SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV'D DAPHNE B. NOYES AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
NOVEMBER 6, 2011, SUNDAY IN THE OCTAVE OF ALL SAINTS

Every November, like clockwork, my employer’s benefits office inquires about any life events that might have occurred over the past year. Now these life events have strict definitions: marriage, divorce, the death of a spouse, the birth of a child, and so  on. This inquiry into life events is not based on any kind of real interest in my life. They could care less. It is all about health insurance, and that’s no topic for a sermon – not this sermon, at any rate!       

But the concept of a life event has, as they say, some traction. Perhaps you, like me, are struck by these words – at once dry and bureaucratic (given the context) and profound (given the meaning). To me, opening my eyes each morning is a life event.

Today on this feast of All Saints, two people are being baptized at the Church of the Advent: Luke MacGraw, an adult, at 9am, Lux Amelia Ringenberg, an infant, at 11:15. For each of then, baptism will be a major “life event.” For the infant Lux, baptism will be one of her first major life events – an event that will alter her life, and, over time, the lives of those around her.

As every new parent knows, and as many of us remember, welcoming a new child into the family is both a joyous and a challenging time. There’s the initial excitement of finally meeting this little person face to face. There’s also the realization that for the parents, this “life event” significantly alters their own lives: their sleep patterns, their work schedule, the amount of laundry that needs tending to, and, as time goes on, the growing grocery bill, the complexity of play dates and childhood friendships and feuds– not to mention the dreaded day when the child decides it’s time that mom and dad no longer select outfit of the day.

Back to the present: With the newborn able to convey needs, fears, desires only through a plaintive wail, there can be frustration as the parents learn that being fed, being changed, being snuggled, rocked, or shushed, or even unconditional love cannot always stop the crying, or soothe the pain. 

Today Lux’s parents and godparents become icons of God’s chesed – God’s steadfast love -- by accompanying her entrance into this family, the church family, for baptism, the life event that for each one of us marks entrance into the body of Christ. What will the consequences of this life event be? How are we to understand – how can we possibly fathom – the indescribable profundity of what is happening here today?

Consider that baptism takes place in the context of eucharist: the body gathered to pray, to worship, to be fed and to feed, before each one of us is sent out “to do the work God has given us to do.”  For better or for worse, this gathered assembly now becomes Lux’s companion in the life of faith. This little one, dependent on her parents and other adults for every conceivable need, is about to become part of us, and we part of her. Through rebirth in the waters of the font Lux becomes a passengers on the ark that sails on life’s stormy seas, bound for the shores of salvation.

The church – the church universal, not only this parish, this diocese, or this denomination – the church is much like that original ark with its unlikely array of passengers of every stripe and kind. It’s crowded. It can be messy or smelly. It’s pounded and tossed by stiff waves. It can veer off course when strong currents are encountered, or when the tide is changing.

Like those original passengers, we have not chosen, indeed we cannot choose, our shipmates on this voyage. Like it or not, we are cheek by jowl with people we might not otherwise ever encounter in our lives. We may not agree with them, we may not even like them, but here we are, shoulder to shoulder, eyes fixed on the horizon, looking for that infinitesimal shimmering streak that will signal our final destination. This morning, Luke and Lux join us aboard this creaky, leaky old boat. Welcome aboard!

My father of blessed memory often remarked that we are all “sinners on our way to glory.” Take a moment to look around you at this gathering of sinners – sinners bound for glory. The poor in spirit and the haughty, mourners and merrimakers, the meek and the powerful, the hungry and the satiated, the thirsty and those with overflowing cups, the merciful and the mercenary, the pure in heart and the hard of heart, the peacemakers and the troublemakers, the persecuted, and the perscutors. We’re all here.

Now it may be a stretch – in fact, I suspect it is quite a stretch – to look at Lux and think, “Now there’s a sinner if I ever saw one.” Yet here she comes, to be cleansed in the waters of baptism. In this action of baptism, we acknowledge three important aspects of the Christian life:

One: That the body of Christ on earth is both imperfect and imperative. The body of Christ is made up of fallen beings who have set their eyes on higher ground. The body of Christ is made up of mortals who despite their own limitations--or because of them--turn to God to ask for the wisdom, compassion, and mercy to bring the promises of the Kingdom to a troubled, weary world: the promise that God will wipe away every tear. The promise that we will be like God, for we will see God, and each other, through the unclouded eyes of love.

Two: In baptism, we receive a gift that cannot be washed away: the gift of faith. Let me be clear, the gift of faith is not the gift of belief. Faith stretches far beyond the borders of belief, is more resilient than belief, and more forgiving than belief. This infant is being given a gift that may be seen as an “extra” for an infant -- something she doesn’t really need, or as far as we know, understand, in these her earliest months and years. But you know and I know all too well how critically important the gift of faith will become as she take those first steps away from her parents’ protective arms and out into the world. Like the rest of us, Lux will inevitably come face to face with grace and with cruelty, with acceptance and with intolerance, with self-centeredness and with generosity.  Her parents, her godparents, her teachers and her church family will do our best to guide and protect her, to model for her a life that reflects God’s love for the world – but it will  not always be easy. And we may not always succeed.

Yet the gift of faith, the seeds first planted in the fertile, moist soil of baptism, offers you and me and Lux, a place to bring inevitable, confounding conundrums that are part of each life on earth. The suffering of the righteous. The victory of the unjust. Violence against others in the name of God. Disease and disaster that seem to strike randomly; devastation that will take decades to restore. We bring these conundrums not to make sense of them – how could we? – but to ask that God’s redemption enter into them and transform them – and us.

Three: The gift of faith demands that we pray for each other. That we pray for Lux, and her parents and godparents, not just today but every day. Let there be no member of this congregation who is not present in the intercessions of others. For if we do not pray for each other, how can we know how to serve each other? If we do not serve one another, what hope can we have of growing into the mind of Christ?

* * *

This is the very day when time changes, the hands of clocks are pushed back, in theory “giving” us another hour, although the hours of light grow shorter each day and will continue to do so for another six long weeks. It is a time in our country’s life when the divide between rich and poor, or at least not-rich, is being challenged. It is a time in the life of our denomination – and other denominations -- when the certainty of rigid orthodoxy pierces the elasticity of the heart of faith. In these dark and uncertain hours, we pass the light of Christ to the two newest members of his body, asking them to receive this light and, with us, carry it into the world, into the lives of others. Can it be a coincidence that both baptizands bear names that refer to light?

As we, with Lucas and Lux, carry the light of Christ into the world, may we look forward to that day when we, with all the communion of saints, will join in the heavenly chorus that cries in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And may we hear the angels reply, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”