A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Rooted and Grounded in Love

Rooted and Grounded in Love

July 25, 2021

come-share-in-god's-joy

Perhaps one of the purest moments of love many of us are ever blessed to experience is the moment we hold a newborn in our arms for the first time. Especially if the newborn is our child or grandchild. It’s an epiphany! It changes us on the inside. We sense that we are in the presence of the miracle of life and instinctively we want to do everything we can to guide and protect this child. 

What a shame that none of us can consciously remember being held this way by a parent or grandparent.  Can you imagine what it would feel like to remember being embraced with such love? To be gazed at with such devotion and joy? Our scripture reading today suggests that God loves us in a way that surpasses anything we can know in this life – even the love that a parent or grandparent has for a child. 

Today in the witness of this community, Jordan, Marlon, Tom, Beau and all of us promised Milo, as this community has previously promised Rose and every child who is baptized here, our unconditional love and support on the path of Christian life. 

The baptism of a child is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the miracle of new life among us. It is a time to affirm that every person is a beloved child of God, whose image, whose goodness, is planted deep within us. 

Baptism is also an invitation to the Christian community to nurture the good that is within a person through all of the twists and turns and the ups and downs of life. As we heard in the Letter to the Ephesians, each of us is being rooted and grounded in love.  It’s a process. As such, for those roots to take hold they must be planted in good soil, watered, and given plenty of sunlight. 

Milo, like many of us, is blessed to be planted in good soil – to have generations of family, community, and traditions that offer him the gifts of faith and love. His good soil includes all the unique gifts of his family that have been passed down from generation to generation, like the love of music. Such rich soil!

When it comes to how a young person will grow, we know how this child will be nurtured will make a huge difference too. Jordan tells me that Milo is an energetic child with a heart of gold. Paul articulates his great hope that followers of Jesus will be filled with the fullness of God  – which is another way of saying that an aspiration of Christian life is become spiritually mature. In other words, we have a role in helping Milo develop the gifts of his energy and heart to become fully the person God calls him to be. (A few days ago, I officiated a burial at sea for a wonderful woman. Her 40 year old son tearfully thanked his mother for all of the opportunities she helped give him; for all that she did so that he could live a full and abundant life.)

When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan, he heard the words, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” This is exactly the message we hope to convey to Milo today – that he is beloved by God, his family, and this Christian community. Milo will know the truth of this message by the way his parents and all of us love him. We have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to mediate God’s grace for Milo. 

Jesus’ baptism also marks the moment he is sent by God to embody love in the world. Baptism is a threshold,  a passageway into the Christian life, into a life of prayer and service. It is so much more than a discreet, one time event between an individual and God.  If it were only that, we could never baptize an infant or small child – because that infant or small child really has no idea what just happened.

Instead, baptism is an act of a family within a community that recognizes for this amazing seed of divine life that is within Milo to grow, it takes all of us to water, weed, and prune it.  To be sure it gets plenty of sunlight. So how do we do that for Milo? For each other?

In the very first words we heard in the reading from Paul, he acknowledges that EVERY family on earth takes its name from God. In other words, God – who is pure love – knits us, knits our families, together in love. Think about this: in order for Milo or any of us to be born (starting with 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents – if we were to make a chart of 12 previous generations – which is about 400 years – each of us has 4,094 direct ancestors. All of those people had to make a choice to love for Milo to be here. 

Paul falls to his knees in awe and prayer when he contemplates the love that connects all of us to each other and to God. We are truly one family and every single one of us is a miracle. Can you imagine what it would mean if we treated each other with a daily awareness of that?

Of course, after the birth of a newborn, there comes sleepless nights, maybe colic; there may be struggles to figure out how to pay the bills and have enough time for family; there are unexpected illnesses, accidents that happen out of the blue; and distractions galore. And for good measure, why not throw in a pandemic?

It’s easy to love in those moments of sheer bliss – at the birth of a newborn, when we are enjoying a day at the beach or in the mountains, when we are falling in love, when life is going great.  But, what about those times when we’re so tired we can hardly stand it, when we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to pay the bills, when we are worried about the health of someone or the planet we love. When there seems to be more bad news than we can bear?

As potentially helpful as having a belief in God may be, it is simply not enough to help Milo or any of us navigate the inevitable challenges of life or to thrive as a child of God.

Yes, we are all rooted and grounded in love. But, for us to fulfill the promise of Paul’s prayer- to be strengthened in our inner being, for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, to comprehend and experience the love of Christ, throughout the journey of life we need a way of life, a way of being, that keeps us rooted and grounded, that enables us to grow through the inevitable challenges we face.

A growing body of research suggests that the most important thing parents can do to help their children mature spiritually, is to build a life that includes annual, seasonal, weekly, and  daily spiritual traditions and practices that connect us to the Source, that invite us to abide with our loving God and each other – to enjoy simply being together. This is also the exact advice the foremost researcher on marriage, John Gottman, offers couples to build strong marriages.

Our routines matter. Our traditions matter. The fact that Milo’s family has had a connection to this church for generations matters.  They help root and ground us. To build a thriving life, consider your spiritual routines and traditions. Do you have a time and place set aside to connect with God each day? Each week? (Gottman talks about the importance of date nights each week for couples… what about dates each week with God?) Sometimes in the midst of busy lives, we might only be able to take 15 minutes for daily spiritual practice. But, it’s important once a week to give ourselves more time to be with God – to allow ourselves to rest more fully in the presence of God.

St. Paul recognizes that the foundation of Christian life is  prayer which he models in his letter to the Ephesians. There are so many different types of prayer to help us connect with God each day: We can make ourselves available to receive the grace and love of Christ simply by sitting in silence – even if it’s just for five minutes. Or we can give God thanks for our blessings at meals or before bed- which helps us feel more satisfied with our lives. We can open our hearts and minds to the presence of the Spirit and ask for guidance and direction at the start of the day. At any time of the day or night in intercessory prayer, we share our troubles and concerns, our hopes and our dreams. We might even try taking a walk with God and simply have a conversation as one friend to another in prayer, sharing our stories with God. Or as we start our day or our work we might offer a prayer of intentionality – that we be instruments of peace and healing.  These are all ways we pray in weekly worship. Or we might simply open ourselves to the presence of God when we are enjoying the beauty of nature. These examples are just scratching the surface of all the different ways we can connect to God. Through prayer, alone and with others, we can build our relationship with God and with others. 

We know that parents are our children’s first models of what it means to live a spiritual life. If you think about those things you enjoy doing most – like playing music or sailing or going to the beach – there are probably things you love doing because your parents introduced you to them. I love going to the Saratoga Race Track because some of my best memories with my grandfather, father, and son were there. The only prayers offered there were for my horse to cross the finish line first!

So, to help Milo and all our children and grandchildren grow spiritually – the question is, how can prayer be at the heart of  the life we share together?  It is a profoundly bonding experience to pray as a couple or family or community together. 

And when we make a commitment to pausing at key moments in our day – perhaps when we first wake up or go to bed; at mealtime, or on special occasions – we are nurturing the soil of our souls; we are giving ourselves an anchor in stormy seas; we are finding our center in the midst of what can be chaos. We are also building spiritual muscles that we can rely on when times get tough. Through active participation in a spiritual community, we are giving ourselves and our children a spiritual inheritance that will last them and future generations long after we are gone. 

At Midweek Prayer on Thursday night, I asked our regular participants about their prayer lives as children.  This is a pretty terrific sample of people who are consciously choosing to give of themselves and keep growing spiritually. Every single one of them remembered praying with a parent.  All but one remembered praying on their knees before bed. Though none of us pray that way any longer – we have older knees – we all have active prayer lives and a joyful sense of a deep connection to God and each other. 

The people who engage on Thursday nights are some of the most alive, generous, wise, and thoughtful people I have ever met.  They are the kind of people I can imagine we hope Rose, Milo, and all of our children and grandchildren will be like when they grow up. Part of what makes them so wonderful is that through prayer – and through prayer together – they are not only rooted and grounded in love, I can see how over this last year – has difficult as it has been – they continue to grow spiritually – and they are from their 40’s to their 90’s.  

Baptism is an invitation to a life of prayer, community, and service.  A life that is rooted and grounded in the good soil of faith and love. A life that continues to grow and bloom in every more beautiful ways, each and every day. Amen.