A Baptism and Goodbye – Homily for December 30, 2018
Based on 1Samuel 2. 18-20,26 Hannah’s visit to Samuel and Luke 2: 41-52 Jesus as a boy in the Temple
We have come together today for two reasons, an ending and a beginning — the final service before this church is deconsecrated and closed, and the beginning of a new life in Christ for baby Amelia. And I thought the scriptures today are so very appropriate—childhood stories of two incredibly important people in the history of the people of God.
First, from the Old Testament, a story of young Samuel, who grows up to be one of Israel’s great prophets. Samuel had a special destiny, to “oversee Israel’s transition from a tribal confederacy to a unified nation.”1 Samuels’s life marks a time of big change in the story of Israel, “it takes place as an era in Israel’s life is drawing to a close.”2 When the young Samuel is brought to the temple, Eli is the head priest, in essence, leader of the tribal nation of Israel. Recall — the families of the twelve sons of Jacob become the twelve tribes of Israel. Now, Eli’s two sons are also priests, but are corrupt, dishonest and disrespectful in their dealings with the people who came to the temple to bring sacrifices, and, as chapter 2 verse 12 tells us “they had no regard for the Lord”. If we read a little further on, we discover their lifestyles catch up with them and Eli’s sons are later killed by the Philistine army when it attacks Israel. Eli, an old man by this time, too dies that same day and Samuel takes over the leadership of the temple and of Israel. So we can see that even in the midst of an ending, God has long been preparing for a new beginning!
We read about the beginnings of Samuel’s story a few weeks back, when we read about Hannah, who was depressed and despondent because she wasn’t able to have children. She prayed to God for a child and promises if she has a male child, she will raise him to be dedicated to God. God heard her prayers, responds to her need, and in due time, she and her husband Elkanah have a son—and indeed later, even more children. Hannah remembers her promise to the Lord, and she takes Samuel to the temple as a young boy, and gives him into the care of Eli the priest; in essence giving back to God the very gift she asked for! And Samuel begins his life of service to God, training at the temple. Today we read of one of young Samuel’s parent’s annual visits, at the time of the yearly sacrifice. Hannah lovingly presents him with the little robe she had made—probably a miniature version of the robe the priests wore. I can’t imagine how Hannah and Elkanah must have felt – such pride for this special child of theirs whom they dedicated to God, along with the anguish of having to leave him behind in the temple each time they left to go back home.
In our New Testament story –by the way, the only story in the bible that tells anything about the boyhood of Jesus, we also have a story of anguish—the distress of Mary and Joseph when they can’t find Jesus amongst the travelling clan of family and friends, when they were returning home from attending Passover at the temple in Jerusalem. They retrace their steps to find he stayed behind at the temple, and find him sitting amongst the teachers, listening and asking questions. The teachers were astonished at Jesus’ understanding and the questions he asked—already at this young age it is evident that there is something special about him! Mary and Joseph are amazed to find him there, no doubt relieved but still upset with him. Mary scolds him; like any mother would have under the same circumstances I’d expect—“Did you not think about how upset we would be when we realized you weren’t with us?” Apparently not, because the boy Jesus responds, “Did you not realize that I would be in my Father’s house?” Sounds like a teen-agers response, doesn’t it? But truly, they needn’t have worried; he was safe in the temple. God was watching over him.
Today, as we consider the end of an era for Hanover, the loss of an Anglican presence in this community, and a loss for all of us as this building will no longer function as a Church, we too look to the future, with the baptism of Amelia as she is dedicated to God in Christ’s Holy Church. Amelia will also be marked with the sign of the cross—like an invisible tattoo, marked as Christ’s own forever–a new beginning for her as a child of Christ. As we review the past and lament at the present, we know God is looking to the future of the Christ’s holy catholic Church across the world. It’s a difficult time in this society, in this country for many Christian Churches. What the future will bring, we too do not know, any more than Hannah, Elkanah, Mary and Joseph knew, so many millennia ago, what was ahead for them and their families. They simply stepped up when God called, and stepped out in faith, knowing that God was with them. There were heart aches and struggles, for that is what life brings along the way. But in the midst of it all, we know is that God is always with us, comforting us, guiding us and leading us when we have ears to hear God’s call and hearts to follow God’s will.
Katelyn and Joey don’t know either what is ahead for them or their child. They too are stepping out in faith, dedicating their baby girl to Christ, giving her to God’s care, uncertain as to what God has in mind for her. For this child is as special to them, I’m sure, as Samuel and Jesus were to their parents.
I have to admit I had to really ponder as to whether I should do a baptism on the last service for St. James. Was it fair to Joey, Katelyn or baby Amelia? When we baptize someone, we baptize them into a community of faith, into a family of faith. In the baptismal vows, the community present promises to do all in their power to support the one being baptized, and indeed all children in their life in Christ. And this community of faith is disbanding. Yet, in eight and half years I feel I have come to know many of you. And I think there may well be a community of faithful people who will continue to see each other, and remember their promises and through their connections with each other, not be afraid to step up as they are able, and continue to support Amelia. And Katelyn and Joey said they would explore church communities and find one in which to raise their daughter. I charge you all to remember the promises you made today!
So now my friends in Christ, I have preached my last message to you. And I end it by asking Katelyn and Joey to present their daughter for baptism in Christ’s holy church, presenting her to God, to Christ and of course, to you.
The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector, The Regional Ministry of Hope
1 Kendra B. Hotz, in Theological Perspective for 1Samuel 2 18-20, 26 in Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol 1
2 Stephens B. Lytch in Homelitical Perspective for 1Samuel 2 18-20, 26 in Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol 1