Nature or Nurture – Pastor Jane – 3.24.2019

We are just about at the mid-point of Lent. Our journey has taken us lost and found in the wilderness…with Jesus hinting at his death and Resurrection. And the Disciples somewhat clueless, perhaps in denial.

Our lessons today – introduce ‘water’ – perhaps an unusual image in this vast desert that we think of during Lent. The Prophet Isaiah welcomes those who thirst – right there in the first line of his message. With new meaning to those who are without – those who suffer from injustice, and neglect. The communities in exile. And tells us clearly – that you know what, we might not think the same way or believe the same things – but you are welcome. He tells us – “my thoughts might not be your thoughts – and your ways are not my ways” – But there’s something bigger that we share. We as a people share one God, the God of Israel.

And in Paul’s Letter this morning, God continually reminds us that our baptismal journey – through the sea and through the desert – is an ongoing process. We die and rise every day with Jesus. Our call is to live the truth of the Gospel. To live the truth of our baptismal calling. For Paul, God’s faithfulness endures and is known in this gift of unconditional love.

Our Confirmation Retreat was this past weekend – with our theme the “Intersection of Faith.” We gathered on Friday night to talk about what it means to be ‘people of faith’ – not just here, but for all religious people. The hope was to remind our 6th, 7th and 8th graders that regardless of the noise that we hear around us, we are a shared humanity…with shared beliefs – and that all people of faith are taught to care about justice and to care for one another. Not to hurt or to kill each other, but to love one another – to respect one another. Just as God loves us. Just as Jesus teaches us.

The night before, on last Thursday night, there was a Vigil in Basking Ridge – a community gathering at a Synagogue there with Dr. Ali Chaudry of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge… We heard support from clergy of different faiths share the same words – love, support, care form different faith communities that “they are us.” When tragedy strikes a Sikh community in Wisconsin. Or a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Or at a Church in South Carolina. Or at a Mosque in New Zealand… We come together – because we are a shared humanity… Yes, “they are us.” I was struck that night by how many people came together in support – not just Clergy and people of faith – but people from all walks of life. There were Community Organizers. Police. Homeland Security. There were Local Mayors and State Representatives and Assembly Members. With the same message that we are one people and we don’t walk this journey alone.

Our lessons this morning are meant to comfort us. Paul reminds us about our baptism. And during Lent, we’re reminded and encouraged to deeper spiritual practices – first and foremost, always beginning with our baptism. The same way that we begin our liturgy each week giving thanks for that gift. God’s faithfulness is everlasting – and continues with gifts of love, through acts of mercy, charity, blessings that we share with one another – as we gather here and when we walk through the door into the wider community. God provides us a way to engage with one another, opening his arms on the cross and with the promise of the resurrection. And right here, we welcome and nurture God’s people through ministry programs that care for the hungry and the homeless, providing food and shelter. We too are nurtured, nourished weekly with Christ’s own body and blood. Gathering around the table with the invitation, with the words: “all are welcome.”

We need those reminders, especially now. As we live in this world with the seemingly never-ending horror of terrorism. A world where the number of refugees seems to grow exponentially. A world where illness after illness claims growing numbers. A world where each of us has our own story of the hurt and pain and loss that fill so many lives. We need every reminder we can grasp that God is still a part of our world, a part of our lives, and still our hope.

The Prophet shares an invitation to come to God’s feast in our First Lesson today. Isaiah paints this wonderful image of a meal without price that will fill and satisfy. And in that moment, we understand it is a gift of grace. And while we wait, we will eat here – with communion hosts from sisters and brothers in Africa. Reminding us of the partnership that we share…that takes us from New Providence – to Tanzania – to Tennessee – to Plainfield – to Newark – and to Pittsburgh – to Charleston – to Wisconsin – to Texas – and to New Zealand. A partnership with our sisters and brothers around the world. Distant places where God’s all-encompassing arms enfold and embrace all of us…all together – as God’s family. Amen.