August 18, 2019 — Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Baptism of Peter Thorstein Messerschmidt
Rev. Alison Quin
I am extraordinarily grateful for this day. The gift of a grandchild is beyond anything I could ask or imagine. And to be able to baptize him here, with so many family members and members of this parish present—well, my cup runneth over.
Technology has advanced significantly since my childbearing days. You can follow the development of a baby much more closely now with the aid of sonography. There are pictures of Peter from the time he was a tiny collection of cells to the time he was a fully formed person, ready to be born. There’s an app that describes each week of fetal development and tells you what is happening at each stage. They use fruit and vegetables to give you an idea of size. From the size of a seed to the size of a pea, to a grape, a cherry tomato, an apricot, a bell pepper, an avocado, an eggplant, and finally, a melon. When the baby is melon size, it’s definitely time to give birth!
It is amazing that each of us went through the same process to get here. And it is a fragile process. Sometimes development doesn’t go according to the textbooks. Peter’s heart had anomalies that you could see on the scan, which could have been signs of serious heart issues.
I am so grateful to this parish, and to the churches that Ted’s family attends, and to all our friends and family, for all the prayers that accompanied Peter through his growth and birth. Miraculously, two weeks before he was born, his heart moved into a normal range and he was taken off the high risk birth status.
As the psalmist says in Psalm 139:
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
To watch a brand new baby respond to his parents’ voices, and turn instinctively to his mother to be fed, to begin to eat and develop, is truly amazing. What a gift life is. What a miracle that through God’s grace, this planet has just the right amount of air, light, water and soil to sustain life. Even with the damage we have done to our environment, the good earth continues to be fruitful and life-giving.
The gift of life would seem to be enough. But as human beings, we need something more. We need meaning and purpose. We need to know who we are and why we are here.
But we cannot answer these questions or solve the riddle of our existence by ourselves. We have to look beyond ourselves for ultimate answers.
There is a missing piece in our make up—only God can fill it.
We need God even more than we need air and water and food, because God teaches us who we are and how we are to live.
We just finished a week of vacation bible school and the theme was “Who is My Neighbor? Learning to love like Jesus.” Through Jesus, we come to understand how much God loves us. Through Jesus, we learn what it means to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. On a good day, we might be able to love our families or our near neighbors, at least the ones who are the most like us. But Jesus teaches us the way of divine love. He teaches us to love those who are different from us—those who speak other languages, have different customs or different beliefs. Jesus shows us how to love strangers and even enemies.
Jesus constantly reached out beyond his own family and his own community to embrace enemies, including those who crucified him. This is the path of divine love, a path that leads us to true joy and fulfillment. It is in loving God and loving all our neighbors that we become fully human.
We are called to continue to follow Jesus in the radical way of love in good times and bad, when it leads to approval and when it leads to persecution. Because it is the path of life—not just physical life, but eternal life—the life of the Spirit that begins on earth and continues forever.
Today, I have the great joy of baptizing Peter into the way of Jesus. He has a great journey ahead of him, seeking and finding God, asking and receiving, knocking and having the door open for him.
His family, his godparents and the wider Christian community will support him on the journey, as we all support each other, and will help him learn to love God and love his neighbor as himself. Jesus will be his teacher, his guide, his friend, until he is ready to claim him as his savior.
Today we celebrate not just the incredible gift of life, but the even more awesome gift of the new life of the Spirit, which will make Peter, as it makes each of us, whole.