight of religion, it seems less and less possible for people who disagree to stay in relationship with one another. Why bother, when we know we’re right? And so we sow the seeds for still more violence to come. 

Will you still love me if I run away? What about if I vote differently from you? What if I wear a keffiyeh? If I wear a star of David? Will you still love me then? Can we love our sisters and brothers and so love God, or can we not?

What we mark and make official today in baptism is that God loves us all even with all of this. We are each one of us beloved of God, whatever our political persuasion, whatever we post or refrain from posting on socials. Whatever our history or our people; whatever the privilege we carry or are denied. We are loved. And we are part of one vine, rooted in Jesus, in the full expression of God’s love for us. In the source of all our life, without whom we cannot exist. We are all a part of it. 

Imagine if we listened as carefully as Philip did to the Spirit’s promptings – if we called out to someone completely unlike us and shared with them the good news of God’s love. Or as carefully as the eunuch, who invites Philip into his life to hear and understand him. If we lived out our faith that says that no one is outside of that love. If we heard one another and engaged each other even when we disagree – dropping the posturing and tribalism that blinds us to each other, and embracing our true shared identity, God’s children. That is the way of Jesus – what he taught, and what he showed. All of us part of the one vine – all of us beloved. May we take the radical step of acting like we believe it.

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