Pentecost XVII, Proper 21(B)
September 27, 2009
A Letter to Caleb
Thank you, Rob and members of Grace Church for the chance to be among you, on this side of the Sound, this morning.
As the rector of the Church of the Messiah in Woods Hole, I get to see the Vineyard – albeit from the other side. In fact, if truth be told, as long as the weather permits and the fog has not blanketed either of us, not a morning, afternoon or evening goes by when I don’t look up and out over across the water and think of many of you whom I have come to know through the years and am privileged to call “friend.” Along with those thoughts comes my hope that all is well. So, please know that it is very good to be here among you this morning.
And what an honor to be here for a baptism – a celebration of beginning not just for Caleb and his family, but for each and everyone of us who gets a chance for a new start as we share in Caleb’s baptism.
As many of you can attest, preaching at baptisms takes many forms: serious or celebratory, humorous or onerous, informative even insightful. Today’s sermon is written in the form of a letter: from one Christian to another. While the words I “pen” are mine; in truth they are ours – and all others who touched us in such as way that with all our other titles in life, we come together this morning as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Welcome home! Now, I know that may sound a little bit strange coming from someone who has never laid eyes on you before and; second, who does not worship here regularly.
But, really – as I will explain to you, those two things (not knowing you and not being a regular member of this congregation) aren’t what matters most.
What does matter is that you are who you are and I am who I am; your mom is who she is, and your dad is who he is; your grandparents are who they are – and all the rest of the folks here and all around the world are who they are. That matters.
Why? First - because you matter to your family, to each of us and those who will come to know and love you throughout your life. Second, even more importantly, you Caleb Shaw Arms, matter to God. That, my young friend, is one of the reasons why your parents brought down from your home in Brewster, across the Sound, up a few streets from the ferry and into this beautiful old wooden church which has been a sanctuary for sailors and non-sailors, saints and sinners, for generations.
So, welcome home!
Now, about that little bit I just said about mattering (or being very, very, very important) to your parents and family and those who already do and will love you throughout your life, but especially to God.
That is a fact. It is something which is basic, real and true – in fact, truer than anything else in the whole wide universe and beyond. You matter to God. Just like each and everyone of us in this room or everyone around the world – no matter who they are, where they live, how much money they make or don’t make; whether they are tall or short, fat or skinny as a beanpole; no matter what color their skin is, language they speak or clothes they wear or don’t wear, you matter to God.
In fact, you and all the rest of humanity - indeed, all of creation, is guess what? Beloved of God. Be-loved of and by God!
The challenge is or the “opportunity” we are given each and every day and night of our lives (no matter how long or short of lifespan) is to live our lives believing we and all rest of creation is be-loved by God.
Period. Exclamation Point!!
All of which leads me to say a few words about the reading for the gospel (or Good News, or what I like to think of as “God’s News”) from Mark this morning. It’s about three things: being part of something bigger than one’s self, facing limitations and paying attention to children.
Being a part of something bigger than one’s self. Now, the gospel doesn’t put it that way exactly. What it does say is that the closest friends of Jesus (called disciples) became quite nervous about some folks who were doing things they thought only they (the disciples) should be doing. Since the disciples were really close to Jesus they thought they had the upper hand – especially when it came to healing people who had something wrong with them. So, when some people who weren’t part of Jesus’ closest circle of friends began to help others feel better about themselves, well, Jesus told his friends to “cool it” or not worry.
“After all,” he said, “look around. There is lots of stuff to do which everyone can participate in. The point is, get the work done. If someone is hungry, feed them; if someone doesn’t have clothing, give them some; if someone is left out in the cold, bring them in; if someone is without, try as best you can to give them what they need.
“It’s that simple.”
“Got it.” said the disciples.
In other words, the disciples realized they had to remember they were part of something much bigger. Same thing for us. Remember we are part of something much bigger.
Next, today’s storyteller, Mark, has some things to say about facing limitations. To be truthful, he doesn’t waste words in telling this part of his story. In fact, he gets a little gory. But the bottom line of what he is saying is this – face the fact that somewhere along the line you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that you have limitations.
Now, maybe it won’t be as graphic or drastic as Mark puts it in your life, Caleb. In fact, I hope it isn’t. But there will come a time when you will come to terms with realizing that like all the rest of us, you have limitations.
Maybe it will be on a sports field and as much as you wish, you’ll discover you’re not an Olympic athlete.
Or maybe it will be in school or college – and something will happen and you’ll realize that as much as you wish it were otherwise, some academic area is just plain hard for you.
Or maybe it will be when you want to get a particular job and someone else gets chosen.
Maybe it will be about food or drink – and you’ll discover that you can’t eat or drink like other people. And so, instead, you will find yourself mustering up courage you never thought you had as you look at that “limitation” and say, “You know what? I can live without that.”
Learning to live without is something Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about. Indeed, if he were alive today, he’d probably say that since so many people have much less than we do, we need to learn to live more simply – so other can simply live.
After all, letting the reign of God happen in many ways is about folks reigning in habits which undermine the presence and power of God – in their lives and the life of the world.
The point is, realize that in the course of your life, there will be times you’ll need to face your own limitations. When that happens, be prepared also to discover facing into God’s own Self or Presence in a new and yet unknown way.
Finally, Jesus spent a great deal of his time with people who had no power. Women and children were right up there at the top of his list. We had a taste of that, or really quite a heavy dose, when we heard Jesus say folks better not put “a stumbling block in front of little ones who believe in him.” If they do, watch out. They will be tossed overboard and head straight to the bottom of the “deep blue, sea, sea, sea” (only this time, no one will be saluting!)
Why did he say that, you ask. Well, as I said, Jesus spent a huge amount of his time and energy trying to help people who were without power, get it. It wasn’t that he was going to yank it out of one person’s hand and thrust it into someone else’s. Instead, he wanted to work side by side with people and help them understand that power is not about “lording it over” someone else. It is about authority – helping people claim and know their own authority.
Now, within the next ten minutes, you are going to baptized – brought into the fellowship of the Church (that’s Church with an upper case “C”). Since you are still pretty young, your parents and god-parents are going to say “no” to certain things on your behalf and “yes” to others.
And then, we’re going to join them – and say that even though you don’t live here on the Vineyard, but are across the Sound; even though, like me, you’re not going to be a regularly pledge carrying member of Grace Episcopal Church here in Vineyard Haven, we’re still going to promise to do all in our power to support and uphold you in your life in Christ.
And we will.
We will because like everything else in all the created universes of space, you matter to God. In time, you will learn that being a part of the Church, is realizing over and over again that you are part of something much bigger than yourself.
You’ll also come to know and see God – not just in what you’re good at, but often times in what you discover to be your limitations.
Finally, because you are coming into the company of Christ as our newest brother at the young age you are, we trust that you will join us in knowing and believing that like all other children – all other people and creatures of God in this world, you are beloved of God. Our job and responsibility, our ministry now and always is to remember in all that we do and all that we are – no matter what happens.
All is beloved of and by God. Period.
You are a treasure, Caleb. And so, this day – here in this place, we welcome you home.
The Rev. Deborah Warner
Grace Episcopal Church
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
September 27, 2009