Monday, January 11, 2016

Lullaby at the Font

“Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.”  Isaiah 43:4.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Papa’s going to buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird won’t sing,
Papa’s going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa’s going to buy you a looking glass.

And on it goes, that lullaby, with its gentle tale of generosity, abundance, and love.  It’s a good song to sing to a child, isn’t it?  What it says is this: I love you more than anything in the whole world.  I would give anything to make you happy.  You have nothing to fear, because I care for you.  All will be well. 

It’s a lovely song, one that sets a child’s life on the assurance of a parent’s love, the most solid place of all for a child to stand.  I would guess it was first sung by a poor man, to a baby wrapped in blankets a little too thin.  Men who know the price of diamonds don’t go on about giving them to babies.  There’s something of hope in it, the promise that it will all work out some way, that in the end, there will be grace.

I haven’t lived so many years, but I’ve met enough people to understand that every baby doesn’t have that song sung to him or her.  Lots of people grow up with much darker songs, like: “no matter how hard you try, you’ll never live up to my expectations,” or “there’s something deeply wrong with our life, and it’s all your fault,” or “this world is a cold and dangerous place, and you’d better fight hard if you want to make it.”  Now I’m no psychologist, but I do know this: it can be a powerfully difficult thing to unlearn that song your parents sang as they rock you to sleep as a tiny child.  People spend thousands of dollars, sit on dozens of therapists’ couches, they turn to all sorts of destructive habits, all trying, well trying--to hear that lullaby that they somehow missed back when they really needed it. 

We don’t get to choose that song that was sung to us.  That is one of those sad things about human life.  We can choose what song we sing to our own little ones, though.  It’s one of the most important responsibilities we have if God blesses us with children.  And through the working of God’s grace, every new Christian has a good song sung over him or her at the very beginning.  The lullaby at the Font, you might call it, the sure promise of God’s unfailing love.

We heard a version of it in that breathtakingly beautiful passage from Isaiah’s prophecy, read as our Old Testament lesson.  Listen to it again—and see if you can’t hear that familiar lullaby in it:
Fear not,” God says through the prophet, “for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you.

You are mine, God is saying to his people.  There is nothing so precious that I would not give it to you.  Egypt, the greatest civilization of the ancient world, with its thundering chariots and temples that hold up the sky, it would be my gift to you.  The wealth of Ethiopia and Seba, those exotic corners of the world, I would pour them into your lap.  I will hold you fast in the raging waters, bring you safe through the flames.  I love you more than you will ever know, and you have nothing to fear.

These, you should know, are not words spoken by the prophet in a time of prosperity, when Israel was secure and confident.  They are promises made to the exiles, preparing to make their way back from Babylon.  They are words to a people with no temple, no king, no earthly hope for a future.  But God is not just a poor man with big dreams. He is the true Creator, the Master of all things.  What He promises, He will deliver. 

Great and wonderful promises were spoken over each of us when we were baptized.  “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” we will say again today, as we anoint Emmeline with the Sacred Chrism.  “Heavenly Father,” we will pray in the post Baptismal Prayer, “we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised her to the new life of grace. Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”[1] 

From the very beginning of the spiritual life, there is forgiveness, hope, abundant love.  As Jesus stood in the Jordan, the Father announced—“this is my Son, the beloved.”  We belong to God, we are made one with Christ.  He says much the same to us, and then pours out His gifts upon us: His Spirit in our hearts, courage and love, joy and wonder.  The list comes tumbling out—so many blessings, an abundance of the gracious mercy of the Lord.  In Holy Baptism, God fills with all we need, all the blessings and graces to do the work set before us, and to continue in fellowship with Him for all our days. 

Today we mark, with gratitude, another year in our common life as the people of Saint Timothy’s.  It has been a year with a great deal of change, some of it very painful to many of you.  I’m sure that it has sometimes felt like passing through the water and the flame as you bade farewell to a number of greatly loved leaders and companions.  To some of you, our resources seem scarcer than they have in the past, and you feel a sense of loss about changes in programs and funding that help us to adjust to the realities of a new and more challenging time.  But God continues to bless us, even in disorienting times.  He remains abundant, raising up new leaders, opening our eyes to new opportunities.  Our Latino ministry has grown significantly in the past six months.  Our stewardship campaign was a great success, with a great majority of those who participated increasing their commitments over last year.  Our youth ministry and mission programs remain very strong, and we’ve been exploring new opportunities for serving the needy in this community. 

There’s a word of grace today for all of us.  God has committed Himself to us irrevocably in Baptism.  And He speaks His good word over us: I love you.  You don’t need to be afraid.  There will be enough.  All will be well.   As you confess your faith, and renew your commitment to following Christ, may you not be afraid to do what He has set before you.  May you hear his faithful song of love, the lullaby sung over you by the matchless Father of mercy.

[1] Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer (1979), 308.

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