And it is a particular joy to witness new generations of families with long term ties to this congregation – it gives us a sense of continuity and of hope, reminding us of God’s ongoing presence and love, supporting this family and this parish family through times of change and challenge.
In the liturgy, we speak of baptism as a covenant. Covenants involve agreement and mutuality - and baptism involves both receiving and committing.
When I meet with parents bringing child for baptism, I ask why baptism is important to them. Always some version of same answer –
We want the child to be in relationship with God – to have God as a fundamental part of their life. Parents also often talk about their desire that the child is connected to something larger, something life-giving: they recognize what an important part of life community is.
In baptism and in the early years of his life, Noah will experience the receiving side of the baptismal covenant – He will be receiving God’s grace and blessing as he is named as a child of God – not because of anything he has accomplished or earned, but because it is God’s nature to love and to bless God’s children.As he grows, he will be nurtured in God’s love – through the family, caregivers, teachers, community who support and shape him.
Over time, Noah will grow into the responsibility/commitment side of baptismal covenant – that of being not only a child of God, but a disciple of Jesus. He will grow into his adult capabilities, into the capacity to make impact on the world around him. As do all of us, Noah will have the opportunity to make God’s love known in the world, to have God’s love make a difference in the world, through him.
In our liturgy this morning, therefore, we celebrate hope and faith, and we meet God in this morning’s sacraments with gratitude.
And we have heard some particularly wonderful readings this morning that fit perfectly with the themes of hope and faith and promise.
Today’s story from the Hebrew Scriptures is one of my favorites. It is a great story on its own, but it also has special associations for me. As you probably know, I spend thirty two years on the faculties of independent boarding schools. At the beginning of each year, new students always arrive a day before returning students and are given a brief orientation and the opportunity to feel at home before the “old kids” get there to claim their turf. At my last school, we always had a brief chapel service on new students’ first evening, and my colleague in the chaplaincy, Ned Sherrill, would always read and talk about the story of Jacob at Bethel. He would talk about how terrifying it must have been for Jacob to have left his home and be heading into the unknown: you’ll recall that Jacob was actually on the run from his brother’s anger, after Jacob had pulled a pretty nasty trick swindling Esau out of his birthright. Ned would draw attention to poor Jacob having only a stone for a pillow. I pretty sure Ned didn’t explicitly draw the connections for the new students that Jacob’s situation had a lot of similarities to their own on that first scary evening in a completely new environment, but I can’t imagine that many of them missed the parallel.
And Jacob, in his dream state, was shown that the place where he was lying, with a stone under his head, was directly connected to the place where God dwells among all of the heavenly beings. And God spoke to Jacob, this kid who was on the run after behaving very badly, and promised that “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go”, and that “all of the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” So when Jacob woke, he did so declaring “Surely God is in this place – and I did not know it!” I recall appreciating, every year that Ned offered that lesson in that moment, how much it must have offered reassurance to those other scared kids among whom I sat in the school chapel.
And Jacob’s story is a lesson for all of us, of course. Whenever we find ourselves scared and alone, with nothing but a metaphorical stone to lay our heads on, especially when facing a new and unknown environment, we can remember that “God is in this place.” When we’re fleeing something for which we feel ashamed and guilty, we can know that just as God promised Jacob, God blesses us and will bless others through us. We are not alone and there is ALWAYS hope.
And this morning’s psalm celebrates the very same promise of God’s faithfulness in knowing and caring for us:
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
This assurance is what we hope Noah will come to know and find comfort in, and in welcoming him today, we pledge to help him learn the faith.
And this morning’s gospel, as well, offers hope and assurance, albeit in a somewhat strange way.
We’re in Matthew, the gospel of parables, and we are continuing in this same part of Jesus’ teaching ministry we heard last Sunday, in which he is immersing his listeners in agricultural metaphor – planting and growing and harvesting, along with the many things that can make the agrarian life complicated.
This week’s farmer is a responsible farmer and sows good seed, hoping and planning, no doubt, for a good harvest that will not only feed the family but also benefit the community. But there is an enemy in the neighborhood, and that person chooses to undermine the work of the responsible farmer, sneaking in while the household is asleep, and throwing the seeds for weeds among the farmer’s good seed.
As the plants begin to grow, the other farmworkers are horrified at this bad luck and initially question the farmer’s skills. When assured that the weeds are the work of the enemy, however, they are ready to help out by pulling the weeds before they grow. The farmer declines their offer, however, pointing out that any attempt to uproot the weeds will result in damage to the wheat as well. “Wait until harvest time”, he tells them. When all of the plants are mature, the weeds can be plucked up and destroyed leaving the good wheat to be gathered into the barn.
Jesus’ explanation of the parable to the disciples centers on the differentiation of the righteous from the evildoers at the end of the age. The beauty of the parables, however, is that we never need to be satisfied by one explanation; parables work on many, many levels, and the more we dig into them, the more we see.
I actually don’t think that any of our lives are entirely wheat or completely weed. We’re all pretty much of a mix, aren’t we? Sometimes we can act as our best selves and do things we are proud of, and sometimes we just blow it, giving in to impulse or acting out of fear, saying or doing things we regret, which can then hang around our necks like the veritable albatross.
I think the parable of the wheat and the weeds invites us not to dwell on what is already done, but rather, to move forward, and to trust God that God will do the sorting when the time is right.
Just as Jacob arrived in Bethel with a violation of his brother’s trust on his conscience, and was nevertheless shown God’s presence and offered blessing, so it is with our lives. God’s dream for us, God’s beloved children, is lives of a full harvest of joy. We can’t help but sow some weeds along the way. And despite our best hopes for him, Noah will find his times to include both the wheat and the weeds. But the weeds are not the final word, with. God who is Love itself.
But the One to whom “darkness and light are both alike” is there beside us and in us – knowing us, accepting us, inviting and challenging us. Let us always be listening for her voice.
We are blessed to have a diversity of preaching voices in our parish. Our guild of preachers is a mixture of lay and clergy. We hope you enjoy the varied voices.
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