Monday, July 25, 2011

Seekers for pearls

Steven the proud father is waiting for me to open up. He’s brought food and refreshments for the party to follow today’s baptisms.  Andre’s next and then Luis arrives. Muscle is needed to move the late Victorian Tiffany baptismal font that weighs a ton.  Extended families are arriving. Feel a sense of excitement and  anticipation as the service begins. 
It’s me and Andre again on the music. As we come to our time for prayers of the people, I read these words from Romans :
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.( I say this as part of our prayers every week, want them to know where it comes from.) And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (And mention the difference between all things being good and  that all things can work for the good.) We sing Nada te turbe, and then we pray. For the shaken people of Norway. Those who suffer for peace in Africa. And our own friends and family.
And at the end of our prayers, I read: What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I begin my sermon by pointing to the stained glass window in the northeast corner of the balcony and asking What does that window say? No one is aware that it is a gift from a group called the Seekers for Pearls. And then, if we believe that scripture is a living word, the question is, what is the living word for us right now?

kids on the steps
I say that this is an exciting morning. We have two baptisms! Jordan and Xavier. And I want nothing I say today to take away from that, only to enhance that fact, maybe add a blessing. Only build on that. We're talking about faith, and the kingdom of God, or as we say today, the kindom of God,  the beloved community.

Parables. Fredrick Buechner says that parables are  like jokes, if you have to explain them don’t bother. But being a preacher, I can’t help myself.
We have here five parables from Jesus:
  • a mustard seed
  • yeast
  • a treasure hidden in a field
  • a merchant seeking for pearls
  • a fish net
The mustard seed is small like a baby. Small like a little church. Not like the mighty cedars of Lebanon  (or churches on 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue) but ordinary, democratic.  We can become what God intends us to be.  Emphasis on can, not necessarily will. Saying that even a tiny grain of faith is enough to get started.  There is no such  thing as too little faith, it’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant:  you have it or you don’t, you are or you’re not. 

Yeast...who knows what about yeast?  (Lots of hands go up. People talking about bread.) It’s not always good, is it? (Lots of knowing laughs) ...but you need it to make bread, or beer. There is that sense of rising. In Jesus day, it was also a saying kind of like one bad apple. The point is your tiniest gift can grow and spread and help lift up...and the tiniest rumor, gossip, hateful word....can destroy.
Treasure. Why does he have to hide it? Why not just take it? Was the box too big? Lots of questions here. But the  point he sells all he has in order to get it.
It’s like the pearl. The Pearl of great value. Or like it was in the King James Version, the pearl of great price. Seekers for pearls. I wish I knew who they were. Their story. What role they played in this church. They gave that window in 1890.  And again sell up all else for this pearl. We need to ask oursleves, what’s our goal? What’s to be pursued? What is worth giving up everything for? What would you give up for your chidren?
And then the fishnet. Separating evil from righteous. Not sure how that shakes out. Is it like the sorting hat? You go to Slythern? You to Griffindor? I have to believe that God’s grace is sufficient. Anyways, it’s end of the age stuff....though I’ve always liked that gnashing of teeth part. It's not up to us to worry, to judge or condemn. It's up to us to seek to live faithfully. 
But here’s the BIG each of these parables, somebody has to do something...sow a seed, add some yeast, buy a field, search for and buy a
You  are called to take whatever you have and ACT, do something...
for your family, your will be blessed...
Now, back to takes faith, courage to bring them in the world..We honor and respect that faith and courage. Your job is to love these children. To raise them to know they are loved and valued above any and all possessions....they are your pearls of great price. And we, your church, promise that we  will stand with you in this journey.  
And then  it was time for the baptisms. One of the godparents, Samantha Santiago, presented the children on behalf of the session. They all gathered around the font. We baptised Xavier Steve Santiago, son of  Deyanira Velez and Edwin Steve Santiago and Jordan Ayala, son of Jaime Ayala and Camille Ayala.  Cesarina Calderon and Jaime Ayala were godparents for Xavier and Samantha Santiago and Manuel Padilla for Jordan.
I said that these were good names. Jordan, like the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptised. Xavier comes from the Arabic zafeer, meaning bright and splendid. Which he is in your house. 
The Martinez-Ayala- Santiago family is now a five generation family in the church. And that is worth celebration.

After church, we gather deacons and elders and go through our mebership list, dividing up names for calls. We’ll report back in a month. No conversation with Marc and Sarah this week, Marc’s dislocated his shoulder. Stop and have a word with Stephen in the bcak yard before leaving. 

Out on the street, there's Marty.  He asks what book we're on. Genesis, I tell him. Ah, the beginning, he says. My father used to have  a question, why if this is the first book, does the first word start with a bet, Bereshit, and not an aleph? Why? I ask. Don't know, can't remember, he says. Tells me how his father always had him write little essays. How he'd copy them from other books and his father never knew. Tell you the truth, he says,  my brother did the same thing to get into NYU law school. No one ever knew... 
Stay cool, Marty, I say. Enjoy the afternoon, Reverend, he says. 

It’s been a good Sunday morning. Hot, but good. 

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