The God of creation, who knows you by name, is with you and loves you. Amen.
First of all, I want to welcome once again the family and friends of Anika, Mike, Orla and Emmett Byrley who are with us this morning for Emmett’s baptism. That fact that you have come here from far away to celebrate Emmett’s baptism; along with the fact that others who are still far away, like Emmet’s grandfather George in Indonesia, hold us in prayer this morning; give us one of the best ways of understanding what happened when Emmett was washed in the waters of baptism at the beginning of worship – he was made a member of a living body that spans time and space and is the unending and eternal family of God.
I wonder if I could impose on the Byrleys for just a bit here and borrow Emmett for a few minutes. I want to take a walk with him down the center aisle so that everyone can see this new family member, and as I do that, I want you to reflect silently on the one thing you hope for most as Emmett’s life unfolds. Once you’ve got that hope firmly in mind, if you’d like, raise a hand and I’ll invite you to share it with the assembly.
Pastor Erik and Emmett Byrley walk through the midst of the assembly, which is invited to share their hopes for the life that lies before him.
Thank you for sharing your blessings with Emmett, which is one of the central functions of our life together as a community in worship. The psalmist sings, “bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.” (Ps 103:1) But Jesus says, “inasmuch as you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me.” (Mt. 25:40) So, we know that we bless the holy name of God when we bless those whom God loves, which is all of us, even those the world counts as the least among us – but whom God loves as fiercely as any mother or father has ever loved any child.
I want to imagine with you the future that lies before Emmett, but it feels a little awkward to make these kinds of predictions about his life when he is still so young. Some lives are like oak trees that seem to grow taller and stronger every year, but other lives are like tulips that rise from the earth and fall again each winter – always beautiful, even in their fragility. We don’t know what kind of life lies in front of Emmett, and I don’t want it to seem like we’re setting it for him, so how about we give him another name, just for the sake of abstraction. Let’s call him Lazarus.
Lazarus, I think you’ll agree, is a beautiful child. He has loving parents and a big sister who is eager to show him the ropes. They have promised to bring him to church so that we can all be a part of giving him the love and support that he needs in order to gain his first glimpse of the love and support that come from God as his birthright. We will all work together to make sure that little Lazarus learns his bible, learns the creeds and the Ten Commandments, which are all ways of learning who God is and how God hopes we will share the world God has made with each other.
Somewhere along the line, Lazarus is going to notice the differences between himself and others, between his family and other families. Perhaps he will hear the sounds of other languages spoken outside his window here in Logan Square. Perhaps he will travel with his family to visit grandparents outside the United States, and will see how other children live. Perhaps he will be a particularly gifted learner in the classroom, and will feel the envy of other children. Maybe he will find learning in the classroom more difficult than other children, and will experience the mockery of other children.
Somewhere along the line, Lazarus is going to face life’s hardships. Maybe he will develop an illness or experience an injury that makes it hard to move, or to work, or to organize his life. Maybe he will learn a trade that gets shifted to another part of the world, and will find himself unemployed without a skill to earn a living by.
It may be that, at some point, Lazarus will find himself laying by the front door of someone like you or me, maybe sitting outside our church on a bench on a Tuesday or Thursday morning, waiting for the pantry to open, or for the 12-step meeting to begin.
Remember the blessings you shared with Lazarus as he came down the aisle just a few minutes ago? Remember those scriptures we placed in his hands as a young child, filled with stories about how God wants us to share the world God has made with each other? What do you want for Lazarus now, now that he is waiting on the bench for the doors to open? This isn’t a rhetorical question. If you have ever walked the streets of our city, if you have ever stopped at the bottom of the highway off ramp, you have seen Lazarus. He looks very different now than he did on the day of his baptism, when he was just a baby.
Take a moment to reflect silently on the one thing you hope for most as Lazarus sits on the bench outside our sanctuary, waiting for the panty, for the support group, for a family. Once you’ve got that hope firmly in mind, if you’d like, raise a hand and I’ll invite you to share it with the assembly.
The assembly is given time to offer their hopes for Lazarus at the gate.
You saw during the Children’s Sermon the poster of the tree they made during Sunday School. It reminds me of that old Shel Silverstein book, “The Giving Tree.” Each week the children are adding a leaf to the tree representing the blessings that come to us and through us because of St. Luke’s. It’s our way of including them in the stewardship campaign that starts today, by helping them to understand the different ways that our congregation gives life to the world. You remember today’s leaf, the first leaf, was “family” or “community.”
One member of Emmett’s family, his grandfather George, sent me a note since he is in Indonesia and can’t be here today. He wrote,
While I will not be there in person for the baptism of my grandson, Emmett, I will be praying that his baptism will show the work of the Spirit is alive in St. Luke’s. May God be with you today as you celebrate your stewardship Sunday. Your parishioners are not giving as an obligation of church membership, but as a gift of thanksgiving for the fact that Christ gave his life, so that we could have eternal life… I pray that the Holy Spirit will also rest on every member of St. Luke’s today, as well as on Emmett.
The first leaf on the giving tree is the gift of family, of community that spans the globe. It’s hard to know what that is worth, until you don’t have it. Then you know that it is worth everything.
Lazarus, laying at the gates of the rich man, had somehow been lost to the family that birthed him. The story Jesus tells doesn’t explain why they aren’t there to care for him. We don’t know where his extended family is, or why there isn’t a better social security net in place to catch him. We just know that the rich man doesn’t regard Lazarus as any of his concern. To drive the point home, Jesus says that as the rich man suffers in the afterlife he continues to call for Lazarus to act as his servant – requesti
ng that Lazarus bring water to cool his tongue, or that he be sent to the rich man’s family to warn them of the consequences of their actions.
Here is the final irony. Even in hell, the rich man is more concerned with the welfare of his family than he is with repairing the chasm in his relationship to Lazarus. Father Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, the symbolic forefather of every Israelite, the father of both Lazarus and the rich man, is the sign Jesus gives in this story that these two men were always, already brothers. They were family, the one inside the door and the one outside.
Every Lazarus is someone else’s Emmett.
As we begin our fall stewardship campaign, I am going to challenge you to not get bogged down in whatever feelings come up when we begin to talk about money:
- For some of you it may evoke the same feelings you have when Chicago Public Radio goes into its semiannual pledge drive, “when will you get back to the regular programming!” If that’s you, try and remember that thinking about and learning to share our wealth is the regular programming, and is core to Jesus’ teaching.
- For some of you it may evoke feelings of entitlement, “I work hard for my money, and it’s mine to do with as I please!” If that’s you, try and remember the sight of Emmett being baptized this morning, tiny and dependent, the way you once were. None of us makes it in this life on our own. We rely on others, on our families, to help us. There are members of your family, family members you don’t even know yet, who are relying on you.
- For some of you it may evoke feelings of fear, “I have nothing left to give!” If that is you, take an honest account of your life, count your blessings. In all likelihood you do have something you could give, because we all do.
In the weeks ahead we will discuss at greater length why it is important to make the decision and practice the discipline of regular giving. For now though, I would just invite you to notice the feelings that come up for you when we begin talking about money in church, to remember that Jesus often spoke about wealth as he preached, to recall that we are part of a family together and that financial matters are family matters, and to count your blessings.
And I know that you are masters of blessing, because I heard the blessings you offered to Emmett on this, his day of baptism. I heard the hopes you have for Lazarus as he lays at the gate. I trust that the seeds of blessing God has planted in your hearts will grow into trees of thanks-and-giving whose leaves will be for the healing of the world. (Rev. 22:2)