The opportunity to baptize my lovely granddaughter brought with it the task of preparing a sermon on the sacrament of baptism. So, I diligently prepared a carefully thought out sermon for the occasion. Standing in the pulpit after reading the Gospel text from Matthew 19:13-15, the sight of all seven grandchildren challenging the abilities of their parents and grandparents to maintain order and decorum gave me pause. Fortunately our pulpit at Holy Cross is on wheels, so I quickly pushed it aside and reached into my missal for a folder I had placed there so that during the announcements I could draw the attention of our members to some very good news about the success of a child of the congregation. The folder contained a story which I proceeded to tell in place of my carefully prepared sermon. You can listen to the story here. I am indebted to the author, Travis Dermott for providing the good news on this very happy occasion. As promised, the text of the carefully and lovingly prepared, undelivered sermon is provided below.
Listen to the story here
When someone places a newborn human in your arms, it opens you to MORE. Humans have a strange relationship to MORE. Most of us spend our entire lives longing for more, looking for more, hungering for more, desiring more, striving for more, waiting for more, searching for more. Holding a newborn in your arms opens us to the power of MORE. I’m not talking about the more that the world so often gets caught up in seeking, more stuff, more money, more things, more wealth, more land, more resources, more power, more sex, more popularity, more gadgets, more food, more, more, more, more, for me and mine, more. I’m talking about the MORE with a capital M. MORE. The kind of MORE a newborn baby lying in your arms opens us to is the kind of MORE that poets, storytellers, artists, musicians, and messiah’s have been trying to capture for centuries. Holding a newborn in your arms opens us to this MORE because the reality of this new little being connects us to some Beyond ourselves.
Cradling a newborn you can’t help but wonder and marvel at the miracle of life itself. Gently rocking a newborn in your arms opens you to the powers of the cosmos coming together for billions and billions of years to create life. Gazing down at a newborn softly breathing in your arms fills your heart with emotions so powerful that in just an instant you can fall in love. Adoring a newborn in your arms transforms you out of the confines of the ordinary and mundane and into the reaches of time itself as you search for signs of ancestors long gone in tiny features that draw us into futures as yet unknown. And just when you think your heart is going to explode from the shear magnificence of the miracle in your arms, suddenly the newborn in your arms opens up the power of their new little lungs and you can’t help but be stunned by this tiny little creature’s ability to turn your world upside down.
Newborn humans open us to MORE with a capital M. Newborn humans open us to that which is Beyond ourselves to the MORE that lies at the very heart of reality, to the MORE that extends Beyond our time, Beyond our place, Beyond our present, Beyond our future, Beyond, the Beyond and Beyond that also. And then with a noise that only a baby can make, a newborn can bring you hurtling back from the Beyond to the immediacy of the future. There is nothing, in heaven or on earth quite as compelling as the cry of a newborn baby. It is the kind of noise that will cause other humans to do almost anything to sooth. The compelling cry of a newborn sends humans scurrying to change the world in order to restore the calm serenity of peace, which the gentle calming rhythm of a newborns quiet breathing inspires. The amount of chaos that tiny little humans have the power to create is absolutely amazing. Before they arrive there is peace and quiet. There is anticipation, expectation, even joy. But once a tiny little human arrives on the scene, nothing is ever the same again.
It was a dark, cold, windy, snowy day when Jeff placed little Evelyn in my arms. She was just a few days old and Jeff was dashing off to take Laurel back to the hospital to try and figure out why her body was giving her so much grief. Grandma Carol was busy with big sister Audrey and so I had little Evelyn all to myself. Poor little Evelyn was left in the care of a hopeless romantic who just couldn’t help oohing and awing over her newborn granddaughter. As Carol ran after big sister Audrey, I fed, changed, and swaddled little Evelyn all the while telling her just how lovely she is. And I must say that little Evie was absolutely delighted to be in her Gran’s tender care. Everything was going marvelously until the wee hours of the morning. It was a dark and stormy time as a blizzard continued to dump feet of snow outside to the tune of howling winds. While inside newborn lungs howled in a way that threatened to waken the entire neighbourhood. That’s how I found myself doing what frantic humans have done for centuries when faced with the terrifying noises that newborn humans can make. There I was sitting in a rocking chair, cradling the most precious little noisemaker in the entire world and telling her all about her new home.
For several hours I told baby Evelyn all about the world she now inhabits. Well not all about the world. I told her mostly about the good bits and when we got to the nasty bits, I promised her that I would do all that I could to make sure that the nasty bits were taken care of so that she could grow up in peace. I told her about how many people there were in the world that loved her so very much. I told her all about her big strong Daddy who would always take care of her and her very smart Mummy who would teach her so much. I told her about her big sister Audrey who would always be there up ahead paving the way for her. I told her about all her many grandmas, and her adoring grandpas, and her cousins, aunties, and uncles. I told her about all the good people in the world and about the bad people I told her not to worry because her family and friends would help her to cope with the bad people. And before you know it little Evelyn and I we were solving all the problems in the world. We figured it all out in the darkness of that warm little room, rocking back and forth listening to the winds howl. We figured out how to end all the problems of our planet, we solved the unsolvable, and we feed the hungry, housed the poor, and put an end to violence and we did it all before the sun had a chance to rise. We looked into the future and we saw visions of justice and peace created by love, because newborn humans bring with them the power to understand that life is so much MORE than we can even begin to imagine or comprehend.
Newborn humans remind us all that life is continuously renewed. Newborn humans connect us to the realities that lie Beyond the concerns of our day to day lives and yet intimately connected to the concerns of our day to day lives. And so we gather here today to celebrate the power of newborn humans to open us to MORE. For a few moments we will step Beyond the everyday and into the reality of all that lies Beyond our lives, the More that we are all intimately connected with. From the beginning of time and Beyond time the circle of life has seen humans come and go, born and die. It is a miracle that we cannot fully understand. And yet, it is also a reality that permeates all of our lives. Newborns remind us that life is bigger and better than our demands for more, our desires for stuff, and our quest for power. Newborns remind us of our primal desire to survive while pointing us beyond our struggle for survival. The cycle of life, birth and death, living and dying, dying and rising, is a mystery of transformation, beginnings and endings, and beginning again. Today there is the joy and wonder of new life even as we remember the ones who have gone before us and the ones who will soon leave us. For just as surely as life begins we all know that life will also end. The very nature of our existence is transformation. And so, we gather here to celebrate transformation; the transformations that come with birth. So many of our lives have been and with continue to be transformed by this particular birth as Evelyn lives into the fullness of her humanity. Our celebration of these transformations takes the form of baptism.
Baptism is a ritual enactment of transformation in which we preform with words and symbols the eternal mystery of dying and rising. The circle of birth, death and rebirth is a reality imprinted upon the human psyche, by the passage of time, each and every day, as the sun rises in the sky, sets upon the horizon, and rises again, so too the seasons, bring birth and life, followed by death, and rebirth; the circle of life, transformation celebrated in this place as life, death, and resurrection; living, dying, and rising again.
The circle of life is an image that endures in the religions of the world as humans everywhere grapple with that which lies Beyond our ability to comprehend. The archetype of dying and rising speaks of transformation so radical that it is like death and resurrection—dying to an old way of being and being raised, reborn, into a new way of being. In the ritual of baptism Evelyn’s family, indeed, Evelyn’s people invite her to participate in the circle of life each and every day; open to transformation after transformation. Dying daily to the old way of being in the world concerned only with more, more things, more stuff, more power, more for me and mine. Dying each and every day to the self-centered desire for more and rising each day to the reality of the MORE that lies Beyond our ability to imagine.
The MORE that opens us to the needs of one another and the power of the LOVE that lies beyond our concerns for self and empowers us to be lovers of one another. It is the MORE, which Jesus described as the kingdom of God. It is the MORE with a capitol M which the Apostle Paul described as being in Christ. The MORE, in which there is enough for everyone, enough food, enough shelter, enough justice, enough peace, enough love. The MORE that lies Beyond self-centeredness, the MORE that rises in each and every act of love.
Today, Jeff and Laurel will bring baby Evelyn to the waters of baptism and promise to raise little Evelyn in Christ, with Rob’s help they will promise to open her to the MORE that can rise with each and every act of kindness, the MORE that lives and breathes with every time we create justice for our fellow travellers in the circle of life. Today, the members of this congregation will welcome Evelyn into a body which seeks to be in the world in ways that foster justice and peace by loving our neighbours both friends and enemies. Today we will look to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who lived so fully and loved so deeply with a power that transforms poverty into abundance, violence into peace, and hatred into compassion, by offering everyone enough, enough love, enough justice, enough peace. Today we will all celebrate that a new little human joins us as together we seek ways of being love in the world.
From this day forward all of us will do our best to ensure that all of the children in our lives will learn what it means to live our lives not collecting more, not absorbed in our own selfish desires, but opened to the power of love to transform us each and every day into lovers of one another, and lovers of our God who is so much more that we can begin to imagine, a love beyond the beyond and beyond that also, each and every day we catch but a glimpse of in every act of kindness. And when kindness is in sort supply we can gaze upon the beauty of a newborn, a newborn human, a newborn animal, a newborn idea, a newborn justice, a newborn peace, a newborn love, and there in the midst of life we can glimpse the MORE that lies Beyond the Beyond and beyond that also: the MORE that we call God who is LOVE beyond words. May that LOVE transform you daily! Amen.
When kindness is in sort supply,
Gaze upon the beauty of a newborn,
a newborn human,
a newborn animal,
a newborn idea,
a newborn justice,
a newborn peace,
a newborn love,
and there you will catch a glimpse of the
MORE that lies Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that Also,
The MORE that we call God
Who is LOVE beyond words.
May that LOVE transform you daily!