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The Mystery of Growth

I have studied genetics for a long time and I still don’t know how the DNA in a seed directs the entire plant’s growth and development. Neither can I tell you how the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist change us. In the parable of the seed, the mystery of its growth and the waiting for the harvest are all good metaphors for the life of the baptized. We grow in faith, sometimes imperceptibly until something happens that exposes a different perspective, a new confidence or awareness of the act of the HOLY within us and among us. It is not possible to predict what Isabel Rose Garver will do or become. Today she is an adopted beloved daughter of God.  We baptize infants, I think appropriately because it is a sign of covenant and grace. We exercise faith. We accept the promise of God. We mark as Christ’s own forever this child well before she can do anything we could claim meritorious; we accept her as one of us without any demonstration of her gifts or preferences political and otherwise.

Isabel, let me tell you some stories about how this branch of the family of God live out our baptism.

We continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers

And we start young. Last week Christina received her certificate of completion for the study guide, coming to communion, and made her first communion. Today when your parents bring you to the altar rail, I’ll give you a small/tiny piece of the host, signifying that baptism confers full membership in the Church. I hope your earliest memories are that you were welcome at the communion rail, sharing in the family sacramental meal. When you are older and can choose confirmation you will renew your commitment to the promises made for you today.

In a few years you will have the choice of being one of the JDOKs.  The chapter has grown steadily over the past five years. The girls meet often actively engaging in service projects such as the scrapbooks made for some of our shut-ins. The pictures invited the recipient to see and remember that they have a community here and are not forgotten. 

We persevere in resisting evil and whenever we sin, we repent and return to the Lord.

Sin may not be a popular topic for our time, but just because we don’t talk about it does not mean it is not real. Sin separates us from God and one another. Words can hurt and harm others. Actions can hurt and harm. Lack of action can hurt and harm. When you are older I hope you have an opportunity to be in a group like our Monday night adult seekers because we read and discussed several books about sin, forgiveness and reconciliation.  My two favorites were Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower and Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness. Both helped me remember that we can always return to the Lord because God’s loving nature is generously forgiving.

I want to give you a prayer I found in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer that helps me. “Loving and all-seeing God, forgive us where we have failed to support one another and to be what we claim to be. Forgive us where we have failed to serve you; and where our thoughts and actions have been contrary to yours we ask your pardon.” (p479).

We proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

The Good News is rich and varied a virtual fugue of overlapping melodies that draw us. One aspect of good news is the unity we share in Christ, and that means we can be of different political parties, on different commissions, have different gifts and ministries, different opinions about what is good and right and still be united in community. It is good news that at every funeral or memorial service done here, Christian hope is proclaimed because the incarnate Word rose from the grave making ALL THINGS NEW. We proclaim by example the profound love offered for all on the hard wood of the cross AND through his resurrection we know death cannot have the last word.

We proclaim by example in how we live, how we treat others, how we live in this community. This week a lady came to the Thursday noon service who was baptized here 94 years ago. She reminded me that we first met when I visited her in the hospital in Mercersburg. She said she was surprised to see me and remembered telling me that she did not think women should be priests.  Thursday, she said she had changed her mind and we had a big laugh about it.

We reminisced about the luncheon given for those who rarely if ever could be here for Sunday services, as a chance to reunite with friends of long standing. At the end of the luncheon, he asked to be brought into this sanctuary. We wheeled him up here, turned on the lights, and he just took it all in, as if he could adsorb in every pore of his being the sacred liturgy, the music, the sacraments. His smile said everything that needed to be said.

We seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.

Guided and inspired by the vision of a community meal served to our neighbors who needed help, Susan and Bob Rauth began a fourth Saturday “free lunch”. The first several months very few came. The dedication and persistence needed to seek and serve was evident as the café continued its offering. In time attendance grew and grew and grew. Neighbors began to trust that the meal did not have strings attached, that they did not have to join the church that this was really a sincere effort to help.  One month it became very obvious what this means to the neighborhood. Our leaders were sick and could not prepare the meal and were going to cancel but a woman, not a member here, across the street said no, she would do it. When done in love and with the intent to seek and serve Christ, the mystery of growth takes over. Last month 150 people came here and ate a nutritious meal.

Kelly and Rob Slocum, Bill Alexander, and others encouraged the younger members to get engaged in Micah’s Backpack program for students at a neighboring elementary school. Sharing the ministry with two other congregations, all the children and their families that need food assistance receive it.

Jackie Alexander began the Martha’s Table project to take meals to families in need due to a death in the family or a serious illness or injury. How many have participated in this ministry or been touched by it is very hard to say, and that is as it should be. We do not serve to be recognized but to join in the ongoing work of the Kingdom. The same is true of the Stephen ministers that visit members of the parish for years, walking with them as their years increase, giving comfort and companionship as they relinquish much of the independence and adjust to a new way of living.

Last year for the first time in many years and again this year youth from this parish will join hands with youth from others churches to work for a week in the Appalachia service project. After the trip last year one of our youth shared how helping a family build a porch was transformative. She said they were poor, but they were kind, grateful for the help, and they gave the workers a party of watermelon. It was not the sweet watermelon that changed her: it was the touch of compassion, exercised and shared.

We can’t do everything but we can do something.   

John Chrysostom said: “This is the rule of the most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for their neighbors.”

We strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

Isabel you are not the only new member of Saint Johns. You are one of over a hundred of fifty new members. New members have new ideas such as Rebecca Conner’s advocacy for Thistle Farms. This is an excellent example of seeking to correct injustice. Founded by The Rev Becca Stevens, the Magdalene residential community creates safe space for girls and women suffering gender exploitation.  Magdalene residential community offers two years of housing, food, medical and dental services, therapy, education and job training. Thistle Farms is the social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene. They make beauty and body products by hand from the weed we call thistle.

Saint John’s Shelter is a local effort to provide safety, housing, support to families on a temporary basis and is strongly supported by members of this parish. Mayfest for the past decade has raised and given over $100,000 for the Community Free Clinic, San Mar Home for Girls, and the Family Center along with other agencies.

There IS a reason this beautiful building sits on top of this hill in Hagerstown.

Isabel I have tried to tell you how we your brothers and sisters in Christ are living our baptism…our lives of faith…sharing in community…united in Christ. Christianity is a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.

 So come to the water of baptism with Isabell and renew your own baptismal promises. 



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