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Sunday, February 22, 2009

"It is good for us to be here"

Note: I hold an equal doctrine of Word and Sacrament, and I consider it a sacred honor of my priesthood to break open the Word of God so that the people of God may be nourished and fed. I gladly share my pulpit on a regular basis with a member of my congregation, Jim Mollo. Today was his daughter's baptism. Normally, I would have preached one of my "Baptismal Love Letters." It was a delight and a joy to my heart to hear this father preach this sermon filled to the brim with love to his infant daughter.

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Georgia Gail
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
Mr. James Mollo

"It is good for us to be here" Mark 9: 2-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

It is good for us to be here. It is good, indeed.

It was good for Peter and James and John to be up on that mountain seeking peace and quiet and reflection. And it is good for us to be here, at St. Paul’s.

It is good for us to join together on Sundays in worship, prayer and reflection. It is good for us to join together on Wednesday evenings for Vespers, it is good to join together on Fat Tuesday for fellowship and pancakes.

It is good to be here during the Christmas Bazaar and the Auction for fun and fundraising. It is good to be here for baptisms and yes, even funerals, to celebrate our personal community of saints.

Even if, at the time, Peter didn’t quite get what was going on, it was good for them to be on that mountain, in part, for the same reason it is good for us to be here today.

It is food for the journey back down the mountain. It is preparation for the very hard work that needs to be done in the world. It is good to be here so that we are ready to love and to serve the needs of our neighbors.

This is one of the reasons why, as parents, St. Paul’s is so important to Kim and I. We started coming here 15 years ago because of what we needed.

Now we come, in part for ourselves, in part for worship, but also to help prepare our children to come down from the mountain. This community has played an enormous role in Olivia’s life. Frankly, more than I had thought possible for someone only five years old.

So it should be no surprise that it played such an important part in the life of Georgia, even before she was born. This past summer I outted our family from the secrecy of Kim’s pregnancy from this pulpit. This community was there for us when we struggled through decisions about which tests to have.

As always, this community was there for us making meals, lending support and in prayer. Some of you even helped us with discussions on baby names.

Kim and I rarely argue. But man-o-man we could not agree on a name. I wanted an old Italian family name. Kim wanted something traditional, yet original. Luckily, we have a five year old who has a flair for the original and an unbridled ability to negotiate.

Olivia named her sister. One morning at the breakfast table Olivia informed us that she knows what we should name her baby sister. “Georgia!” she proclaimed. If given the opportunity, I’m sure she could have helped negotiate the most recent economic stimulus package with less partisanship than our elected officials.

Baptism is intended to be a public act in the presence of a congregation. As the Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff said in his guide on Holy Baptism, “Theologically at baptism we give up our children for adoption into a new family, a family that accepts them and promises to support them along with their parents and godparents in their life in Christ.”

During the pregnancy, we began thinking about Georgia in light of our church community. We began thinking about her coming public baptism and what outward role the church would have in her life.

Now, let’s be realistic, when I say what role would the church have in her life, I mean little c (church) not big C (Church). I mean, what role, would St. Paul’s and the people of this community play in her coming life?

During the pregnancy we lost a dear friend who was a member here at St. Paul’s. Gail MacNeil suffered from cancer as long as I knew her. And in all those years, I never once heard her complain about her pain or health. She joined the Vestry during the height of her illness.

Think about that. Serving on Vestry is no small undertaking. She was in service to this community and to God in the last year of her life. She helped found Kalediescope of Hope, an organization that helped raise over a million dollars for ovarian cancer research. She chastised me, as only Gail could, with a look, when an inappropriate word slipped from my mouth and she helped us through some rather stressful times. Our daughter Georgia Gail shares her middle name in honor to her wonder and strong spirit.

As you know by now, I usually refer to Georgia as Gigi. Yes, I’m a guy who likes nicknames. But the name Gigi was not random. The love and service of Anne Bennett in this community are traits that I envy and respect.

Yes, I stole Anne’s nickname. Her Grandchildren call Gigi. And occasionally, I call her Gigi. Names and nicknames may seem random, but in so calling our children by a particular name we are, in part, proclaiming the life we hope for our children. What role do you hope God and a community of fellowship play in your families futures?

I imagine Olivia and Georgia sitting in pews sixty or seventy years from now, their children visiting, grandchildren running around the pews much like the two great church matriarchs I’ve described.

I see them thirty or forty years from now, sitting in pews like these, like us and the Pishkos and the Yates and Mary Foster with our kids sitting around us. I see them with Max and Ella and Catherine ten years from now, making their confirmations right here at St. Paul’s surrounded by a loving community of support, surrounded by the prayers of those in this sanctuary and those who have come before us. I know they will be surrounded by the prayers that have been pleaded and repeated and have become imbedded in these great wooded rafters.

I am reminded of a story I read in Marianne Micks’ Deep Waters. She was present at the campus of the University of British Columbia on an evening in 1984 when approximately 3,000 Christians gathered for an ecumenical vigil for peace and justice. The invited guest of honor was Bishop Desmond Tutu. There were people there from all over the world. Remember back to that time in history and it shouldn’t surprise you that the government of South Africa was not going to allow him to leave the country.

However, at the last minute his government relented and granted him an exit visa. He walked in to the worship tent around midnight. He was escorted to the podium to thunderous applause. Micks recalls him saying, “When I look at the state of the world today, I say, ‘Thank God, I’m not God.’ But when I come into a body of Christians like this, I say, ‘Thank you, God, that you are God.’”

That is how I feel today. At times, I am completely overwhelmed with the state of our world. The economy creeping downward, joblessness creeping upward, plane crashes, wars, terrorist bombings, and evening news shows reporting increases in violence perpetrated on our brothers and sisters living around us.

Yet, in the midst of that I look at out all of you and thank God. I thank God that you are here to help us raise our children. You are here to show them what their lives can be. I thank God that you are here to be models of service for them in our communities and with our neighbors. I thank God that you are here to help them down the mountain and to show them how important it is to love God and serve neighbor.

Do you remember the book, Fahrenheit 451? You probably read Ray Bradbury’s most famous book in highschool. It is a wonderful book. It is a social satire set in the, perhaps, near future, when ‘firemen’ burn books forbidden by the totalitarian ‘brave new world’ regime. The hero, according to Mr. Bradbury, is “a book burner who suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas and cry out silently when put to the torch.”

Toward the end of the book Montag, the reformed firefighter, is trying to make sense of his life. He meets up with a bunch of refugees living in the woods.

The leader of the group, Granger, tells Montag the story of his Grandfather. “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for all the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he could never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did… He shaped the world. He did things to the world.

The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”
Granger’s grandfather is Gale. He is Betty Williams. He is those of us dead and alive. He is Anne. He is Allison and Mary. He is Betty Stockly. He is Liz Hollar. He is Eleanor and Elizabeth and Barbara and Doris and Roxie and he is you and me. He is us dead and alive. His actions mattered in this world. Others around him were impacted by his life.

Our actions matter in this world. And we have the power to choose how we will impact others. That is what we are called to do. That is what Christ would have us do as we come down from the mountain. Make a positive impact on those around you. It really is simple. Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and give love to those in need. Be purposeful and meaningful in how you live and love.

Shortly, when we baptize Georgia, I hope you will join me in truly renewing your baptismal covenant. Join me in remembering Gail and all she did for us. Join me in envisioning what it is Georgia and you and I will do when we come down from the mountain this day.

Across space and time, Peter looks out from that mountain and speaks directly to us, “It is good for us to be here.” It is good indeed.

Let the congregation give a loud Amen.



Anonymous said...

You go, girl (both for this and the previous post)! Since the demise of the Wiz, I have finally found the Animal Channel for his mom, Mitts. I'll be gobsmacked if she doesn't curl up on my lap and eagerly watch television now, bison, elk, wolves, dogs, cats and sea creatures. In this season of Darwin and Lincoln, God be praised!

MadPriest said...

What's that child doing in church?
What if it cries or doers something smelly?
You Americans are so unregulated at times.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, yes, Maddy. Which is why you love we Yanks so. I have a sister cleric who, when a baby cries during baptism says, "That's just the evil spirits leaving the child's soul." I do believe she was educated in CofE.

MadPriest said...

Yes. That's right. That's absolutely true.
In fact, if they don't cry, we shake them until they do.
Although I tend to just give them one of my looks. That normally does the trick.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I have no doubt one of your 'looks' would do that to a body, my love. But, do you keep pigs around so the evil spirits might enter their bodies and send them over the nearest cliff?

MadPriest said...

I don't know where they go.
I was told about the spirits at college but not what happens to them.

Perhaps they go down the plug hole with the water.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I fear they don't go "down the plug", my dear. In fact, it may explain the effectiveness of one of your "looks" - among other things.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

A very fine and serious sermon.