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Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Baptismal Love Letter: Peace! Be Still!

“Peace! Be still!” Mark 4:35-41
A Baptismal Love Letter
Pentecost III – June 21, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor.

Dear Jake,

It is a very small world, and getting smaller every day. By the time you read this for yourself, you will be preparing for the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation. I hope your parents will have saved this letter for you, so that you can reflect on it as you commit your life to Christ.

As I write this, in 2009, the world is in pretty bad shape. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue unabated. The Middle East is in another period of unsettling calm in the long violent journey ironically known as ‘The Peace Process.”

There is continued unrest in the Congo, Sierra Leon and Darfur and malaria, dysentery and AIDS continue to kill many all across the continent of Africa. And, in Iran, there is revolution and the resulting smell of blood in the air.

It is a very small world and getting smaller every day. I confess that I have been following the Twitter and Huffington Post and FaceBook messages from Iran in ‘real time’ (whatever that really means) all weekend.

It has been an amazing thing to follow a community of people rise up against an oppressive theocracy and claim the right to choose freedom – even if it costs them their very lives. Even in death, the cries for liberation from oppression can never be silenced.

I am aware that I am following the thoughts and feelings and actions of people I have never met – people who live on the other side of the world, people for whom I am as foreign to as they are foreign to me – and yet, they have been in some of the deepest prayers of my heart.

It’s a very small world and getting smaller every day. I can’t even imagine how much smaller the world will be in 12 years from now when you read this letter. And yet, Jake, the world really hasn’t changed that much. People are still people.

Joy and suffering will always be inseparable companions at the center of the human enterprise.

The God who spoke to Job from the midst of the whirlwind speaks to us today, and we would do well to listen. Modern technology allows me to ‘listen in’ on the people in Iran from an iPhone in my car on Main Street in Chatham, NJ, but if we listen to the people of the world with the ears of our heart, we can hear God still thundering at us with the words God spoke to Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding!”

This is the Ultimate Divine Smack-down. We, like St. Paul, are being pulled from off our high horse. God demands of us as God demanded of Job - Who do we think we are? Where were we when God laid the cornerstones of the universe and when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

Right now, in this country, we are in difficult financial times. People are loosing their jobs and they fear they will lose their homes. In the midst of this time of darkness, some of us are just beginning to see the light.

Some of us are just beginning to make the connections between our own previously unrestrained impulses for greed and what is happening in the rest of the world. When we are able to work through our fear and anxiety and remember who is really in control of the universe, we are as sobered and humbled and awed as Job.

Thousands of years ago, St. Mark reports that the disciples of Jesus were out with him in a boat. Suddenly, a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was being swamped with water.

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion and the disciples woke him up, saying, “Teacher, we are perishing! Don’t you care?”

And, Jesus rebuked the wind and the storm ceased. And then, Jesus turned and rebuked the disciples saying, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

It is awesome and humbling, Jake, to stand in the presence of the Living God and be smacked-down by God’s power. Sometimes that happens, as it did for your parents, the day you were born.

You are a miracle, Jake, and your birth has forever changed the lives of your parents and grandparents and all who love you.

Sometimes the Great Divine Smack-Down comes when you find yourself on your knees, scared and anxious, or hurt and resentful, or confused and perplexed, or humbled and awed.

Other times it comes at the sight of the suffering of others, like listening in as real people talk in real time in the midst of a real revolution in Iran.

At other times, it overcomes you when you witness a glorious sunset or the resilience of the human spirit or calm in the center of a storm.

In the midst of those times, Jake, I encourage you to remember the words of God to Job which he spoke from the midst of the whirlwind (38:1-11), and the words of St. Paul to the people in Corinth (2 Corinthians 6:1-13) – “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! . . . We are sometimes . . . . treated as sorrowful, yet we are always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing everything.” With God in Christ Jesus, all things are possible, if we but have faith.

Most especially, Jake, when you are in the midst of a Great Divine Smack-Down, remember the words of Jesus who spoke to his disciples from the midst of the boat after he had calmed the storm: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

It’s a very small world and getting smaller every day. We are learning that, even though we are separated by continents, we are all connected in this world which God has made.

The sad truth is that technology is uniting more people than many religions. We must change that.

Today, I am one with the people in Iran and I am one with the people in Ghana, the birthplace of your parents.

I am one with the people of Iraq and I am one with the people of Afghanistan.

I am one with you and you are one with me and we are one with everyone in this church – no matter our ethnic heritage – because we are baptized into Christ’s Body.

Our world may be very small and getting smaller every day, Jake, but in Christ, our hearts and souls and minds expand and we are connected, one to another, and to God through Jesus.

That is the mystery of our faith.

We are all together in this boat – this planet Earth – with Jesus.

Even in the midst of the chaos of the world that storms all around us, Jesus is with us.

It’s a very small world and getting smaller every day. Be not afraid, Jake, but have faith. Amen.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

A beautiful letter!

Elisabeth said...


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're both very kind. I was afraid it was too political. Well, it's more political than I usually am - especially for a Baptismal Love Letter. But, you know, this Iran thing is just so consuming and deeply, deeply troubling. I find myself praying with every new entry on Twitter - like praying the rosary.