Luke 18:15-17, I John 3:2
The Rev. Tom Herbek
June 10, 2018
Today we come here to celebrate and recognize a paramount truth: this child is a child of God. In this baptism today, we have told Grace and her parents, her sponsors, her family, her friends, and everyone here, that not only is she a child of God, but so is everyone here today. We are all children of God, and within each of us- and especially today we celebrate it in this child– there is the potential to become all that God has created us to be.
New life brings new hope and new possibilities. By recognizing that this child is a child of God, we also recognize that we are all part of her family, every one of us. We are all family.
In baptism, we recognize that Grace is a child of God, and that we all are, as well. On that first night that you take a baby home from the hospital, the sense of responsibility hits you hard. If you weren’t one beforehand, by the end of that first night at home, you have become a parent. What happens in the celebration of baptism is that everyone helps you see that you are not alone. Your family is, in fact, much bigger than you ever realized it was.
We don’t do a baptism in order for God to love us. God already loves us. This is just a celebration of that fact, and more specifically, that fact for this child. Neither she, nor we, have to do anything for God to love us.
As God’s children, we are each called to be reflectors of God’s light into the dark places around us: the dark feelings, the dark lives, the dark despair.
An Italian man told this story to Robert Fulgham:
“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.
“I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine– in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.
“I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.
“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world– into the black places in the hearts of people– and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
– It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It
One thing we must reflect is that people are special. We must help the people around us to see themselves as special, to realize the potential within them. But we must also realize that what we believe about people can influence them in other ways, sometimes in way that can add to the darkness. Dr. Rachel Remen describes such a person in her own life:
As an adolescent I was tall, pimply, and frankly homely. My family is a family of elegant women and my second cousin, who was several years older than I, took it upon herself to help me with the graces that my intellectual parents deemed unimportant. One Saturday a month she would take me shopping and then to lunch at the Russian Tea Room, a formal and lovely place in New York. These excursions were agony for me. All the clothes I tried on hung on me. I had grown tall rapidly and was painfully clumsy. Once I tripped over my own feet and fell fulllength in the street, scraping both knees and my chin and soiling my dress. My cousin was a very kind woman who seemed neither critical nor ashamed of me. She helped me up and took me to tea, bleeding chin, dirty dress, and all.
After a few years of this she married. Caught up in the demands of my education and then my professional training, I lost touch with her.
Some years later, when her children were in school and I was a young doctor, we resumed our shopping lunches. Now when we entered the Russian Tea Room together, we would stop conversation. The both of us very tall and exoticlooking, we would take it by storm. This might have been great fun except for the fact that my cousin had never updated her inner picture of me. Despite the obvious changes in my looks and capabilities, she still saw me as a hopelessly clumsy adolescent. And I could not escape her unspoken expectations.
We would sit down to lunch and in the course of the afternoon I would regress. I would spill my red wine across the flawless white tablecloth or dribble gravy down the front of my dress. Once the strap of my purse caught underneath the bag, upsetting it and spilling lipsticks, keys, wallets, across the tearoom floor. My cousin bore these incidents graciously without comment. Totally unaware of her role in these happenings and the power of her private image, she would smile at me with compassion and acceptance and help me clean up the mess. It was infuriating.
- Kitchen Table Wisdom
Sometimes what we believe about people really does influence how they act and how they feel about themselves.
How we turn out is not always who we could be, but God still loves us. God loves us despite- and maybe even because of- our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. We simply need to accept that love. We don’t need to do good things in order for God to love us. It’s the other way around. Because God has loved us, we are freed-up to do good things. Because we know we are blessed, we are able to pass those blessings to others.
We are all children of God. And all of us being children of God is the great unifying and equalizing factor. Caring for and loving the people around us is our opportunity to somehow participate with God. We are able to convert a small portion of God’s infinite love, God’s light, passing it on, becoming partners with God. But what of unloved people? The people of the streets? The victims, the forgotten, the abused? They are also God’s children, and we must spread that word, and we must love them.
In the movie “Dead Man Walking” in a statement to Sister Helen, a condemned man responded, “No one ever before called me a child of God.” What a difference that affirmation might have made for this man! When we realize that, we know that God is with us and in us. We are both ordinary and extraordinary. Because God loves us, we are loveable, we are loved, and we are able to love.
In her baptism, Grace is recognized as part of a larger family. And we must also recognize the many people in this community who will never know God’s love or the love of parents or family or church, unless we do something about it. Whether we are single or married, 8 years old or 80 years old, living by ourselves or with 10 other people, we can still be family to those who have never heard they are children of God.
The world is a place where anything can happen. If we grow up in a loving family, we are ready for the world. We must give up our traditional ways of looking at families, and realize we are all in the family of God.
For Grace, who is baptized today, may we be this type of family, helping her to continue discovering that she is a child of God. And may we be family to one another, no matter our age or marital status, or presence or absence of people related to us by blood. And may we be family to the people of this community, just like Sister Helen, to the people who’ve never heard that they are children of God.
Let us be those who reflect the light of God into the dark places in the lives of those around us– those who, without exception, are also children of God!