St Barnabas, Norwich VT
Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson
Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome!
Conversion - Baptism is just the beginning. As Christians we have to, as it were, put on Christ anew every day – and to allow him to change us each day of our lives. -Br. Geoffrey Tristram
I wonder what it will be like for Matilda as she grows up; or when, as an adult, she chooses a life-partner or a spouse; when she offers herself to a calling, a livelihood or profession; or even when she is older and has children or grandchildren of her own? When she is ready for elder care… How will it be for Matilda as she “puts on Christ anew every day – and allows him to change her each day of her life?” I wonder the same for all of our children and I wonder the same for my children and grandchildren. How will it be for them? How can I as family, or how can we as church, love them well enough, model God’s love, Jesus’ love for these children of God? That is our greatest calling as Christians, to love God and to love one another… One of my favorite stories is actually a song. Well most of my very favorite stories are songs. This song one of a life lived with a very simple way of living with God’s love at its center. It is a song by a folk singer named Don White.
There’s a little girl, with pretty curls, she’s about five years old.
She is waiting at the gate for her Dad to come home.
When he pulls ‘round the corner, in his shiny, white car, she feels the magic light up in her heart.
He picks her up and he holds her, he says he missed her and he’s glad that she’s here.
As the child lays her head on his shoulder, she whispers these words in his ear:
“Daddy, I know exactly what love is
Love is real simple and true
Love is this feeling my heart gets when I’m being held by you.”
Paul’s letter to the Hebrews says in part, “…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, …and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word…[Heb 12:22-24] and then, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” [Heb 12:28-29]. To receive God’s grace is to be called into the certainty that cannot be shaken or destroyed. The grace, the love of God, that part of our spirit, deep inside that calls us to love God, to love one another and to be loved, that God connection in us cannot be destroyed. That’s what I believe Paul is saying. There are many things that are shaken in creation but the grace of God, the love of God cannot be destroyed, not throughout a lifetime, generations… not in death. The gift of God’s grace, for us Christians, in a very upfront and ritual-filled way, is that which we receive at baptism. Today, Matilda is to be baptized into the body of Christ and each one of us as witnesses participates in this ritual with her… remember the line we practiced? “We will!”
Now, she is 20 and there’s plenty of love everywhere.
She’s getting married, so her family and her friends are all there.
They’ve gathered this morning to stand at her side as she waves
goodbye to this time in her life.
They each take a moment to hold her, and to tell her what she means to them.
In a world that seems to keep getting colder, she has been blessed
with warm family and friends.
She says “I know exactly what love is
Love is real simple and true
Love is this feeling my heart gets when I’m being held by you.”
Through life’s changes and challenges, we are called to be in the world as one who had received God’s grace that cannot be shaken… no matter what. So, for us and for Matilda, what might that look like? Is it to live with the courage of those who push back against our cultural norms that hurt people? To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being might just look like showing up at church as we did last week to make sandwiches for kids who aren’t in school and so won’t get school food. It might look like showing up at church during the week and welcoming AND standing beside a north bound A.T. hiker who kind of smells. It might look like or rather sound like, being in a hospice patient’s room as an evergreen singer offering beautiful music to the sick and dying. Receiving God’s grace might just look like giving a young woman a hug on her wedding day.
They are older and no one told her it could get crazy like this.
They’re going to night school, they’re working jobs two and they are
raising three kids.
The youngest one is crying with a bruise on her knee. She needs
attention and she needs sympathy.
And when she picks her up and she holds her, that old magic lights up in her heart.
And as the child lays her head on her shoulder, she knows exactly why
They’re working so hard.
Little girl, I know . . .
Sometimes being filled with God’s grace and living into that which cannot be shaken, that which cannot be destroyed, is a bit troubling or stressful, or in the New England vernacular, “just wicked hard to be and do!” This day in age, just showing up in church is a rare thing to do. That makes it challenging to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers, doesn’t it? … or does it? Could it be that when we have a conversation about our faith journey with someone walking by the river that that is part of this promise? Maybe inviting a person to have a meal at your house is also the breaking of the bread in this promise? Sometimes just getting the kids dressed and to school, the bills paid as best as can be and showing up at the next thing on the calendar is enough…
Now they are 60, and their history spans forty-odd years.
They have buried their parents, now their grandkids are here.
There’s something about the way they look in each other’s eyes, that
speaks softly about the meaning of life.
And when he puts his arm out to hold her; it feels so familiar and warm.
She thinks love is an expanding endeavor: till your last breath, from
the moment your born.
She says, I know . . . .
Sometimes, as in the example Jesus sets forth in the gospel lesson today, God’s grace leads us to speak truth to power. When the lawyers of the day in today’s gospel lesson confront Jesus, “sue him” for “working” on the Sabbath, he speaks the truth of God’s grace back at them. And Jesus said, “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”[Luke 13:16] That takes perseverance in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and returning to the Lord. Speaking truth to power as Jesus did shows us all about the baptismal promises. Speaking truth to power also encompasses the proclamation of word and example the Good News in Christ, AND that action also models seeking Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself… sometimes it’s as simple as reaching out your arm and hugging the person next to you to heal another and to remind us about God’s undying love.
One of my most fervent prayers, for that is how we get to do these actions we promise to do the baptismal promises in the best way, through the practice of prayers… what I would like to see happen is, that by the time Matilda is 80 years old, we will have found a way to care for our elders with dignity, grace and love so that not one of our elders has to be alone AND lonely. That it would be common practice for us to take turns sitting with, walking with, talking with, praying and sharing meals with our elders. Wouldn’t that just shake the world as we know it?
Now she is 80, and she hates being in this nursing home.
Her man’s been gone for a long while, and she feels so alone.
She closes her eyes as she begins to pray, that a little comfort might
just come her way.
And God lifts her up, and he holds her, and she remembers this feeling she had.
She’s not a woman whose life is almost over, she’s a little girl being
held by her Dad.
And God, ?I know . . . .
God love is real simple, love is real simple, love is real simple and true.
I wonder what it will be like for Matilda as she grows up; or when, as an adult, she chooses a life-partner or a spouse; when she offers herself to a calling, a livelihood or profession; or even when she is older and has children or grandchildren of her own? When she is ready for elder care… How will it be for Matilda as she “puts on Christ anew every day – and allows him to change her each day of her life?”
Let us pray. Merciful God, as we pour out the wealth you have entrusted to us, the parched places are watered; as we cease our evil talk, the rising light of peace dawns in the darkness. So lead us into faithful living that your promises may unfold in us as a woman's back, long bent, unfolds at Christ's command, to the praise of your holy name. Amen. [Kate Huey]