Preached at First Church in Sterling, MA
By Rev. Robin Bartlett
on the occasion of Piper Shea Hager's dedication
October 30, 2016
Sermons are better heard than read. Hear this sermon (and musical meditation) here.
READING FROM THE HEBREW BIBLE (Genesis 1: 1-5)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
READING FROM THE GOSPEL (John 1: 1-5)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
MUSICAL MEDITATION “In the Beginning” by Stephen Schwartz,
Sung by Beth Armstrong (my momma), who was there at my beginning).
SERMON “In the Beginning”
Please won’t you pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts together find their way into the heart of God this morning. Amen.
We all have a story of beginning.
A story of birth, and re-birth; a story of creation.
How does yours’ start?
In the beginning the world was new and there was light. I didn’t know the darkness yet. In the beginning, I didn’t know what it felt like to break a bone, or break a heart, or what it feels like when everything breaks.
In the beginning, the forest, the beach, the farm was my playground. I could talk to the animals. My mind was an imaginative adventure. The world opened itself up to me.
In the beginning, I was handed a diploma. I didn’t know what was going to happen yet, but I couldn’t wait.
In the beginning, we were so in love.
In the beginning, the minister said, “I now pronounce you married.”
In the beginning, the doctor said, “It’s a girl.”
We so often want to go back to “When life was simpler,” “When America was great,” “When I was a child…”, “Before I knew what I know now”, “When the kids were babies,” “Before I got this spare tire around the middle, and worry about my taxes and my pension and meaninglessness took over…”
We so often want to return to the beginning. So much of our lives as adults is a yearning for what we did once, what we used to be able to do, or what we wish we could have done. We forget that every moment in our lives is the beginning.
In the beginning, I admitted to someone that I needed help and felt immediately relieved.
In the beginning, the ink was fresh on the divorce papers, and I felt dangerously free.
In the beginning, I was laid off.
In the beginning, I chose to pour the contents of the bottle down the sink and go to a meeting.
In the beginning, I didn’t accept the diagnosis.
In the beginning, I had to figure out how to live without her.
Every moment of our lives is the beginning.
This morning we heard two famous scripture texts about the beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.
What’s notable about these stories is simply that God is there before the beginning. God is the beginning. God creates. God speaks Love into the world in the form of Jesus. The rest is up to us. It’s in our hands.
Of all the gifts we have received
One is most precious and most terrible
The will of each of us is free
It's in our hands
And if one day we hear a voice
If he should speak again, our silent father
All he will tell us is the choice
Is in our hands
Our hands can choose to drop the knife
Our hearts can choose to stop the hating
For every moment of our life
Is the beginning...
(From "In the Beginning", Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Children of Eden)
This moment in our lives is a special kind of beginning for our church, because each moment a child is born is a chance for us to choose to build a world worthy of her promise. Each moment a child is born is a chance for us to restore our world, so green and glad. There is no journey gone too far we cannot stop and change direction. No doom is written in the stars.
Piper Shea Hager was born in August, and her life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, reminding us that the darkness cannot overcome it.
When babies are baptized and dedicated in this church, I ask the parents to write a letter in which they tell their children why they have chosen this ceremony, this faith, this church, for them. I ask them to write their wishes for their children. I do this for all of us to hear, because these parents’ wishes for their children become our responsibility. I am going to read you excerpts from Rachael and Matt’s letters to Piper, which are sacred scripture because they tell the story of her beginning. The rest of her life is in our hands.
From Rachael Hager:
My dear Piper,
I can still hardly believe that you’re finally here. Your dad and I have wanted you for such a long time—long before we had even met one another—and the reality of you is even more amazing than anything we could have imagined….
….My biggest wish for you is that all of these little personality traits you’re developing help you turn into a happy person. When I say “happy person,” I don’t mean the fleeting kind of happiness that comes from doing something you enjoy, like going on vacation or celebrating your birthday. I mean the real, true, lasting kind of happy that stems from being a good person who is comfortable with who she is—the kind of happy you are when you are comfortable in your own skin because you know you’re doing your best. You become a truly happy person when you do your best at a job you find fulfilling, when you surround yourself with good people who create positive vibes around you and support you, when you do healthy things that make you happy, when you take care of yourself and those around you. I want you to be happy because you do your best at a job you care about, because you do your best loving your family, because you do your best to treat everyone and everything around you with respect. That’s where real happiness comes from, baby girl. You don’t have to get everything right. You don’t have to be perfect all the time (even though right now we totally think you are.) You just need to be kind—to your family, friends, colleagues, everyone you meet, the world you live in—and especially yourself. That, my love, will lead to your real happiness. It can be tough to get there sometimes, but that brings me to why we are having you dedicated.
It’s much easier to be kind to yourself and everyone around you if you have good examples of what creates real happiness. You need role models! In addition to me and Daddy and your family, the people here can give you that. For me, that’s what this is about. This church is the first one that made me feel both that I was welcome and that it was okay for me to believe what made sense to me. That’s what I want for you, too. I want you to feel supported by a community that, in addition to modeling kindness, allows you to feel safe in exploring what you believe while also exposing you to the possibilities, because that’s a big part of being truly happy, too—being comfortable knowing what you believe.
We’re so very grateful for you, my beautiful girl. Keep growing, keep exploring, and know that we will keep loving you every step of the way.
From Matt Hager, whose beginning was entrusted to this church as well:
There is something special about knowing this building will watch over you, thinking about the memories of generations hidden in the timbers of its frame. This is the building where I went to preschool, and made friendships I carry to this day. I climbed these stairs, playing hide and seek during coffee hour, and got rug burn on this carpet (keep your mouth off it, please). This building holds the stage where I learned what a community can do when it puts its mind to a common cause. I don’t really want to share all the teenage years with you just yet, but you *may very well find yourself on the roof of the parish hall, plotting to drop snow on your youth group leader’s head. This is where I stood when I was confirmed, and where I went on to mentor others, and taught them to worship with the acts of their hands, and the influence of their words. I put a lot of hard work into this building over the years, manual labor that filled my spirit, made me feel part of something bigger. This building saw me to the adult I am now; but really it wasn't the building that brought me to adulthood.
These people here surrounding you, they brought me to adulthood. There are some different faces, yes, but it is the same spirit running through them. It's the same care, and compassion, and acceptance, and reverence for all that is bigger than us here. I have all the faith, that they will do you just as much justice as it has done me. Your mother and aunts and uncles and grandparents and I all love you very much, but we can't do it all on our own.
But this spirit running through this room, this village, will raise you with us.
What I want for you is to be full - full of the satisfaction of giving selflessly, full of the camaraderie from working side by side, full with the peace derived from your individual relationship with the spirit. May you never empty.
Beloved: every moment in our lives is the beginning. Be kind. Keep exploring. Keep growing. May you never be empty.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.