A Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B – August 12, 2012
David H. Knight, Priest Associate
In the Name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
On Saturday, July 28th, here in Richmond at St. Paul’s Church, there was the ordination and consecration of our new bishop suffragan, the Right Reverend Susan Goff. While I could not be there as Jeannie and I were still on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, I understand it was a glorious celebration of a new ministry. The Church rejoiced in Susan’s ordination. At one point in the service, all those present were asked by the Presiding Bishop, “Will you uphold Susan as bishop?” The people responded, “We will.”
Now, this morning here at St. Mary’s, we have just celebrated yet another ordination. “Ordination” you say? This was clearly a baptism. There was no bishop, or priest, or deacon ordained. It was after all a baptism, yet let us revisit once again the Book of Common Prayer and hear the words found in An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism. As you may recall, the Catechism is in the form of questions and responses pertaining to the Church’s teachings. In the section dealing with The Ministry (page 855), there is the question, “Who are the ministers of the Church?” The answer is, “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” The Catechism reminds us that the ministry of the Church is comprised of four orders, and we note that the first of the orders listed is that of lay persons. Yes, the order of lay persons come first. Then comes the question, “What is the ministry of the laity?” The answer: “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”
And so this morning we celebrate the baptism of Henry Michael, who has now been ordained into the ministry of lay persons in the Churchof God. Now, of course, because of his youthful age, his parents and godparents have assumed the responsibility for seeing that Henry, whom they have presented for baptism, will be brought up in the Christian faith and life. But all of us have a part in that responsibility as well. As was the case in the ordination of a bishop two weeks ago when those present were asked if they would uphold Susan as a bishop, all of us who are here this morning were also asked, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this child in his life in Christ?” We responded, “We will.” That’s no idle commitment, for we will have the opportunity to touch the life of this child in ways that will influence and support his journey in faith in the days and years to come.
So often, we speak of our young children as the future of the Church and that is true, partially true. They are not only the future, they are already an important part of the present in the Church for they bring life and joy, innocence and wonder, hope and promise to our common life. And so Henry Michael, we welcome you into the ministry in God’s Church and to the ministry here at St. Mary’s where it will be our joyful responsibility to watch you grow into the full stature of Christ and to support you in that journey. Today we receive you into the household of God and invite you to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to proclaim his resurrection, and to share with us in his eternal priesthood for it is in the risen Christ that God comes to us, here today and in the days to come in words and in the sacrament of Baptism. With God’s word and sacrament comes the promise of strength beyond our own.
In today’s lesson from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we hear these words, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” As God’s beloved children, we come together as a community of faith not only to love God, to worship God and to offer our thanks to God, we also strive as best we can to imitate God in our own actions and behavior. Paul suggests some of the ways we might be imitators of the ways of God. “Putting away falsehood,” he says, “let us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” He cautions us not to let the sun go down on our anger, though sometimes that may be difficult. He speaks of working honestly with our own hands and to have something to share with the needy. He cautions us to let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, so that our words may give grace to those who hear. In imitating God, we strive to put away all bitterness, to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God has forgiven each of us. All of us who are baptized are ordained and called to be imitators not only in the sanctuary of the Church but on the stage of our everyday lives and on the front lines of our relationships with one another. These works that we do in imitating the ways of God are not merit badges but rather they are marks of the life given to us at our baptism. The beauty of it all is that you and I live by God’s grace.
One of the happiest memories of my days serving on the clergy staff at Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas was working in a service called the Joy Mass. It was one of ten services held each weekend. After all, this was Texas. This service was led by the Reverend Michael Harmuth, a man in his early 70’s yet who seemed to be ageless. He could relate to all ages but children especially loved him and it was mutual. During this service for about 200 three to five year olds and their parents, Michael would bring the gospel stories to life. For the celebration of Holy Communion, the children would gather on the floor near the altar and watch as he would celebrate Communion, always calling upon different children to be his helpers. Each Sunday Michael would say at the offertory with an inviting wave of his hand, “Now, if all the young ministers would come forward and find a seat. There are lots of good seats up here.” These beautiful young children would gather with excitement and fascination jostling for a space as close as they could get to Fr. Michael. It was a beautiful sight to behold. One of the things that has remained etched in my memory about that service was Michael’s calling the children “our young ministers” for that indeed is what they are.
And so today, we welcome yet another young minister, Henry Michael, into the congregation of Christ’s flock here at St. Mary’s. We promise to do all in our power to support this new young minister in his life in Christ as he grows up here in our midst for we all share in how St. Mary’s can be a nurturing, safe place for Henry and his family. To this day, for example, our sons, now in their 30’s and 40’s, still talk about people who had an influence upon them in the churches where I served. These people were a blessing to our boys as they were growing up. All of us here can be a blessing not only to Henry Michael and his parents, but to all of our young ministers here at St. Mary’s.
As we witness these baptismal vows and promise to support this child in his life in Christ, may you and I also renew the promises we made, or that were made for us at our own baptism. May we renew our own commitment to be imitators of Christ ourselves as beloved children of God, for
We share by water in his saving death.
Reborn we share with him an Easter life
as living members of a living Christ. Alleluia! Amen.