Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Perhaps you’ve had the chance to read a fascinating novel that came out a fairly recently, one I recommend reading called, Cutting for Stone, by an American physician of Indian descent—Dr. Abraham Verghese. He tells the story of twin boys, born in an Ethiopian mission hospital in the 1950’s, who grow up to become surgeons. At one point in the story, Marion, one of the twins, is contemplating his purpose in life while yet in the tender season of his boyhood. Marion receives some advice from the eldest Catholic Sister of the mission hospital, reverently called, “Matron.” Matron shares with the young boy this wisdom:
“Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria?’ . . .But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’. . .I said under my breath. I’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music. No, Marion, she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”
Today, as we baptize Otto Michael Hildebrant, we honor and celebrate the glory of God incarnate in this little boy of three months who, each day and through the years to come, is growing and will continue to grow in discovering and playing the “Gloria” that lives within him. Matron is right. Otto’s sacred vocation is to learn to play Otto’s Gloria, the one made possible specifically for him, by the grace of his loving God. And as Otto’s loving mission family, our vocation is to nurture and, at times, to remind Otto of this—of who he is and whose he is as a glorious child of our God. We might say that this is what the Sacrament of Baptism, shared in the context of a community of faith, is all about.
Heather and Rick, we remember so fondly the first time you visited us here in our church—over two years ago now: you came to us as a young couple, actively involved in your UCC church in Pennsylvania before moving to Enfield, former youth leaders there, choir members, too. We had all we could do to restrain ourselves from overwhelming you with our hope that you would make our church your spiritual home! And how deeply blessed we continue to be by your presence here with us! In the midst of grueling residency hours and the complications of dual work schedules, you have managed to sing with our choir, help out with our Confirmation program, serve on the Music Committee and, even most recently, through your love for one another, to share us with our very own Baby Jesus for this year’s Christmas pageant! Thank you, Mary and Joseph Hildebrant!!!
And, today, you bring your beloved son to be baptized here in your church—not unlike what Mary and Joseph did when they brought their baby Jesus to be named and dedicated at the Templein Jerusalem, over two thousand years ago. Why would you do this? Indeed, why would any of us—of any age, infant, youth or adult, in this twentieth-first century–come to church seeking to receive the ancient Sacrament of Baptism? Why would you, with your son and his Godparents, stand here in front of our congregation, where everyone can see you; answer serious questions; promise to make sacred commitments that, in this day and age, are rare, indeed; acknowledge that you need a community of faithful disciples to help you raise your son; and, perhaps most astonishingly, allow this congregation to dedicate your son to ministry within the Realm of God’s Love! Why would you, why would any of us, do this extraordinary thing on behalf of ourselves or a child?
Rick and Heather, you and we do this—along with our sister and brother Christians throughout the millennia—because we know there is a “Gloria” within each one of us. We know that this “Gloria” arises within us from the Unconditional Love of our God who “is there to hear our borning cry, who is there when we grow old, who is there when our faith suits us well and there, too, when we find where demons dwell.” You are here, we are here today, because we believe in the Unconditional Love of our God who lovingly calls us to sing our “Gloria” even and especially in our horribly broken world—a world of poverty and injustice, violence and warfare, addiction and disease, suffering and despair, as you–Heather and Rick– in your chosen vocations are only too aware. As the psalmist of old asks for us today, “how can we possibly sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?” How can we discover, much less, play or sing our “Gloria” when there are demons in this world–inside and outside of us, seemingly just waiting to quench within us God’s steadfast song?
Whenever we make these Baptismal promises, these sacred commitments, whether as parents, Godparents, or members of a church family—either on behalf of ourselves or another—and whenever we dedicate and rededicate ourselves to serving God, to sharing our faith and the stories of Spirit-filled people, to resisting oppression and evil, and to working toward a world of peace and justice and a life of compassion for all, we begin to sing the opening notes. Not the whole cantata, but the beginning, over and over again, little by little, one note by one note until that day when we pray the whole universe will sing of God’s glory—of en terra pax—on earth peace.
But in the meantime, Otto is loving being his cute, cuddly self; hanging out with Mom and Dad, discovering new tastes and sights, sounds and smells, sleeping when he’s sleepy and keeping everybody awake when he’s not, wanting to roll over, wondering about crawling and the fun he’ll have then driving Dad and Mom crazy! At three months, Otto knows only this love for himself and from all those around him. He hasn’t yet come to know the pain of the world or to doubt his own intrinsic goodness or the ability to sing his song. His “Gloria” is freshly composed for him and he’s excited to discover its tune.
And we are here with Otto today to celebrate his emerging “Gloria,” to nourish spiritually his singing, to remind him, whenever he forgets, whose song he sings and to support his parents in helping him sing his song, not Bach’s, but Otto’s Song, the one God has made uniquely possible in Otto Michael Hildebrant. “In a song,” so to speak, this is what his Baptism is all about.
To paraphrase an African blessing. . .Otto Michael, travel and sing to the four corners of the earth and always know this place, the Meriden Congregational Church family, as one of your spiritual homes where we will always recognize and celebrate God’s “Gloria” within you and support you in singing your sacred song. And through the gift of your Baptism, may you, too, re-call us—your sisters and brothers in Christ—to singing anew God’s song of justice and peace, healing and compassion in our world so in need of God’s Love Song. With gratitude for the gift of your birth, your Baptism and your glorious song among us, we pray.
Let the people sing: Amen!