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Monday, July 31, 2006

A Baptismal Love Letter

(Note: It has become something of a tradition at St. Paul's to write Baptismal Love Letters - a way to see the scriptural lessons appointed for the day as having a special message for this particular person's baptism. It is my hope that the parents of infants and children will save the letter so that the child may read it as part of the preparation for Confirmation.)

VIII Pentecost – July 30, 2006

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
200 Main Street
Chatham, NJ

Dear Sophia,

I’m looking around and waiting because I thought that balloons and confetti might fall from the ceiling or that a band might make an entrance playing something like, “When the Saints go marching in.”

Nothing like that seems to be happening. Darn!

You see, not only is today special because it’s the day of your baptism, or that, according to church records, you are the 987th baptism at St. Paul’s, but it also just happens to be the 50th baptism at which I’ve had the great honor of presiding since I arrived here in Chatham a little over four years ago (Okay, wild applause will do.).

We have a running joke here that the real reason we have so many baptisms is because one of the co-chairs of the Altar Guild, Ms. Betty Williams, puts something in the communion wine because the other co-chair, Ms. Anne Bennett, likes to hear this Baptismal Love Letters (it’s really her fault that they are a tradition now in this church).

I think the real reason we have so many baptisms in this church is because people like your Mommy and Daddy are finding their way to The Episcopal Church. When you are older and read this letter for yourself, as a way to prepare for Confirmation (which is really why I write these letters), you will learn what every kid who has ever gone though Confirmation Class with Tim and me can tell you: this is a church where you do not have to leave your brains at the door.

I think it was my friend, Louie Crew, who actually started that saying, but I have discovered that there’s something more about this particular church that makes us unique even among Episcopal Churches – and especially these days in the Anglican Communion.

And, that is this: You don’t have to leave anything at the door before you come in. You can bring your most deeply felt emotions as well as your most firmly held opinions. You can bring your age along with your gender, your ethnic background and your race or tribe, as well as your sexual orientation. You can also bring your most disturbing questions, along with your wonder and your awe. You can struggle to know Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit for yourself, and not buy into any one image of the Trinity – mine or anyone else’s (we call that ‘idolatry’).

It doesn’t matter what you think, or how you feel, or where you’ve been, or where you’re going, or who you are. Now, that doesn’t mean that in the Episcopal Church, “anything goes.” By no means! You will discover that we do stand for things – important things, including theology and doctrine and principles of justice and peace, compassion and reconciliation. And, we take a stand on many things – often, at great risk and sacrifice.

Okay, by the time you read this, history will reveal that the Episcopal Church just back-paddled on a major issue of justice. As developmental psychologist, Ana Frank, taught, sometimes there is regression before there is progression. Sometimes, before a child can take a first step, they have to go back to crawling or cruising for awhile. As you will soon discover, you who are now but 3 months old, taking your first step is always pretty scary. It’s no different when you are a child of God, walking with Jesus.

You are welcome here, just as you are, because everyone here knows that, like the story we just heard from John’s gospel, we’ll all be changed and transformed, in some way, at some time, when we leave.

This morning’s Gospel is from John (6:1-21) and it is absolutely jam-packed with miracles and wonders. First, there is the feeding of the 5,000 from the little boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. Then, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on water. But, not only that, before they knew it, in the midst of the strong wind that was blowing which made rowing very difficult, suddenly the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

There is precedent for those miracles, Sophia, as we read in the first lesson from the second book of Kings, when the man who came from Baal-shalishah brought twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain as a first fruit offering to the prophet Elisha. Not only did the people eat their full, but there was some left over.

Now, I know, Sophia. I’ve told you that you didn’t have to leave your brain at the door when you come into this church. And now, I’ve told you some absolutely fantastic stories that defy reason and logic and, because I’ve called them ‘miracles’ you are supposed to believe them.

Well, we’ve got lots of time to talk about these stories, about the nature of miracles, and about how God’s love changes us and this amazing thing called ‘grace.’ But let me tell you now that there are people in this church who can testify to the way God’s love – as they have experienced it in this community – has changed them.

There’s a woman who is a member of this congregation, I think she may well be one of the oldest living members here, who fell recently and broke her wrist. I was talking with her the other day, just checking in to see how she was, and she told me that she was simply overwhelmed by the casseroles that people were bringing her. Oh, I said, concerned that we had gone into Christian over-drive, is it all too much? Do we need to back off?

She got quiet for a minute but there was no mistaking the emotion in her voice when she said, “You know, it was one thing to have casseroles brought by people I didn’t know – some I barely recognized – but I think it was when I saw this young woman, the grown daughter of one of my dear friends, whom I had taught in Sunday School, come up the walk with her young daughter, bringing me a luscious casserole, that I finally lost it.”

“Or, maybe I finally got it,” she said, sighing deeply before she added, “I just don’t know what some people do without church.” And, you know what, Sophia? Neither do I.

That’s just one of the miracle stories of this church. That’s one of the ways this church lives out the gospel story of the feeding of the five thousand. It’s one of the ways we see Jesus, walking into our homes on the baptismal waters of our lives, sometimes bringing luscious casseroles. It’s the way we suddenly find ourselves moored and anchored when we are lost on the stormy seas of life.

There’s a wonderful story author Annie Lamont tells (I think in Traveling Mercies ) about a little girl who was lost. A policeman came by and said, “Where do you live? If you tell me where you live, I can take you home.” “Dive this way,” she said, leading him to her church. When they got to the church she turned to the policeman and said, “It’s okay. You can let me off. I can find my way home from here.”

In these stories are my baptismal prayers for you, Sophia.

May you always know the way here, to this church, for if you can find yourself here, you can always find your way home.

May you know that whatever you bring into this church – no matter how small a gift – it and you will be accepted and blessed.

May you know that this is a place where you can come and grow and celebrate all of the sacramental and life changing events of your life – your baptism and holy Eucharist, your confirmation, the confessions you need to make and the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins, the blessing of your relationship or your wedding, your ordination, if you are called to a vocation of the priesthood, the unction of the church when you are ill, the celebration of your life when you die.

Welcome to the Body of Christ Sophia. There may not be balloons and a marching band, but we celebrate your unique gifts, the special Child of God that you are, today and always.

In God's love,

Rev'd Elizabeth


Lisa Fox said...

Elizabeth, I am [as they say] "gob-smacked." I was not baptized in TEC. But I have this marvelous sense of how marvelous it would be for a baby like her to be able to read this "Love Letter" when she gets old enough to read and to begin pursuing Confirmation.

It would be so marvelous to have such a letter from my own baptism!

One point of clarification: Is this your homily for the day? or only your private letter to her and her family?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa asks: "Is this your homily for the day? or only your private letter to her and her family?"

Yes, it is my homily for the day - which is why I "preach" on the propers. I "preach" to the baby and "let" the congregation listen in. Oh, sometimes I include them, but mostly, it's a letter I write to the baby/infant/child which I use as my homily/sermon.

You can catch more of these at, and click on Sermons.

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