In one of the pivotal scenes from Lewis Carrollâ€™s Alice through a Looking Glass, poor lost, confused little Alice sees the Cheshire Cat sitting on the bough of a nearby tree, smile aglow. â€śWould you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?â€ť Alice asks.
The Cheshire Cat replies, â€śThat depends a good deal on where you want to get to.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t much care where,â€ť says Alice.
â€śThen it doesnâ€™t matter which way you go,â€ť the Cat replies.
â€śI donâ€™t much careâ€ť and â€śit doesnâ€™t matterâ€ť are painfully accurate descriptions of most of our society and all too many of us. How did we get to be this way? The list of reasons by now is endless. My list leans right; yours may lean left; and technologyâ€™s instant gratification probably figures in. But the sad fact is that most of our society and all too many of us now live as if â€ślife is but an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth.â€ť I see and hear that sentiment much too often. Iâ€™m guessing that you do too. And thatâ€™s why we need the experience of todayâ€™s readings,
which, while they do not exactly describe the problem, do propose an alternative to that aimless, deathward drift; an alternative we know as Jesus Christ.
Today Jesus comes among us to commission us; Paul stands among us to call us into community responsibility, and the prophet known as third Isaiah points us to the one who â€śas a motherâ€ť nurtures in us a communal vision. And, as is always true in the presence of Jesus Christ, this commission, community responsibility and communal vision is not someone elseâ€™s; it is ours; and it became ours, as it became Johann Pascalâ€™s today, at the moment of our baptism.
Think about how much happened to you (as it just did to Johann Pascal) on day of your baptism: Your â€śname was written [indelibly] in heaven.â€ť The only death you had to fear was put permanently behind you. You were set permanently free from â€śthe sting of death and the power of the law.â€ť On that day and each day thereafter in this faith-filled community, Godâ€™s love for you and Godâ€™s acceptance of you became tangible and real. On that day, you became an integral and necessary part of
a vast community â€” the communion of saints â€” who on both sides of death and the grave continually surround us, encourage us, pray for us and accompany us on lifeâ€™s journey.
In his matchless letter to the Galatians and speaking to us as one from that holy communion, Saint Paul, reminds us that that supportive, encouraging, praying and accompanying community is tangible whenever we assemble regularly around the living Christ in Word and Sacrament; and that that community is always one in which each bears the otherâ€™s burdens and upholds the other in peace, joy and love no matter what the cost. At our baptism where we are going and who would accompany us was positively determined, and we were permanently rescued from that aimless, deathward drift. Last, but surely not least, through the laying on of hands and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we were commissioned and sent into the world with a purpose, a vision, and a message â€” â€śthe kingdom of God has come nearâ€ť â€” by which we can â€ścreatively shape life in the city.â€ť
For four consecutive weeks now, Saint Paul has been calling this freedom. Freedom.
Freedom in Christ. This is truly one of the most misunderstood terms in our theological vocabulary. It has never meant aimlessness, nor does it ever mean aloneness. To be free in Christ is to have a mission, a purpose, and to be a part of a responsible community journeying together to our common destination and home. Our compass for that journey is the living Christ, present among us, gathering, nourishing, sending and leading us to shape our lives, our society and our world according to Godâ€™s will and purpose.
Sisters and brothers, baptized into the freedom of Christ, our lives are lived precisely like that. Not aimless, not directionless, never solitary, but filled with purpose and vision and responsible companions â€” for whom we are also free to be responsible â€” who continually accompany us on our way. On such a purpose-filled journey we know our reason for being and our purpose for doing: It is to proclaim the nearness of the sovereign presence of God, a presence that includes and embraces all a presence that means wholeness and purpose and meaning, not just for ourselves, but for every human life.
Each time we assemble in the living, nourishing presence of Jesus Christ, the fog of uncertainty is lifted and we see who we are, where we are going and who is accompanying us. By virtue of our baptism, we are nothing less than a child of God, equal in Godâ€™s eyes to Jesus Christ himself. By virtue of our baptism we are on our way, traveling on Jesusâ€™ cross-marked journey, not toward death, but through death, beyond death and into Christâ€™s endless life. By virtue of our baptism, we are traveling together, together with one another, together with those in Panama and Tanzania and Boston and Strassbourg, united in Christ with us and together with Isaiah and Paul and Mary and all those others whom the Church calls saints. For many, this is obedience, but we know this is freedom, a freedom God gives us called life â€” abundant life â€” lived together in the promise God and the presence of Jesus Christ. Not aimless, not drifting, not solitary, but purposeful and hopeful and most of all, free.