Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 19, 2010
Several years ago I drove from Michigan to New York with a dozen teenagers, the Assistant Rector of my home parish and her six-year –old son, Cio. We were on a mission trip – spending a week serving lunch at the soup kitchen located in the sanctuary of Holy Apostles, an Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
Each day, when the lunch line closed, the guests had left and the clean up was complete, we gathered at a table in front of the altar to talk about our experiences.
On our last day, as we lingered in the cool quietness of that sanctuary, Cio, the six-year-old made his way up to the pulpit. “I’m going to preach,” he announced with some flourish. Now, Cio is one of the smartest and most verbal kids I’ve ever met – so I turned my chair toward the pulpit and settled back, ready to hear what I was sure would be a long and sophisticated sermon. As he planted his little feet on the floor behind the beautiful golden eagle that decorated the pulpit, he looked straight ahead and said with great authority, “God loves you; pay attention.” I waited for more but instead of continuing on, he bowed his head, made the sign of the cross and walked slowly back down the stairs and rejoined our circle.
Five words separated by a semicolon: “God loves you; pay attention.”
While this sermon is appropriate for many occasions, (in fact, I repeat it to myself almost every day) I think it is especially appropriate for a day when we celebrate baptism. This five-word homily sums up what we say we believe as Christians and what we promise to do as God’s people.
The first phrase, “God loves you,” is the very basis for our understanding of this holy sacrament. It is because God loves us, that God invites us into relationship – into relationship with him and into relationship with each other. Through the sacrament of baptism, we are identified as children of God – reborn into a family that reaches from one end of the earth to the other, a family established from the beginning of time and lasting forever.
The invitation to be in relationship with God is an invitation to something that already exists – something we say “yes” to. As Christians, we believe that God has created all things out of love and that God has already made the journey to his beloved in the Incarnation – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is because of God’s great love for each person – each woman, man and child, that God has made the journey. In baptism, we have the opportunity to say “yes” to that love – to open our hearts to it, to let it seep deep into the cracks and crevices of our souls.
God loves you.
The second phrase of Cio’s sermon, “pay attention,” is a simple yet profound way to understand what saying “yes” to God’s love means.
Paying attention means that we will do more than take God’s love for granted. It means we will be willing to be motivated by that love. It means that we will look for that love in the world around us – that we will see all of creation as that which is loved by God – and we will act accordingly.
We will see all people as precious in God’s sight. – paying attention to the oppressed and those who have been cast aside as well as those who have always been included and those who enjoy a more privileged status. We will respect the dignity of every human being. We will seek peace and work for justice; we will be people who love deeply and forgive quickly.
Paying attention to God’s love will make a powerful difference in how we live our lives and our lives will make a powerful difference in the world. We will delight in God’s work of love around us and we will anticipate God’s work of love within us.
Today, we celebrate the baptisms of Mark and Derek, of Ethan and of Nicole – their expressed “yes” to God’s love. And we will promise to support them as they pay attention to that love. And together we will renew our own baptismal covenants.
With God’s grace, may we all share in the knowledge that God loves us – saying “yes” to God’s invitation to relationship. And may we, along with those who will be baptized today, commit ourselves once again to paying attention.
God loves you; pay attention. Amen.