A Sermon for Jesse Lynes
for celebration Sunday on the occasion of his baptism
by the Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at the First Church in Sterling, MA
June 16, 2019
You were born to one of my dearest friends on my 43rd birthday. In addition, we share the same “godfather.” I know we have only met twice. We have been letting your mom get to know you before we do. But, you’ll soon realize you’re stuck with me and all of us. We loved you before you were born, just like God did.
On your baptism day, we do what must be a strange and confusing ritual to your baby eyes and senses, though I’m sure everything that happens in your world right now is strange and confusing:
We poured sacred waters on your head to remind you that you are connected to All That Is, and we touched you with a rose that you might live your life as a beautiful unfolding.
Speaking of roses, ever since I found out your name, every time I hear it, I break out into the Christmas carol “Lo How a rose e’er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung. Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung.” (You’ll notice since you’re going to hang out with me a lot that I break into song all the time because I believe my life to be a musical.)
Your name, Jesse, came to your mother in a dream. She thought it was strange to dream a name, but it makes sense to me since we all know that you were your mother’s best dream. We also know now that you were a part of God’s dream.
Did you know that Jesse was the father of a very famous King named David, who is important to both Jews and Christians? Of course you didn’t know, you’re a baby. Well, Jesus is said to be a part of Jesse’s family, too.
I love that your name is already God’s family name. I love that everyone you’ll ever meet is a part of that same family. A stranger is just a piece of us we do not yet know. The water we blessed you with is just an outward sign of that inward grace.
Jesse, your name and your baptism is simply our way of telling you who you are:
a precious, dreamt for, worthy and beloved part of God’s family you were welcome in all along.
Jesse, I want you to know that you were not born just to watch TV, eat, and consume products sold to you by people peddling fear.
The task of your living is growing wise.
The reading we heard this morning says two things that I want you to know about Wisdom:
we grow wise through joy, and
we don’t grow wise alone.
Our book says that God created wisdom before God created anything else.
Wisdom is like your Mama Megan. Wisdom is a Woman who plays with God.
Mama Wisdom has been there since the very beginning beside God, like a master worker. Mama Wisdom has been dancing in the ocean. Mama Wisdom has been lying in the grass staring up at the sky. Mama Wisdom has held a cedar waxwing in her hand. Mama Wisdom leads children in parachute games on the common. Mama Wisdom has been counting the stars before falling asleep at night, just like you will be on Star Island this summer as you are rocked to sleep on a rocking chair.
Mama wisdom delights in the beauty of creation, just as we are meant to. Louise Glick says, “we see the world once, in childhood.” She’s right. You get to see a world we don’t see, and so you are already wise.
The common English Bible translates verse 30 this way: “I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, frolicking with this inhabited earth and delighting in the human race.”
Jesse, as you grow please remember that having fun is an expression of wisdom. Smile before God.
Delighting in your play; learning to laugh at what’s sublime and ridiculous…this is all part of becoming wise.
This group of people that surround you now…they will go way out of their way to have fun and make you laugh.
Once they created a bobblehead doll of me, kept it a secret, and flew it all over the world to take pictures of bobble headed me in strange and wonderful places like a crocodile’s mouth and the Dominican Republic. I broke it and Jon drilled it back together. These folks fix what is broken with joy.
They have bouncy houses, face painters, and karaoke dj’s, throw galas and Caribbean dinners and friendship Sundays, and they just laugh a lot.
Please don’t ever think that fun and laughter is not spiritual or religious.
Life is not all joy, dear Jesse. Life has just as much sorrow. Human pain is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes spiritual and sometimes existential.
Sometimes its all of those things at once. We get sick. People and institutions fail us. Things break. We struggle with meaninglessness. Someone we love dies.
Sometimes we get hard and mean because we are in pain.
The world can be as brutal as it is beautiful; as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
That’s why we go to places like this. We wouldn’t survive were it not for joy, beauty, each other, and creation itself.
And we come because we can’t get wise on our own.
The vision of Mama Wisdom in Proverbs suggests that God does not create alone. No one ever does. Your mama did not create you alone, and she will not raise you alone.
And so your baptism, Jesse, was not just a welcome into the whole world’s family, but into the family of this specific congregation, in this wonderful small town full of character and characters.
Today, on this most auspicious of all days, I want to tell you what all of us have helped God to create before you arrived; to prepare a place for you.
First, it’s important to know that this place and this collection of people didn’t start with the people in this room, and it won’t end with us either. That’s how life is…we are always the dream of the people who came before us.
This congregation has been becoming wise together in this spot since 1742. It recreated itself in 1949, when all three of the Protestant churches in Sterling decided they were better together than they were apart. They were becoming more wise: they knew they were children of the same God. They also knew that together they could do hard things: like disagree, and love one another all at the same time.
Just five years ago, I came here after the very very long and beautiful ministry of a man named Pastor Jonathan. I was really lucky to be in a place where it is OK to be exactly who you are, because these people accepted me and loved me right from the start even though I was a whackadoo liberal and some of the congregation really wasn’t.
This group of people is not always like-minded, but they are like-hearted.
And still, together, we expanded our welcome enough that your mama felt like she could have a place here, too.
One day in 2017 we said out loud together FINALLY and with one voice that “love is love is love is love.” Without that declaration and affirmation, we might not have gotten to know and love you. I shudder at the thought, dear Jesse. Co-creation with God creates expansive welcome. We are getting more wise.
Jesse, I know sometimes we can only learn by seeing, so I want to show you what co-creation with like-hearted people looks like. I’m going to ask the congregation to rise in body or in spirit when I ask them to.
Please rise if you are on the
Ministry Leadership Teams
Please rise if you are the
Please rise if you are on the staff, or are one of the pastors at this church
Please rise if you sing in the choir
Rise if you taught or assisted in Sunday School
Helped out, cared for kids in kinderwatch
Provided childcare for events
worked with our high school youth
Stand if you were a student in a Sunday School class
homework and hang out.
Please rise if you are on the Called to Care team
Eat, Pray, Learn team
Saturday meals team
La Romana Mission Team
Treasures of the Community auction team
Green transformation team
Stand if you
volunteered for IHN
for Habitat critical home repair
Walked in the Palm Sunday promenade
Served at a community lunch
Performed in a SCT performance
Serve on the Village Green Preschool board
Helped make pies for Thanksgiving
Volunteered at Worcester fellowship
Helped with the Holly Berry brunch
Caroled on the common
Helped out with Eat Pray Learn or presented there
Came to Eat Pray Learn
Led the book group, participated in book group
Planned the co-ed adult retreat or women’s retreat
Went on retreat
Did yoga with Lindsay
Participated in aging gracefully
went to pub theology
Rise if you hosted a coffee hour
If you prayed for people on the prayer list or on Facebook
Participated in meal givers
Helped bake for a collation
Brought flowers to shut ins
Made a prayer shawl
Stand if you are a head usher or if you ushered this year
Offered your musical gifts in worship
lay read in worship
assisted with communion
Delivered a testimonial
Had an animal or a backpack blessed
Served on the welcome team
Counted the offering
Provided flowers for the chancel table
Rise if you are here for the first time.
Now rise if you have been here your whole life.
Rise if you attended worship at least once this year. Now stay standing.
Look around this room, Jesse. That’s what I mean by co-creation with God.
There is a translation of a poem by Sufi mystic Rumi that says:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I pray you become wise. I pray you co-create something beautiful with other people and God.
I pray you learn to make good coffee, good friends, and a good and kind community.
I do not require you to pray in a certain way. There are so many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
But I do pray that you find a collection of faith-filled, grace oriented people who will Love you; who will co-create with you in the spirit of Jesus, which simply means Love.
Let the beauty you love be what you do.
You are a part of the beauty God has dreamed for the world.
Delight in it, as we delight in you.
I love you, God loves you,
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org