Speaker Archives: The Rev. Caroline Smith Parkinson

Pentecost 9

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy pride and strife, Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children nor straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom. AMEN

Bishop Thomas Ken, 1637 – 1711 inscribed on the door of St. Stephen’s Wallbrook, London

-From the Oxford Book of Prayer

 

In just a few minutes  Miles Duncan Heyward and Michael William Washo will each be “sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” While the norm for the church is adult baptism, I love baptizing infants who have done nothing to harm anyone and nothing to earn God’s love or our love. Yet this is all about the affirmation of what is  — God’s preexisting, never failing love and care for each of them.

Their baptism will not cut on a switch that makes God start to love them at that instance but affirms to all the world that God already loves Miles and that already God loves Michael. It is not fire insurance and it will not guarantee their acceptance into any of the church schools in the diocese of Virginia or the Country Club or UVA or any other institution and it will not get them a job on Wall Street.

However, in their baptism they will become fully vested members of the Body of Christ – they will not have to serve for 12 or 13 years before they can take part or prove that they are good enough to be members of the Church. They not have to prove that they understand what Holy Communion is all about to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Today at their baptism they are full members. You see, baptism is the sacrament – the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that is full inclusion into the Body of Christ with all its privileges and all it responsibilities.

The symbols we use in baptism are water, oil, candle bread and wine. I am going to tell Miles and Michael about these symbols and invite you to listen in.

With every baptism around the world whether in parish church, in tiny house church, in great cathedral, or by grandmothers in secret – water is used. By water we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Water that reminds us of the power of God at creation and the River Jordan which God’s people crossed to enter the promised land, water that Jesus was baptized in, water that Jesus calmed.

Water is the source of life – we cannot live without it.

Water links us with all others who have been baptized with Christ. Water marks our connection with the past and with Christians around the world. The waters of baptism are the source of life of community which is changed by your inclusion into it.

By the water of baptism you share the sacred stories of Christians down through the ages, becoming part of their story and allowing others to be part of yours. Miles and Michael, water is the symbol that there is love before any hurt you will ever experience and long after you are dead, there will be love.

Oil is a symbol of empowerment by which kings and prophets of Israel anointed. Even kings and queens today.

Oil is extravagant, luxurious — oil in bath water, on hands your hands and body – enriching and nourishing.

We remember the anointing of Jesus and the concern that the oil was so extravagant it could have been sold to buy food for the poor. Oil is the symbol of God’s extravagant love.           Oil links us with the wider church — blessed by the bishop to use as the priest says “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit & marked as Christ’s own forever.” Whenever I go to the hospital and visit the sick or dying, I anoint them with oil and remind them that they are sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever and nothing in all creation can separate them from God’s love. They are beloved of God and nothing they can do and no place they can go will change that. Miles and Michael, there will always a place at the Lord’s table with your name on it. They will never be alone.

The Candle is of the Light of Christ – the Pascal Candle lit at the Great Vigil of Easter which transforms the darkness of the tomb. It always burns at baptisms & funerals bringing light into the darkest corners of our lives, a symbol of God’s victory over death; of God’s power to bring new life. The candle is also a reminder that we are to take the light of Christ out into the world.

Christianity is at its heart a story. It is a story with two major characters — God and humankind. It is God’s story because it is the story of God’s love. It is our story because it is a story of our response. The theme is God’s deep desire for relationship with humankind and our desperate need for relationship with God. It is a story that is filled with imagery. It is a sacred story. It is a story that is not finished for God continues to act today, in the constant unfolding of new life. God is at work in Dallas, in Orlando, in Nice, in Istanbul and in every city and town where there is strife and fear and violence.

 

God continues to provide us opportunities to experience God’s grace which challenges us to be God’s spirit alive in the world; commissioning us, empowering us and strengthening us to see the face of God in every face we encounter.

It is a profound privilege and an equally profound responsibility to be a community that takes baptism seriously. As we choose to welcome these children into the Body of Christ that gathers here at St. James’s, we choose to share their stories and our lives are changed.

It is our responsibility to be the voice that challenges all the voices of the world that would say to them that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not rich, pretty or strong enough, that their beliefs or family or race or gender or orientation is not good enough. Our responsibility is to pray for them and to tell them the story of Jesus and his love.

Our responsibility is to welcome them every time they enter the doors of the church and every time they come to the altar rail to share the loaf of bread and the cup of wine. Our responsibility is to challenge them and to teach them how to live the life of God’s beloved. Our responsibility to show them with our words and actions that they belong to this Body of Christ where ever they are in the world. Our responsibility is to walk with them on their journey of faith as they become the people God created them to be and to remind them that there will always be a place at the Lord’s table for them.

Our responsibility is to remind them that they are sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever and not anything in all creation can take that away from them.

Our responsibility is to offer them a space where they can grow in strength and courage to be instruments of God’s peace in this fractured world.

In the midst of the divisions, the hatred, the violence, the loss of life and the terror of these past days and weeks, I am especially grateful for the sacrament that binds us together as God’s beloved children. As my own beloved children, grandchildren, God children, the children I have baptized, those I have taught and those who I love in this parish have grown and travel beyond my ability to care for them, I am profoundly grateful for their belonging to the Body of Christ where ever they are, held in the palm of God’s hand forever.

Today as you go to the altar rail for communion, I invite you to dip your fingers into the baptismal waters and remind yourself that you too are a beloved child of God, sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever and ever.

Amen

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Pentecost 6

The images keep being replayed on television, in the newspapers, online, and in my head. They are of violence brought on by hatred, bigotry, loss of identity and fear. The heartbreaking event in Orlando last Sunday morning can’t help but to bring to mind so many other random acts of violence we have witnessed and wept over – acts of terrorism, domestic and foreign. Like others who have made similar choices, Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was a warrior of holiness. Instead he was filled with hatred, made choices that can never be undone, murdered men and women who had so much to offer the world, their community and their loved ones.

Yet again we have been brutally reminded of the evil in our world, how fragile life is and how precious those we love. Demonic possession is not something we talk about much except when we are watching Friday the 13th movies, TV shows or sometimes like today in stories from the Bible. However, we do know from experience the power of evil. We have seen it in our life times in genocide rampant in China, Russia, Germany, the Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the list goes on.

Violence is about taking away from people their God given gift of life. Terrorism is about random acts of violence against innocent people, acts intended to diminish our capacity to hope and dream, acts intended to cause paralyzing fear that keeps us chained like the man filled with a legion of demons who Jesus set free on that hillside on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

I dare to speak about such random violence because I have experienced it – lost family members not to the hatred and bigotry experienced in Orlando and San Bernardino but to violence every bit as random; and I know that some of you have as well. It is a family’s worst nightmare. That phone call was heart breaking and terrible. How? Why? The young man who murdered my niece and great nephew lived around the block, went to the same school, wrestled on the wrestling team with Jim had been in their home and yet he made such different choices, ending the possibilities for his own life as well as ending the lives of two other wonderful individuals and changing forever the lives of all who loved them. He did not go to a gun store and buy a gun but when he broke into the house searching for items to sell for drugs he found a gun my father had given my nephew many years before and in the process took two precious lives.

In our own city there have been 27 people murdered – twice as many in 2016 to date as there were a year ago and so many others whose lives were changed forever. We all know that it is not about statistics but about people we love, members of our families, our children and their friends and loved ones. It is about relationships, hopes, dreams and possibilities that have been ended tragically. Each death reminds us of the preciousness of every single life. There are no spare lives! Our job as followers of the way of Jesus is to seek ways of changing the situation in whatever – even the smallest way — that is open to us.

In a sermon preached a few weeks ago, my dear friend The Rev. Frank Wade spoke about the porous nature of death. He said “it is an ending and a beginning, a continuum, a point where things end but do not stop. People die, so do relationships, ambitions, eras, traditions, assumptions, aspirations, youth, institutions, dreams and memories. They all end but they do not stop. That is the somewhat hard and bumpy truth….. The fact is that life in all of its forms and death in all of its forms are in God’s hands. We are accountable to God for how we manage life and how we respond to death, how we begin and how we end. ” (The Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade: Sermon preached at Church of the Holy Trinity, Phil. PA, June 5, 2016)

We must take care not to engage in random acts of violence ourselves. In our baptismal covenant, we have promised to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being – there are no spare lives! We are charged with bringing the peace of God into every event. When we do that we find that we are living in hope of what could be rather than in fear of what might be and only then we are freed from the grip of evil.

We have prayed and must keep praying for those who were killed last Sunday and in San Bernardino, Charleston, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Columbine, and New York – as well as for their families and those who loved them and those who killed them. We need to pray for our leaders as they discern their way over the next several years, praying for one another as we face this challenge. We need to pray for those who hate us. It doesn’t mean that we cannot hold accountable those who have caused each outrage, we must for the sake of our world.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition one of the prayers prayed every night is “Lord, we pray for those who hate us …. and those who love us.” The Orthodox Christians know much about enemies having experienced years of life under repressive Communist and Muslim regimes. If we were to pray for peace, to pray for those who hate us and the enemies of all those we love, I believe it would shape us as a people to be Christ’s presence in this hate filled and divided world.

Luke’s Gospel account today tells of the only time Jesus crossed over into predominantly Gentile territory – he crossed the boundary that no good Jewish rabbi would cross. It was his first and his last foray into Gentile territory. It probably represents Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations ” and the struggles of the early followers of the way of Jesus to carry out his command. The Apostle Paul had to remind his readers in Galicia, in Rome, and in Corinth that there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free.

In the midst of the horror God has wept with us and God has sought us in every dark and desperate place, even in the twisted rubble and among the carnage, showing us that love is greater than hatred. It is in the midst of being reminded of the lack of peace in the world that we are preparing to send our beloved rector off to the other side of the Potomac River, to serve God in a city that knows even more violence than Richmond and a Cathedral that has the presence to address the issues.

With the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, Randy will be the face of the Episcopal Church in our nation’s capital. He will hear the Cathedral bells calling the faithful to prayer and walk past the Peace Cross which over looks the city that is the heart of our nation’s identity. He will address the nation at times of crisis and celebration. He will undoubtedly smile as he watches children from the Cathedral Schools and tourists lovingly reach out to touch the hand of the bronze statue of Jesus in the Children’s chapel knowing that the future is in their hands.

Randy, your ministry here at St. James’s is ending but it will not stop. The gifts of your preaching, your teaching, your pastoral presence, your passion for God and your sure and certain knowledge that you are God’s beloved child and together we are called to be doers of God’s word not hearers only – those gifts will not stop. In other stories of Jesus encounters, he issued an invitation, “Come, follow me.” In this case Jesus said: “declare how much God has done for you.” The story is one of commissioning, a call to ministry.

Randy you are being called to a new ministry, a beginning even as this ministry among us is ending. As you preach and teach in our nation’s capital, continue to declare how much God has done for you; continue to share your passion for God and your knowledge that we are all God’s beloved children, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, native American or foreign born; continue to share the spirit of the living God that fills you with peace and work in every way however small to bring peace to this hate filled and divided world. As you walk through the Nave in the late afternoon when the sun streams through the Rose Window, dancing on the pillars of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, remember that you are being held in our prayers.

Randy, it has been a joy and a privilege to serve God in this place with you and now may God grant us all a longing for peace, a thirst for justice, and a willingness to give of ourselves in the spirit of Christ. Amen

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