If you’ve ever read the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, you know how the hungry caterpillar, for days and days eats through all manners of fruits, followed then by chocolate cake, ice cream, a pickle, cheese and salami, candy, pie, and sausage—which ironically I call lunch!
By the end of the week, he’s feeling pretty gross about it. So the caterpillar eats through one nice green leaf and feels better. Its then he enters his cocoon, all wrapped up warm and cozy. And with the turn of the page, he is an incredibly bright and beautiful butterfly.
As children, we immediately focus on the delicate creature that emerges from this cocoon—otherwise known as a chrysalis—with mysterious wonder. How can a creepy, crawly caterpillar magically transform into a radiant, soaring butterfly?
With the actual process inside the cocoon unseen, there becomes a lot of romance about the cocoon—it must be a wonderful, enchanting place, right? No. Not at all.
For the caterpillar, there was nothing “wonderful” about it.
Which is ironic because in today’s vernacular, the word “cocoon” has come to mean exactly the opposite of what it actually means to a caterpillar. We think a cocoon is safe and comfortable, but truth be told, a cocoon isn’t safe and it is certainly not comfortable.
A cocoon is where a caterpillar enters utter chaos of molting and metamorphosis where the caterpillar disintegrates into a gelatinous blob of goo, undergoes total reconstruction, and is born anew with sharpened sensory perceptions and breathtaking beauty.
It is a dangerous process—but it has an incredibly transformative conclusion.
We stand at the early beginnings of a new calendar year, and a new church year, and because we do it is good and faithful to consider the dangers of being creatures who claim to be those who have been born to new life—as those who profess a faith in God our Creator and Christ our Savior. Because to do so—to take on these risks—can be dangerous.
But facing these dangers is incredibly faithful.
Two weeks ago we looked at the baptism of Jesus—and the dangers that come from being those who have been baptized as Jesus was. Jesus showed us the baptismal waters are murky and tumultuous, and when we walk from them, it doesn’t get much better. Jesus never tells us baptism makes life easy, rather he shows us the dangers of baptism.
Today we heard from Acts 2, the verses just after the familiar Pentecost story where we see how the Church is birthed, and hear how those who are still reticent to the power of the Holy Spirit will sneer and jeer and accuse the faithful to be nothing more than drunk on new wine.
Today’s text offers a rebuttal to those sneers and jeers—not one that says the unfaithful will get some sort of due retribution—but instead it reminds the faithful that God has been with the faithful, and will always be with the faithful—even in death, because with God death always means resurrection and new life.
While this week’s text, and last week’s text of Jesus’ baptism, are separated by time and place—both give us lesson and direction of what the Holy Spirit calls us to, and expects of us, when we respond to the invitation to enter and come forth from the baptismal waters, and when we choose to live as those who put their faith in God our Creator and Christ our Savior.
As Christians we believe the Holy Spirit is poured out onto us at our baptism, but then we convince ourselves that baptism means safety—“I’ve been washed clean, all is forgiven, I’m good.”
But as we were reminded two weeks ago, there’s much more expected of us. And because there are expectations, baptism is always a risk—and Jesus showed this and proved this. Jesus took the risk of the Holy Spirit at his baptism so that his life, ministry, death, and resurrection would have a transformative power—and it did. His risk made possible something unbelievably beautiful. Forgiveness. Unconditional love. Everlasting life.
And our baptism was the same.
But these dangerous risks don’t end there, they go on and on—outside of us, and most certainly inside of us.
The transformative dangers of faith are part of a chaotic reconstruction—of ourselves, and of our entire world—and it’s the only way the beautiful creation of the beloved community will ever become a reality.
I’ve often wondered…Who gave the church a safety-first, risk-free commission? Because truth be told, there is no such thing as a risk-free life— nothing is safe.
Too many Christians today are lured by “the safety of the pew,” instead of being enticed by “the risk the holy spirit.” But believe it or not, there is danger in the pew, because it is in the pew where we get comfortable—and when we get comfortable we get formidable. “Don’t mess with my pew. Don’t sit in it. Give me what I want. Keep me comfortable Preacher.”
Comfort. Complacency. Apathy These are more dangerous than anything.
So if it’s safety you want, then accept that safety comes in the risk of the Holy Spirit. A risk that yes, calls us to go forth to speak and work on behalf of God, but it is a risk that comes with a promise that Peter reminds us of today… “The Lord is always before us.” “The Lord will be at our right hand so that we will not be shaken.” “The Lord will not abandon your soul.” “The Lord will make us full of gladness with the Lord’s presence.”
“Safety first” was not the motto of Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela—not even Alexander Campbell, a founding father of our denomination.
“Safety first” was never the motto because “safety first” is fatal to living out the baptism and faith that Jesus modeled and calls us to fulfill.
The Church is to be like a cocoon—but not in the definition we make it out to be.
The church is not to be a safe comfortable place. The church is where risk is taken. The church is where total rebuilding happens, where one way of life is died from, and born in its place is a new way of living.
The church is where we disintegrate from our old selves, our old structures, our old identity—so we can emerge as newly transformed beings who will bring beauty to the world.
But for that to happen, we must give up the “safety-first, risk-free” approach to mission and ministry and embrace the dangers of faith.
And just how are we to do that?
I don’t know.
I don’t know because that is between you and God.
But I do know it starts with a willingness to stop being so comfortable, and start taking a risk.
Such can happen—it must happen— if we are to be the 21st Century church we want to be, and are called to be.
Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar teaches us to limit our intake of junk food, and eat more plants, but it misses—and understandably so because it is a children’s book—how the very hungry caterpillar takes on the risk of entering the cocoon where it goes from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty.
This is the reason why so often the butterfly becomes a symbol of resurrection. Not because it’s cute, but because it risks dying to be born to new, beautiful life.
Jesus risked everything by living out his ministry.
The disciples risked ridicule and retribution by proclaiming the Gospel message.
They took a risk, and had faith, that the authority and power of the Holy Spirit would work through their words and actions. It was a profound risk. But that moment of proclamation brought into being the Church as the new creation of God—and it was beautiful.
That call is still upon us today—us who are members of the body of Christ, us who are part of the church family that is First Christian Church of Stow, Ohio.
What are we doing in response to that call?
What are you doing in response to that call?
Are we sitting comfortably in our pew, in our cocoon that has us encapsulated in comfort, leaving only visible that which is hard and ugly?
Or are we daring to accept the risk that was present in the waters of our baptism, just as Jesus did?
We have begun a new year—a new calendar year, a new church year. What are we going to do with it? How will this year be different than any of the years before?
Are we simply going to keep seeing this place as a cocoon in the warped and twisted definition that too many Christians have made it into?
Or will we instead see the Church as a cocoon in its truest definition—that the church is a place we enter into, die from our old ways and become transformed into beings that bring forth something beautiful for our world?
How will we respond? How will you respond? How will we bring forth something beautiful?
There is no “safety” in safety; there is only safety within the dangers of faith, because it is in our faithfulness we find the glad fullness of the presence of God our creator and Christ our Savior. Amen.