Monday, August 3, 2015

Dio era li. Dio e la.

Sermon notes for the Baptism of Bruce Joseph Barbree (Proper 13B, 8/2/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

St. David’s is a baptizing church! Today we will baptize another, Bruce Joseph, welcoming him into the household of God. And you all should know by now that I love a baptism. Today I am reminded of a story of another Joseph, a boy in the church of my childhood who was baptized at age five.

"Can you see the cross? …on my forehead?" Joseph, age five, would ask Fr. John. Every week, week after week, Joseph would go to Fr. John, who had baptized him. "Can you see the cross?...on my forehead?” Joseph was talking about the chrismation. This is the ritual at which we mark the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized with the sacred oil of chrism, a special oil blended with perfume, used for consecrating persons unto the Lord. After baptizing with water, pouring it over the head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we take that sacred oil, having been blessed by our bishop during Holy Week, and we chrismate. With oil on our hands, we mark the sign of the cross on the forehead, saying, "Bruce Joseph, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever."

"Yes, I see the cross," Fr. John would always answer. At five years old Joseph was aware of what was happening at his baptism. He was well aware of the oil on his head, able to sniff and smell perfumed chrism, all the way up until bedtime. The next morning, though, he couldn't smell it anymore because his mother made him take a bath. So Joseph kept on asking, “Can you see the cross?...on my forehead?”

"Yes, I see the cross," Fr. John kept telling Joseph. And Joseph would walk away, still wondering about it all. I wonder if Joseph still wonders. I still wonder: Is it true for me? Can you see the cross on my forehead? What does it mean to be "marked as Christ's own, forever"?

"Can I see the water?" Rachel was nine, inquisitive as nine year olds are want to be from time to time. Fr. Rob, "Can I see the water?" I had baptized Rachel a year previously. In my preparation of Rachel and her parents, I spoke about the waters of baptism and how the water would be poured over Rachel to wash away the stain of original sin. “Like my mom makes me do after I play in the mud?” Rachel asked. “Well, sort of I replied. The bath that your mom makes you take and the baptism you will have both wash you clean. But I am guessing that your mom will make you take a bath again, maybe even today.” As mom was shaking her head, I continued, “You will have to take another bath because you use up the water for your bath. The waters that I’ll use for baptism, they stick around forever.”

“Can I see the water?” Rachel would aske. I guess my metaphor was a little tricky because every Sunday Rachel wanted to see the water. Luckily we used to keep baptismal font full of water all the time – a sign of our common baptism in the worshipping community.

Then one Sunday she asked again. “Well….uh….um,” I stuttered on the first Sunday there was no water in the font. “Well Rachel, the font needed repairs so we had drain it.”

She gasped a little and replied, “Does that mean that I have to be baptized again?”

“Oh, no.” I answered. “The water, well, it was just a sign, a way to demonstrate God’s love, God’s welcoming…it’s that love that is forever.”

“Oh, well, why didn’t you just say that in the first place,” Rachel said, with obvious relief. 

I wonder: Do we still see the water? Even if we can’t still the waters of our baptism, do we still believe that the water is there…being poured over us, each and every day. Do we live as though we have brought into the family of God?

"Hai visto la mia candela battesimale?" Nadia was a ninety year old that day when I went to visit her in the little village of Monte Nerodomo – the dome of the black mountain. Nadia was my grandfather’s cousin.

"Have you seen my baptismal candle? I light it every year on my birthday,” she said as she pulled out little candle. It was just a nub of a candle, not more than an inch left. “Non molte piu volte per illuminare questo” (Not many more times to light this.) We had a cake. She put that little candle in it. She blew it out and we opened our presents. She gave us presents. “What am I to so with more stuff?” she would say. But we gave her a present too, bringing her twenty-something year-old great grandson down from near the Austrian border on the train so she could meet her newly born great-great granddaughter.

That evening I sat with Nadia for a bit. “You are a good boy, Roberto,” she told me. “I am glad you will be a priest.”

“Grazie Donna Nadia,” I replied.

“Do you know why I put my baptism candle in the cake?” she asked. I nodded certain with the certainty of one who was sure. “Yes, yes, I can see that you do,” she continued with a little smile on her face. “It reminds me of my baptism and that I am God’s daughter. But more than that it reminds me that because I am God’s daughter, God will look after me. And it reminds me that God has brought me through it all and that all my family and friends, they were God’s special children as well.”

She went on to share some stories – and I’m a sucker for a story. I put those stories together with other stories that she had told in me in past visits: Sad stories of life in Italy during the Great Depression, during Mussolini’s reign of terror. Tragic stories of her how her aunt and uncle had died, leaving two babies. Hopeful stories of how her parents had taken those two babies in and raised them her brothers. Ironic stories like the night the barn caught fire and scattered the sheep and how she went to look for the sheep and found a lost boy instead, who would later become her husband. Lonely stories of a husband dead now twenty years and friends lost, she being the last of her generation. And Joyful stories of her wedding to that shepherd boy and of the births of her eldest daughter and of her great-great-granddaughter, and of every birth in between. She could recall the story of each and every birth.

The amazing thing was that each story and often several times during the story, she would proclaim, “Dio era li. Dio e la.” (God was there. God is there.) For Nadia, God was in the midst of it all. “God never forced himself,” she once told me, “but I wanted God there. Sometimes God was on the edges, I will admit, and sometimes God was at the fore. Whenever I invited God – and it was most of the time if I can admit that without so much pride – God was always there to celebrate with his daughter and to cry to me as well.”
I wonder, how do our stories end? “Dio era li. Dio e la.” Is God in our story? Do we invite God into our story?

All right, lets baptize Bruce Joseph, but first some advice:

First, remember this date: August 2, 2015. Remember the date of your baptism. To know the date of your baptism is to know a blessed day. This is a blessed day where God has welcomed you into God’s very own story. So, remember this day and remember that God loves you with an everlasting love, despite your limitations, your weaknesses, and your sin. And when the time comes, invite God into your story.

Second, keep wondering if the cross is still there? Question, every day, if you still where the cross of Christ. Ask, "Can you see the cross? …on my forehead?" In just a few moments we will make our baptismal covenant. That is, at the least, a good place to start – or perhaps it’s a good place to finish. Either way, in those five statements we see what it means to be marked as Christ’s own forever.

Third, while you may wonder, please know and understand that the water is always there. The water that is a sign of the love of God is always there. This baptism thing is not just a one-day event, it’s a lifelong thing. This baptism thing is not just today for you will be baptized now into the household of God, as a child of God, with all of these here today as your brothers and sisters. You will be baptized and made Christ’s own forever.

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