Dear beloved child of God, newly baptized this day, I am writing you this letter as one of the potential keepsakes for your family to share with you some years hence.
While I know you will probably be far too busy exploring the world at a running pace between now and then, the time will come when you will want to know how it all came to pass and what that particular day, your baptism day was like.
Of course, your first ‘go to’ folks for these answers will be your mom and dad, then possibly your grandparents, your big sister and your cousins. Last but never least, we, your church family here at Knox, will also be only too eager to share with you how God come near to us as we came near to God this morning in our shared participation of the sacrament of your baptism.
As is always the case whenever two or more are gathered, there will be a diversity of experiences and stories to share with you, perhaps as diverse even as the number of people gathered here!
For some here, what will be memorable will be the special musical offerings from our choir and our chimers. For others, it will be the hymns we sang and/ or the words specially chosen by your parents for their faith promises on your behalf. Some of the very same wording comes from when your big sister was baptised here a couple of years ago now by the minister in leadership with Knox then, the Rev. Jay Olson.
Still others here will want to share how each of you helped pour the water into the baptismal font, then how it was for them for the rituals of anointing with oil, and laying on of hands.
For a few, the walk about and the singing of the Hebrew Benediction will call to mind of how some of us spontaneously sang at your brit at your grandparents’ home just a few days after you were born.
It’s also possible the most memorable moments for others will be the information on the inter-faith connections between Shavuot and Pentecost as well as the adapted readings from THE CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED BIBLE chosen especially for this very occasion by our worship team.
Then there will be those who will recall our own family members’ baptisms or perhaps even our own baptisms, for that matter.
Whatever you ask, dear child, there will be lots of different responses to your questions about this memorable day!
This is the nature and the gift of life in a church community-there is a diversity of experience we share in the midst of a common understanding that we are united by God’s Holy Spirit, ever active and ever at work in our life together as faithful followers in the Way of Jesus.
One of the things I will remember about this day for a very long time to come is your mom and dad’s intentional commitment they shared with me about the promises they made to each other on the occasion of their marriage some years ago.
You see, when your parents were married they had it written right into their ketubah, their marriage contract, their promise to each other to honour each other faith paths and traditions.
Living in a postmodern and multi-faith world as we do, that very intentional building of bridges between Judaism and Christianity is a pure gift of grace for them, for you, their children, and for this, your Knox United church family!
All of this brings me to my recent visit with your family over lunch at a nearby restaurant in Dunbar a couple of weeks ago.
In between trying to keep you from running out of the door of the restaurant, we had a very fine conversation about setting the date for your baptism with your mom and dad and re-visiting some of the promises they would be making on your behalf.
Together we decided that Pentecost Sunday would be the perfect high holy holiday for your initiation into membership, not only into this particular United Church but in any Protestant church recognized by the World Council of Churches!
So what’s so special about Pentecost?
The day of Pentecost has as its root, the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a special occasion long ago when our common faith ancestors, the Israelites, travelled to Jerusalem to give thanks to God for the spring harvest.
It’s also a day when Jewish people commemorate God’s giving of the Ten Commandments (or Torah) to Moses on Mount Sinai as he and his wandering people approached the end of their long journey out of Egypt in search of the Promised Land.
When you are older, I am certain that you can also look at what your Dad wrote about how Shavuot and Pentecost are connected recently posted on our Knox website.
For Christians, the day of Pentecost is a special day when we celebrate the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit into our midst. The coming of this Presence was something that Jesus had promised his first followers would happen.
In the gospel according to John, Jesus also referred to this Presence as Advocate or Companion who would always be there for them as they tried to keep building Jesus’ and God’s dream for the world.
Here, today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the same way that we would celebrate a birthday. How do we do that?
We do that by following the tradition of listening again to the story as its been handed down to us found in the second chapter of the book of Luke-Acts.
It’s a reading that describes how the Holy Spirit was sensed to be moving within, among, and between the 120 or so gathered faithful ones in a room somewhere in Jerusalem as the festival of Shavuot was ending. Though those first followers came expecting something to happen, it was a very powerful experience that probably exceeded all of their wildest imaginings.
According to the reading, God’s Holy Spirit came into that space in the form of wind and breath so powerful that it seemed as though tongues of fire danced above each believer’s head.
Not only did the Holy Spirit move through the people gathered in the most awe inspiring way that day, something else amazing happened:
Everyone began to speak all the languages of the world and all at the same time!
Even more amazing than this diversity of languages, was the an experience of universal understanding of what was being said.
At this point in the story, the story teller of Luke-Acts reminds us that one of the key leaders from that time, the apostle Peter, began to tell everyone with ears to listen about how Jesus’ promise to always be with them in a new way was coming to pass that very day.
This idea of God’s Holy Spirit being alive and at work in the gathered community brings me back to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai and to our other story from scripture we heard this morning from the book of Ruth.
I am really glad that your mom asked for this, because I learned something new and that is this: The story of Ruth is traditionally read at Shavuot.
The story of Ruth is one of my personal favourites in the bible because of the relationship between two very different women from different generations whose commitment to one another for their very survival and the survival of coming generations in a time of great uncertainty is as worthy model for faithful living now as it was then.
It’s also a story that speaks to the giving and the receiving of hospitality between Ruth and a new person she meets named Boaz, a man with whom she will eventually be married.
Out of that marriage will come something new and even more amazing- a family from whose lineage comes first Obed, then Jesse, then David, then Jesus.
Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz’s embodiment of the Torah as lived out in relationship, first through Ruth in her commitment to Naomi and her new relationship with Boaz then in the relationship between Jesus and the disciples, and then to the coming of the Holy Spirit in the gathered community at Pentecost, brings us back to the celebration of Pentecost, the foundational day of the birth of the church.
In keeping with the mood of great celebration, the church sanctuary is decorated with banners and hangings, and table covers as symbols of the amazing things that happened that first Pentecost day. To add to the festive mood, people wear their favourite brightly coloured clothes to church that day and then, of course, there is cake to share after church!
This year was no different, really. Other than, I put on my tartan hat and shared with everyone some of the books I have been reading lately about being a faithful United Church community in the middle of a complex world where people easily lose their way or find it hard to relate teachings of the bible and high holy Christian days, such as Pentecost.
One of the stories I shared this morning was my own experience of the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit and people speaking a multitude of languages when I was a young woman. Though it wasn’t language but rather dialect and though it didn’t happen in Jerusalem, it was in the city of my birth, Glasgow Scotland.
It was a very special day for me because it was a day I realized that I belong to something much larger than my own experience of growing up in Canada from infancy.
On my first visit to the place of my birth at around the age of 20 or so, I found myself in a large bustling crowd of people crossing a busy thoroughfare near the train station in central Glasgow.
Surrounded as I was by speakers of broad Glaswegian accents, none of whom knew me nor I them, I was surprised to discover that I felt completely at home.
This was partly due to discovering these people spoke much the way as my own mother did. Perhaps because of that and or the vitality exuded, here in the babble of all those people crossing one of the busiest thoroughfares of that city, I immediately and completely understood snippets of conversation passing in the air.
Not only was I understanding what I heard being said, I also sensed a feeling of welcome and belonging, even though I had grown up far away from that place and am proud and grateful to having been raised in the Canadian context.
All of this brings me back here to our Pentecost Day celebration which included your formal welcome into membership in the United Church of Canada, dear child.
Here, in the sacrament of baptism, our intentional effort to come close to God in the hopes of having God come close to us, something new has been born in all of us also reminds us that we are called to understand, to be understood, to welcome and be welcomed.
Even though your life will take you in many different directions, dear one, I know that the United Church will always be a place you will be invited to understand and be understood, here you will be welcomed and invited to welcome, and here, you, as our newest member here at Knox, will be invited to grow in faith with others.
In response to God’s Holy Spirit moving within, between, and among us on this very special occasion, and for the opportunity to witness to our faith as participants in this particular expression of God’s church in the world, for all this and more, we, the people of Knox United Church say: ‘Alleluia, amen!’
(the Rev.) Liz Bowyer
Some of the contents of this reflection takes their impetus from a resource entitled “In the Name of Love: A Baptism Resource for Congregations”, Toronto: United Church of Canada, 2006, pp. 57-57
ALL GOD’S CRITTERS by Bill Staines Pictures by Kadir Nelson, Copyright 2009, Simon and Schuster, Books for young readers
LOVE YOU FOREVER, WRITTEN BY ROBERT MUNCSH ILLUSTRATED BY SHEILA McGraw, Published by Firefly Books, 1995
The RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown Pictures by Clement Hurd, Copyright 2005 Harper Collins
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss, TM& copyright 1990 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.
LEAP IN FAITH: A CONFIRMATION RESOURCE, EDITED BY LESLEE ALFANO, NOELLE BOWLES, RICK GARLAND, Copyright 2004, United Church of Canada
Postmodern Children’s Ministry, Ministry to Children in the 21st Century, Ivy Beckwith, Copyright 2004, by Youth Specialties.
Other resources undergirding the letter:
CELEBRATE GOD’S PRESENCE, A Book of Services, United Church of Canada, 2002
FROM SHOFAR TO SEDER, YOUR GUIDE to the JEWISH HOLIDAYS, CANTOR MATT AXELROD, Copyright 2014, by JASON ARONSON, Lanham Boulder New York Toronto Plymouth, UK
THE GENERAL’S SON JOURNEY OF AN ISRAELI IN PALESTINE, Miko Peled, Foreword by Alice Walker, copyright 2012, Just World Publishing LLC, Charlottesville, Virginia
WISHFUL THINKING, A Seeker’s ABC, Revised and Expanded, Copyright 1973, 1993 by Frederick Buechner.