A kid-focused sermon for a Green, Growing Sunday.
Let us pray.
Lord, you have faithfully tended this vine.
Give us the courage to trust
That you will faithfully tend it still
Through good times and bad.
One of my favourite books as a child
Was The Secret Garden.
It’s the story of poor Mary Lennox,
An unhappy child who loses her parents,
So she moves in with her sad uncle Archibald
And his sick son, Colin.
Uncle Archibald is grieving the loss of his wife, Lily,
Who died giving birth to Colin.
Colin is confined to his room,
Unable to walk,
Neglected and kept secret,
Just like his mother’s garden.
Uncle Archibald is so stricken by his grief,
That he fears to ever love a living thing again,
In case it might die.
Even a garden.
Even his own son.
With the help of a friend called Dickon,
Mary discovers her aunt Lily’s secret garden,
And through their tender care,
The garden revives.
It grows and thrives,
It awakens light and life and joy
Throughout the whole family,
Not just Mary,
But Uncle Archibald and Colin, too.
Colin is so nourished by it,
That he becomes able to walk,
And develop a relationship with his father,
And with his cousin Mary.
I’m not much of a gardener, I’m afraid,
The green thumb seems to have skipped my generation.
But I know that many of you grew up on farms,
And practice gardening yourselves,
So you probably know better than I do
The power of loving the living things that grow
In a garden.
You probably know better than I do
What it means when God tends the vine of His people
And sings a song to His vineyard.
Our readings today speak to the faithfulness of God
In times when it appears as though He is unfaithful.
The vine God has planted is having some struggles, you might say.
It appears to have been neglected,
Just as the secret garden had been neglected.
It wasn’t always like that.
When God brought this vine out of Egypt,
He planted it in good soil.
God took the time
And made the effort to prepare the ground to receive
This precious vine
For which He cared so much.
Under his tender loving care,
The vine grew and flourished.
It became so tall it overshadowed mountains,
It was taller than cedar trees.
Its branches reached from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,
A distance of nearly 100 kilometers
The same as from here to Vegreville.
That’s a big honkin’ tree!
But now it’s experiencing some times of trial.
It’s suffering the ravages of wild animals
It appears to the Psalmist that God has abandoned this vine
That He has heretofore tended so lovingly.
That the hedge of protection around it has been taken away
Leaving it at the mercy of those wild creatures
Who have pillaged its land
And torn at its banches.
It appears to be dead.
To have no spark of life left.
It’s common to view such trials as the Psalmist does.
We often speak of lands as being Godforsaken,
Literally, forsaken by the God who created them,
As though such a thing were possible.
It’s common to wonder, as he does,
If we have lost God’s love in some way.
If we have been wrong to trust Him.
And yet, when we look at the Creation He made
And has lovingly tended
For generation upon generation,
We see that what appears to be lost
May yet be found.
What appears to have been neglected
May only be at rest
What even appears to have been destroyed
May be undergoing renewal.
We rightly fear wildfires here, in Alberta,
But scientists tell us that, when not threatening human life,
Fires are good for the earth.
They renew the soil,
They revitalize the watershed.
There are some forests in the world where the trees have adapted
Only to produce seeds
Following a major fire event.
This is not to say that fires don’t destroy,
Of course they do.
It is not to say that we aren’t right to fear we might be caught up in that destruction.
When we say that God is faithful
To the vine he has planted
That does not mean that times of trial will not come,
That they will not be painful,
That we should just get over that pain
Because renewal is coming.
For plants as well as any human animal.
And we rightly lament the losses we bear.
But it does mean that God has not abandoned us.
It does mean
That the same God who was faithful
And those whom time would fail me to tell,
Like the author of Hebrews
Of Gideon and Barack and Samson and Jephthah
And David and Samuel and all the prophets
That same God who tenderly planted the vine
That nourishes the whole earth,
That stretches from the Sea to the River,
That same God who is our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who met his disciples on a mountaintop
And promised to be with us to the end of the age.
That same God the Holy Spirit
Who has never stopped creating
Who renews the face of the earth
That same God
Who has come this far with us
Will never fail us yet.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
Who testify to God’s great faithfulness
Through the very hardest of times
We shall not fear
That we have been forgotten.
God watches each and every sparrow fall.
He laments the loss of even a single bloom.
But He does not allow His grief
To shut Himself away,
Like Uncle Archibald did.
He does not turn His face away from us,
No matter how hard things seem.
As Dickon says,
“Some of the strongest roses will fair thrive on being neglected
If the soil is rich enough.”
And so do not despair.
For the times are hard indeed,
And we cry out to the God of hosts
To look down from heaven;
Behold and tend this vine;
Preserve what your right hand has planted.
But we are planted in rich soil.
And we trust that He will hear us
For God loves the vine He has planted
To which He has been faithful
Generation upon generation
And will give every living thing
A little chance to grow.
Let us pray.
At your baptism you demonstrated there was nowhere you would not go
To show your faithfulness to us.
Grant that all who have been baptized in your name
May remain faithful to you.
Over the holidays I went to see the movie Aquaman.
It is a supremely dumb film,
But it’s a lot of fun,
So if you go in with the right expectations,
It’ll be a good time.
As you might expect,
It’s a movie about the sea,
And the creatures that live therein.
Early on, a teacher tells Aquaman’s grade school class
That we have better maps of the surface of Mars
Than we do of the ocean floor.
That’s true, by the way, NASA confirms it,
And the main characters in the movie are kingdoms and tribes of beings
Who live undetected by people like us,
Whom they call surface-dwellers.
The ocean is an unknown place,
Filled with hidden dangers,
Perhaps not the fish monsters put forward by blockbuster movies,
But dangers all the same.
In Jesus’s time,
The ocean was thought to be a symbol of chaos,
And the abode of evil spirits.
I mentioned last summer that in the Enuma Elish,
A Babylonian creation story,
Creation itself is conquest of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos
And the sea,
And the Psalmist uses these images
As he sings of God’s victory over the great sea creature Leviathan.
The depths of the ocean are unknown,
And frightening to us even now,
How much more so to our ancestors
Who had told and retold these ancient stories
Of the monsters hiding in the deep?
And so today we celebrate the feast
Of the Baptism of Our Lord.
The Baptism of Our Lord is something of a surprising feast.
The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four gospels,
Even those gospels that do not tell the story of his birth.
It’s Jesus’s first public act as an adult.
It’s remarkable that these gospels,
Who so rarely agree on the order in which events
In Jesus’s life happen,
Sometimes even where or how they happened
Agree on this.
And yet it makes no sense theologically.
Because the baptism that John was offering
Was for the remission of sin.
The book of Acts makes clear the distinction between Christian baptism
Commanded by Jesus
After his resurrection
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
And the baptism of John,
Which is a ritual washing away of sin.
But the Scriptures are also clear
Did not sin.
Jesus did not need his sins to be washed away in baptism
As we do,
Because he was without sin.
So why was he baptized?
There are many reasons, I think,
But one of them, surely, was because of water.
Jesus begins his ministry
By being submerged in water.
He has entered the home of the evil spirits.
He has completed God’s victory over Leviathan,
By entering Leviathan’s abode.
Scott Sharman, a priest in this diocese,
Posted an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Jesus’s baptism this week.
“See how the monsters hiding in the deep
Scramble to flee as his body touches the water,”
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus
Is a continuation of the sign of the Incarnation
Began at Christmas:
That there is nowhere God will not go
For the love of his Creation.
All those places of our lives
That we keep hidden,
The places where evil loves to dwell,
The secret corners of our mind that torment us
With worry, fear, anger, despair
Those places are not closed off to God,
And God will conquer them too,
For our sake.
No matter what monsters of the deep
Threaten our peace of mind,
God is there.
No matter what unknown futures
Send us into spasms of worry,
God is there.
No matter how often we feel crushed by the pressure of the waters around us,
God is there.
We who are baptized
Can journey through the deepest waters
Because our God went there first.
And so today we come to baptize Malik.
In so doing,
His parents and godparents,
And all of us, really,
Will make some pretty big promises.
Promises that sometimes feel too overwhelming to keep.
At our rehearsal,
I mentioned to the family that when we promise to
“Respect the dignity of every human being,”
It really does mean EVERY human being,
Not just those who respect our dignity in return.
That’s a hard promise.
We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,
Which means we can’t prioritize our own wealth or safety
Over that of our neighbours.
That’s a hard promise.
We make these promises
Not because we are confident in our own ability to keep them,
All the days of our lives,
But because we are confident
That the Lord who is faithful
Who came among us as one of us
Because he did not choose to be God without us
Who went down unto the abode of evil and chaos itself
To show us the safe way through
Will not let the rivers overwhelm us.
Whatever waters are rising in your life,
Know that the God who has stretched to fill the deepest depths,
Beyond what we even still know,
Thousands of years later,
Will never forsake you or abandon you.
We who have been sealed in baptism
And marked as Christ’s own forever
Can be confident
That even in the deepest waters
We will fear no evil
For God is with us.