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Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Baptismal Love Letter

"You are my . . . beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Luke 3:22
A Baptismal Love letter to Infant "M. A."

I Epiphany - The Baptism of our Lord - January 7, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ

Dearest Roloke,

I'm quite certain you don't understand this yet, but one day, I trust, you will: You are child who has been deeply blessed. You were the day you were born, you are, today, the day you are baptized, and even so, on the day, 12 or 13 years from now when you read this Baptismal Love Letter and prepare to make a public affirmation and declaration of your faith in Confirmation.

Yes, of course, you have been blessed with a wonderful Mommy and Daddy who love you dearly. And, you have an adoring big sister, Morin, who was also baptized here at the Great Vigil of Easter two years ago. You also have loving grandparents and aunts and uncle and cousins in Nigeria and England and a Godmother who lives just across the Passaic River in NY City.

You are dearly loved and wanted in this world and will be cherished and treasured. Of this I have no doubt. You are blessed and you are a blessing to your family, and as such, a manifestation, a 'showing' a little 'epiphany' of God's incarnational and deeply mysterious love.

You are also blessed - and this church with you - because your baptism falls on a very special day. Today is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Of course, the gospel story of the Baptism of Jesus, according to Luke, presents a very different picture of a baptism than what you will experience at your baptism.

Jesus is a full grown man at his baptism, which is performed by his cousin John in the River Jordan. You, of course, are just 4 months old, and although this is not the River Jordan, you will be baptized in the midst - in the very center - of the community, just as it was so for Jesus.

When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, scripture tells us that "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Now, if we start hearing voices in this church this morning, I'll begin to worry. Of course, I'm being silly; but you know, if we listen closely enough, we'll be able to hear the soft flutter of the wings of the Holy Spirit, as She visits this place. I've heard it said that one little child, when asked about Love said, "Love is what is in the room at Christmas if you stop opening your presents and just listen."

I suspect that if we take a moment during your baptism to listen, we might also hear Love. I want you to pay close attention to these words. God is always pleased with that which God has created. Irenaeus, one of the great and ancient theologians in the church, taught us that God is most pleased when we are thoroughly, completely human. He said, "The glory of God is (hu)man(kind) fully alive (fully human)."

We, like Jesus, are the delight of God's heart because through Jesus, we have come to know something about the nature of God. Now, this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but the mystery of the Incarnation is that God is with us. That is the meaning of the name Emmanuel: "God is with us."

In the great mystery that is our God, this means that, through Jesus, not only is God revealed to us, but God has come to know something much more deeply about us. Through God's incarnation in Christ Jesus, God has come to know even more deeply and intimately our joys and our sorrows, our fears and our anxieties, our dreams and the deepest desires of our hearts.

You, Rolake, are one of God's creatures. God delights in you and is well pleased in you. I want you to hear that and learn that and know that deep in your very soul. More important than anything else that happens today, these are the most important words of your baptism - indeed, these are most important words in your life of faith.

As it was so at the time of Jesus, there is bad news and good news today. Like Jesus, you have been born in a time of great distress. As of January 6th, the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 3,006 American Soldiers - more than the number of Americans who died on 9/11 - and to date, over 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children have lost their lives. Over 500 coalition forces have lost their lives and over 1,000 have been injured in the past five years of war in Afghanistan.

Genocide continues shamefully unabated in Darfur in the Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of children in Africa and the Global South lose their lives to malaria, a completely preventable disease, as any affluent traveler to these countries knows. AIDS continues to leave even more children without parents or families in what has become, effectively, genocide-by-epidemic.

The really bad news is that I have no doubt that, 13 years from now, as you read this letter, there will also be wars and rumors of war. There will be senseless killing and even more senseless and preventable deaths of children around the globe. This is not because God does not love us. It is because we do not love each other as God loves us. Hear this clearly: God's love for us is unconditional and unrestrained.

And, that is the good news, Rolake. God loves us beyond our wildest imagination. Remember that when racism rears its ugly head and you are mistreated because of the beautiful color of your skin, or your talents are neglected because of your gender. Your parents and this church family will try with all our might to prevent that, but it may happen anyway, because the world is still dark and desperate and broken.

I want to leave you with these words of great wisdom. Some attribute them to Mother Theresa. Others say that is a Hindi prayer by a man named Om Vashishth. Still others say this was written by a young college student named Kent Keith. No matter. These words convey the Holy Spirit of God incarnate in Jesus, in whose name you are being baptized. They are a manifestation, an epiphany, of God's Love.

This poem is entitled "Anyway"

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between you and them anyway.

Welcome to the household of God, Rolake. You are Beloved of God and with you, God is well pleased.

With all my love,

Rev'd Elizabeth

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