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Finn's Baptism (my grandson)
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on August 11, 2013

Proper 14C 2013

Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

In the Lesson from Genesis, God promises Abraham that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky.  If you have ever stood in the mountains to watch stars at night--when the moon is new and there is no ambient light from cities or any form of civilization, you can imagine how profoundly impossible this seemed to Abraham who was himself old, and his wife was well beyond childbearing age.  Abraham could not imagine how he would get from that place in the desert under a canopy of stars to the place that God was describing.

For us, with 20/20 hind sight, it is clear how this numerical miracle of off-spring was accomplished.  The descendants of Abraham do seem infinite, as infinite as the stars, and they belong to at least three faith traditions, all of whom claim this heritage of promise from God to Abraham.

In the reading from Hebrews, we hear the familiar saying “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  And we know that even if it seemed impossible to Abraham, his faith allowed him to imagine, but, more importantly, to hope that God’s promise would indeed be true. 

That is what faith is all about isn’t it?  Hope.  Our daydreams may not come true, but our deepest hopes can and do -- by faith.  Not because we imagine them or wish them or demand them, but because our deepest hopes are found in the recesses of our hearts, and in the convoluted landscapes of our relationships.  Our deepest hopes are the ones that are so bound up in our identity and God’s deepest desires for us that it is as if there is no boundary between what we hope for and God desires.  We hope for love, for health, for lasting and healthy family life, and so does God. Why else would God promise descendants outnumbering the stars if not for love?

Now I do not doubt that many of us hope for more temporal things too--like that winning Powerball ticket (myself included) (rats!), but if we really stop to think about it, would not any of us trade that winning ticket for love?  For hope fulfilled?  Which is, after all, another way of saying we would all make purses for ourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven but also an unfailing treasure for living life in this world.  If our treasure is in that place that God desires for us, then we will be rich indeed.

But we are all tempted by other treasures, or at least I am. For most of us there is tension between those desires that match God’s intentions for us and for all the descendants of Abraham, past, present and yet to be, and the desires of the world. Most of us are tempted by those things around us that lure us into believing that temporal things will satisfy our deepest longings and love us back. How do we live lives that keep that tension in the right balance so that our souls are nurtured and our hopes are kept buoyant? 

I have come to believe that the answer is found in belonging, truly belonging, to a family in whatever form that family takes -- one we are born into, or one we create with people we choose, and/or belonging to a community that is focused on common work for others.  I have come to know the church as the possibility of one such place to belong when we are striving to define the deepest meaning of belonging. 

Likewise, it is important to remember that God did not promise Abraham churches, or even religions, and certainly not individual denominations or parishes.  But as descendants of Abraham, belonging to a church--the right church for us (luckily God meets our church needs just as God meets our faith needs, right where we are, so many different kinds of churches are needed for God to be able to have a relationship with us) --the right church can mean knowing love and finding a place where that deepest belonging the human soul seeks is met. 

This parish has been such a place to many for almost 200 years.  Right now, Christ Church is in a time of transition.  Our diocese is also in a time of transition.  And I would posit that the entire Christian church and certainly the Episcopal Church is in a time of transition -- maybe a time of radical change, change as profound in our day and times as the changes that happened in the Reformation were in its.  Then, people of faith came to know that what they thought was eternal wasn’t.  Now the church is rediscovering that same sort of redefinition and change again.

Everything changes constantly.  Change is a sign of life.  We are probably just more aware of everything changing rapidly because the leadership in the church is changing.  Each new person brings new ideas and ways of doing things.  So when the clergy person is new, it is impossible to do things “the way we always did.”  And, though it is sometimes difficult to remember, each new person who comes to be a part of the community is another star further fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. 

Why this talk of change?  Because we are doing something ancient -- baptizing two children -- and at the same time marking/creating a moment of change for them and for the church.  We will invite God’s presence in the lives of these two boys deliberately, and then, like Abraham, stand back to encourage, celebrate, support and wonder at what God does in their lives.

It is important to remember that church as we know it is not what God promised.  Rather, God’s promise is full of hope, faith and belonging to a community of faith, not to a specific church or way of being community.  Indeed, it is important to remember that church is not what God desires for us.  Church was not part of the covenant with Abraham, that is (of course there is a caveat!), unless “church” is also community, belonging, hope and love.  Buildings, books, and maintaining traditions as they “always were” are only valuable if they encourage what really matters to God. These children and their generation will decide/follow God into the deep place of community -- in “church”-- as they with God will make it.

Today we will do an outrageous thing!  We will baptize these boys.  We will promise to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ.  Then we will trust God working in them and through them 

You may ask how we could promise this when some of us may never see them again personally?  We make this promise because of that covenant that God made with Abraham, because we are part of a community that desires and proclaims to be a place of welcome and hope and belonging for all.  We can promise to support them in their life in Christ because we are promising not only them but all other children we will encounter.  We can promise because we take seriously God’s covenant with us at our baptism to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and the prayers.  Today we re-promise God on their behalf to be constantly creating a place where they can find community.  

As it turns out, part of keeping that promise for us means taking care of this particular community in this particular place in our day and time.  To do that, we will of course have to care for all the intangible and most valuable parts of this community of faith, those things that are of value to God.  And to be honest, it is we who must also care for the temporal and ordinary.  We must take care of the bricks, mortar and snow shoveling (hard to imagine on a day like today, isn’t it?)  When we worship, or pledge, or serve at Bread and Roses, or any of the other many ministries of this parish, when we worship together regularly, or reach out to someone who is alone or hurting, when we visit the sick or the homebound, or tutor at Esperanza, or call someone we haven’t seen for a while, we are continuing the community that is here to fulfill our promise to these children and to all children of all ages.  We are fulfilling our end of the bargain of our own baptismal promises and covenant with God. 

Should we fail to do these things, then we would be breaking the connection between God’s intention for us and for the numbered descendants of Abraham that will follow us. 

Knowing God as we do, God will still keep God’s covenant with Abraham, and the descendants will continue, just as the stars keep on blinking to remind us.  But something valuable would be lost if we did not continue our part of the covenant, wouldn't it?

So it is for these boys Tyler and Finn. Their parents and godparents make the same promises we have made and remake each time we witness a baptism.  These promises define what it is to be Christian, of course.  But they also define how a Christian lives faithfully.  They are marks of our belonging.  They give us, and these boys, a “home base” -- a frame work -- out of which to build their lives and actions. They can provide a way forward when in doubt, and they can offer hope and promise when things are bleak.  But most of all, they define the intangible things of true value.  They are the marks of faith -- things unseen but known. 

Today we welcome these boys into the household of God, the whole household, stars that shine brightly in God’s heavenly promise of life and light -- love and hope.

Welcome Tyler. Welcome Finn.  Amen.

Last Published: August 19, 2013 3:14 PM