Jesus: Cooing; Colicky; Christ

May 4, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

3rd Sunday of Easter – RCL Year A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Today, I shared the pulpit with Kathy Smith, Wife & Mother,English Teacher, Youth Leader, and so much more, as you will surely see…

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

During the Easter season, as you may have noticed, the Old Testament reading is replaced by a reading from The Acts of the Apostles. This book of the New Testament is actually the second volume of the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ life – his birth, his teachings, his death and resurrection. This second volume tells us just what the title suggests – it shares the ACTS, or actions, of the Apostles – those things they did in response to the experience of the resurrected Christ.

In today’s reading from Acts we see Peter and the other apostles declaring to those they encounter that this man who was crucified, Jesus, is Lord and Messiah. When the people hear this, it says “they were cut to the heart.” The New American Standard Version says “they were pierced to the heart.”

We hear similar words from the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Even though they do not yet recognize Jesus, when they reflected on their time with him, they said “were our hearts not burning within us when he spoke.” There is this power and conviction they felt without fully knowing why or how. Have you ever had that feeling – the feeling that penetrates you to your core? When it happens, it stops you in your tracks, right.

So here were these people, hearing this message of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. They were convicted by it and by the power of the resurrection! It struck them to their very core, so they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What should we do?” Peter’s response is a familiar phrase. We heard it from John the Baptist and from Jesus himself, “Repent [that is, to turn toward God] and be baptized.” Yet now, the baptism was to be done in the name of Jesus Christ. Through this baptism, their sins would be forgiven.

And they were assured that this promise was not only for them, but for their children and those far away… for EVERYONE God calls. It is a wide circle, and all are welcome in it.

Today’s lesson ended with an affirmation that about three thousand persons were baptized that day, which is amazing! But, in my opinion the reading stopped short. The next verse, tells us that those baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) By excluding this text from the reading, you risk the possibility that hearers will think that Baptism is the end. But, just the opposite is true. It doesn’t END with baptism – it is only the beginning.

This is still true today! Our baptism is just the beginning. What follows is the act of committing ourselves to the teachings of Jesus, the fellowship of community and the sharing in the remembrance of God’s love for us and our thanksgiving for that through the Eucharistic feast.

The young people of Christ Church’s Rite-13 group know this. They have shown this type of learning over the past couple of years. Today we will pause and take note of that learning. We will celebrate their journey – first by renewing our own baptismal vows, and affirming that we will continue to support them on their faith journey and their journey toward adulthood.

Kathy Smith who is one of the leaders of the Rite 13 group, along with three other leaders, has watched these youngsters grow and mature, and I invite her now to share her own reflections about this journey on this very special day.

Kathy Smith

On behalf of the Rite13 leaders, my husband Steve and Pamela and Ray Russo, I am honored to be here today reflecting on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: our youth. This past Spring Break, Steve and I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit Italy. As we toured art museums, craned our heads to see the domes of churches, looked at statues and frescoes and tapestries, we were overwhelmed with iconic images of the Virgin Mary cradling the infant Jesus. There was about a 20-1 ratio of baby Jesus to grown-up Jesus images and Steve and I joked that the Baby Jesus was a big deal back in the renaissance.

maxresdefaultIt reminded me of an irreverent scene from the Will Farrell movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in which Ricky Bobby leads his family in the grace and prays directly to the Dear Baby Jesus. “Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent,” he prays. When he supplicates the divine to use his “Baby Jesus Powers” to help fix his father-in-law’s injured leg, his wife interrupts with, “You know Jesus grew up.”

MaryHoldingBabyJesus-1I have to say, however, that I sort of got Ricky Bobby’s obsession after looking at all that art. I found myself drawn to the images of Mary with her beatific smile, of the baby Jesus with his serene and deeply contented expression. There is something of the divine in the loving and safe embrace of a mother; something deeply stirring about a child cooing in your lap.

As a young mother, those moments were fleeting moments of grace. When my children were little, I would often wonder if Mary ever struggled with a colicky Jesus; if she had to endure the charming period in which Jesus learned how to say NO! to every question asked. Did she or Joseph have to listen to terrible knock-knock jokes on the way to the market and summon up convincing laughter so Jesus’ feelings wouldn’t be hurt? We aren’t told in our gospels. Jesus is born, and when next we encounter him, it is as he begins to become a young man and he goes to the temple without being clear to his mother where he is going. Mary is mad with worry when he doesn’t return. Together she and Joseph frantically search for him, and when they find him, he is all teenager: “Mom, duh, of course I would be at the temple – What are you freaking out about?” (I may be paraphrasing….)

As we celebrate our Rite 13 Liturgy today, that very story is invoked to demonstrate the truth all of us face as parents, as family, as the village who helps to raise our youth in our church: that there comes a point when our babies are no longer content to sit in our laps. That they grow up, and beyond childhood.

Twice I have had sons grow up and twice they have left our home. I have found myself utterly bereft with an overwhelming grief I was unprepared to face. Neither of them was leaving under tragic circumstance; they weren’t even venturing out of our time zone. It struck me forcibly this past summer that parenting is like a rigged carnival game. God sends you a child to love, and while that love is but a pale reflection of God’s love for us, it is so overwhelming it takes your breath away at times. And in the end, if you do your job right, they will walk confidently out of your home, without a backwards glance. It is a terrible, terrible job…if (and when) I forget that the job is one of stewardship, not of ownership. God has placed these wonderful young people into our lives, into our parish, into our hearts – not to keep, but to raise.

The goal parenting, Bill Cosby once said, is to prepare children so that when the moment comes when they hit life’s first big wall, they will get back up. I would argue that this is the role of the church family. When I hit the wall as a young woman, I was able to head to the church because my Youth leaders and my church family had shown me in thought, word, and deed that church is safe, that the love of Christ is present here and it can heal and it can comfort and it can strengthen. It changed my life, and that is a gift of grace that I do not take for granted; I know many who have been wounded by the church, who cannot find their way past the scar tissue left behind from exclusion or shame or worse.

Finding the Savior in the Temple; William Holman Hunt 1859

Finding the Savior in the Temple; William Holman Hunt 1859

When Jesus turns toward the temple as a young man, he models for all of us the intention of the Father: that we are called to be of love and service to all the world, not just to our families. Now is the time for these young men and women to begin to learn and grown into their heritage. J Phillip Newell talks about sharing the treasure of the Christian household, the treasure of our Christ. As we bless these young people and their families today, as we commit as a congregation to stand behind them, we commit to sharing the treasure of our household, the treasure of the Christ, the teachings of our Jesus, with them. It is a sacred task for all of us gathered here together.

Teenagers often get a bad rap in our society. When I tell people I am a high school teacher, they invariably respond with something along the lines of “Bless Your Heart,” accompanied by a pitying smile. But in the two years that the four of us leaders have been blessed to work with these children, we have seen that love and service come naturally to them. Their default response is to love and serve others…and when pressed, they will even apply this to their siblings.

994688_10201903131132657_1829339823_nThese young people gathered before you have collected food for shelters, made and delivered sandwiches to feed the homeless, raised money and volunteered time for the students in Haiti, made Easter baskets for children in shelters; they have volunteered to acolyte and work in the nursery and serve at coffee hour and work with the younger members of the parish at Bible Camp and helped the J2A pilgrims raise money. They are in the 7th and 8th grade, and they know what Jesus was all about. We read about the life of Jesus and learn that he grew up, he left home, he went to the wilderness. His father, the parent of us all, the voice of God, called to the son, and the son followed.

Today Bronwyn, Patti, Addie, Zoe, Demi, Mary Grace, Morgan, Marisa, Andrew, Dominic and Roni are choosing to follow that same call. When you’re asked if you, as the community of God, will guide, guard and sustain them as they grow into the full stature of God, I urge you to truly consider the vow we make together: we will with God’s help. It is the vow we made at their baptism; it is the vow we make today. We will repeat it at their confirmation and again at their weddings. It is together that we will do the utterly unimaginable, and the completely ordinary that Mary and Joseph and generations have done before: we will let them grow.


Rite 13 – Christ Church, Class of 2014 Pointing toward Adulthood




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