Readings – Exodus 20:1-4,7-9,12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
St. Paul, before he was so named, was called Saul, a well-respected rabbi. As Saul he presided over the stoning death of St. Stephen, stoned because he declared that Jesus, the crucified one, had risen from the dead and was the long-awaited Messiah. According the Acts 8:
Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Saul then got letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to do the same there, and to bring the accused back to Jerusalem in chains. Then, on the road to Damascus Saul was struck by lightning and blinded. Taken to Damascus, a member of the followers of Jesus, Ananias was instructed by God to go to him. Of course, he was hesitant, yet God directed him to go for he [Saul] was to be God’s “instrument” to take God’s name before the Gentiles and before the people of Israel. So, Ananias went and laid hands upon him with prayers of healing. Immediately his sight returned. It was then that he was baptized in the name of Jesus. Later, St. Paul wrote in Galatians that he was embraced and formed by the early church for three years before returning to Jerusalem where he stayed with St. Peter before beginning his missionary journeys.
In today’s reading from his letter to the gathering in Philippi, St Paul proclaimed that “Christ Jesus has made me his own”, and that he was “straining forward to what lies ahead”. His most valuable quality was “knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord”. Being struck by lightning and being nursed back to health in the Christian community enabled Saul to be transformed into St. Paul, the person God created him to be, an instrument of God’s unmerited love, an instrument of God’s grace.
Today we will wrap out arms as a gathered community of faith, around Benjamin Anthony, and affirm his formation into the person God created him to be, an instrument of God’s unmerited love, an instrument of God’s grace with our prayers, with our thanksgivings, with holy water and with holy oil.
He will be washed as the Hebrews were washed crossing the Red Sea. He will be washed as the people of Israel were washed crossing the Jordan River in the Promised Land. He will be washed as Jesus was washed in the Jordan River and rose to hear the words, “You are my beloved”.
And Benjamin Anthony will have the arms of his parents, godparents, grandparents, and of this gathering, wrapped around him in love. The Holy Spirit will declare him to be marked as Christ’s own forever as we welcome him into the household of God, and invite him to share with us in Christ’s eternal priesthood.
The Psalmist wrote:
Jesus defined that we declare the glory of God when we:
This is how we do it; this is how we are instruments of God’s love, instruments of God’s grace:
And we need not be afraid. God said to the Hebrews on Mt. Sinai – do not be afraid. God said to Mary in her parent’s garden—do not be afraid. God said to Joseph in a dream – do not be afraid. God said to the shepherds outwatching sheep – do not be afraid. God says to Ben – do not be afraid. Ben will be raised from the waters of baptism to declare God’s glory.
Our task as the People of God is to affirm him as a child of God.
Our task as the People of God is to embrace him with our love.
Our task as the People of God is to embrace his parents, his Godparents, and his grandparents with our love.
Our task as the People of God is to embrace this planet Earth, his island home, so that it may be a safer place for all his days to come.
This is a huge task. We cannot do it alone but “with God all things are possible”.
Benjamin Anthony, you are a child of God. Seize the days ahead knowing you are deeply loved.