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Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Beloved of God


"You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"

A Sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Epiphany I - The Baptism of our Lord

January 10, 2021


Well, it’s been quite an eventful first 10 days of the new year, hasn’t it? Our nation seems to have reached a very low point. The images we’ve seen have been enormously disturbing no matter which side of the political spectrum you land.

In times like these, it’s important to remember the basics – the foundational principles of our lives of faith – the things that hold us together while forces are trying to tear us apart. I want to call us to those foundational principles.


Over the last several years, the one sacrament that kept me the busiest, besides Eucharist, of course, is Baptism. In my 35 years of ordained ministry, I’ve done hundreds – I’m thinking it may well be more than a thousand – baptisms.

Every one of them has been special. Every one of them has been memorable. Every single one has been an honor and a joy, as is every time I am privileged to preside at Eucharist.


There are two that stand out, however. I want to tell you about one of them.


There was one family in my congregation who were artists – both parents were very talented artists – with two children, a boy almost 9 (I’ll call him G2) and a girl, almost 12 (I’ll call her G1) who had not been baptized. Their parents were of the mind that they wanted their children to grow up and chose their own religion.


However, they had moved from The City to The Burbs and discovered that their theological position was a minority one. They joined the church where I was rector and soon their kids were clamoring to be baptized.


I was pretty convinced that the older girl, G1, was in it to be eligible for Confirmation the next year. She told me stories of how some her friends had “made out like bandits” in Confirmation gifts. Her younger brother, G2, however, was very thoughtful and serious-minded and had lots of very serious questions.

G1 was most concerned with whether or not she could have a new dress for baptism. Yes, of course, I told her. Did it have to be white, she asked, because she had seen a beautiful light blue dress with sparkles – lots of sparkles, she said – and her Godmother was going to buy it for her – with sparkly blue shoes to match.


I told her that I suspected Jesus would be very partial to a light blue dress – a color his mother often wore – and I guessed he would definitely approve of lots of sparkles.  She clapped her hands and squealed with delight.


Her brother, G2, had a very different question. He had heard from one of his Jewish friends who had heard from one of his Roman Catholic friends, that when you get baptized, the church “claims property of your everlasting soul.”


G2. was horrified. “Is that true, Reverend Elizabeth?” he asked.

So, over the next few weeks of meeting with them in my office, I labored to find ways to teach my two young students about the significance of the sacrament of Baptism right out of the Book of Common Prayer.


That Baptism is one of the two Great Sacraments and Five Sacramental Acts of the Church. That sacraments are the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” That Baptism is the Entrance Rite into formal membership in the Church, the Body of Christ. That it is our ordination into the Priesthood of All Believers. Etc., etc.


The older sister yawned. G2 grew more curious. Indeed, one day, he asked to see me alone, without his sister, so we could talk “without distraction,” he said very seriously.

“So, tell me,” he said, leaning forward in his chair the way I had seen his father sit during Vestry meetings, “What really happens at baptism?”


I shot up a quick arrow prayer for inspiration. I pleaded a simple request for a word of knowledge. Almost immediately, that word came.

Now, I confess that I have heard spiritual auditions in the past but it is not often that the response comes that quickly. This was one of those times.


And the sacred word I heard? Loud and clear? Just as clear as a bell? That word would have been the word “Pinocchio”.


Pinocchio? Yes, Pinocchio. The word came right out of my mouth.


“Pinocchio,” I said.

“Pinocchio?” asked G2.

“Yes,” I said wondering where I was going to go from here.

And then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Don’t worry, I got this.”


I heard myself say to G2, “Do you remember that scene in the Disney movie, after Geppetto prays for a ‘real little boy’? And the Blue Fairy comes into Geppetto’s workshop and she stands in front of the puppet Pinocchio and waves her wand and says, ‘Little puppet made of pine, arise, the gift of life is thine.’ Remember?”


“Oh, yeah,” said G2, “And then, his strings disappeared and he could move like a little boy.”


“Right,” said I, “but he was still a puppet made of pine, wasn’t he? It’s just that his strings were gone.”


“Right,” said G2. “So,” he said frowning, “what did that mean?”


“Well,” I said, “that’s what Baptism does. It doesn’t change who you are. It just breaks the strings that tie you down and makes you free to be more of who God created you to be.”


G2 sat in deep thought about this for a few minutes. When he seemed ready, I continued, “Now, what happened when Pinocchio decided to use his freedom and discover more of who Geppetto created him to be?”


“Well,” said G2, thoughtfully, “he skipped school. And then he ran away from home with some kids who were not so nice. And, he joined a circus and he smoked a cigar and he told lies and his nose grew longer, and he even made an ass of himself,” he giggled.


“That’s right,” I said but G2 cut me off, “But Geppetto never stopped looking for Pinocchio. He never stopped loving him. And then, when the whale swallowed Geppetto, Pinocchio figured out a way to save him, even though he almost died. And then . .. .” said Gibby, in a burst of insight . . .


“…. and THEN….,” his eyes wide, “Pinocchio became a real little boy.”


I smiled at G2 and heard myself say, “And that’s the gift of the grace of Baptism. It gives you the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.”


G2 repeated the words given to me by the Holy Spirit and said them softly, reverently, like a prayer: “… the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.”


G2 and his sister G1 were baptized. She wore a light blue dress with lots of sparkles – with matching blue sparkly shoes. Gibby wore a lovely blue suit with a natty bow tie. I thought I couldn’t be more proud of them both.


Turns out. I was wrong. That moment was yet to come.


Eight or so years later, G2 ran for deputy to General Convention from the Diocese. At the diocesan convention all candidates were required to make a 3-5 minute presentation at the Candidates Forum. There were two teen candidates running that year. G2 was one.


When it was G2’s turn, he said that there were two issues that were of great concern to him that were going to be discussed and voted on at the next General Convention. The first was the environment, which was very important to him and he listed the reasons.


And then, he said, “This General Convention is also going to be discussing Blessing Rites for Same Sex Couples. As a young gay man, I very much want the blessing of my church when I marry the man I love.”


Now, I had resigned as rector the year before, having served there nine years, and had moved to Delaware so I was not in attendance at the diocesan convention, but my phone absolutely blew up with text messages.

“G2 came out!” “G2 is my hero!” “G2 did it!”


Mind you, G2 had not ‘come out to me’ so this was news. However, I wasn’t surprised, either by his orientation or his honesty.


Later that day, when I learned that G2 had been elected deputy to General Convention, I called to congratulate him. “Well, G,” I said, “how do you feel?”


There was this little pause and then I heard him say, “Reverend Elizabeth, I think I’ve made enough mistakes to know who I really am. And, I feel like I have finally become a real little boy.”


Well, through my joyous tears, I heard myself say to him, “You are a child of God. You are beloved of God. And, with you, God is well-pleased.”


I often think of the grace of Baptism the way Garrison Keillor used to talk about Powdermilk Biscuits. He’d say, “. . . made of whole wheat that gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens, they're tasty, and expeditious!”


That’s as good a way to describe the sacramental grace of God as any I could say.


As we head into another 7-10 days that promise to continue to be tumultuous, I find myself getting so angry I could just spit and cuss. It has taken great restraint not to ‘go there’ in this sermon.


So, if you don’t remember anything else about the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism, or what is at the center of the foundation of our lives of faith, please remember this:


The grace of Baptism gives you the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.






Episcomom said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. I will treasure this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Episcomom