Some of you know but some may not, that my wife and I have decided that it is time for us to move back to California to be closer to our children out there. So I have accepted a call at a church just outside of San Diego. My last Sunday here will be October 15. Your Wardens Judith MacMunn and June Watson have been in touch with Rich Simpson, who is the Canon to the Ordinary, the assistant for the Bishop, and they have started the process of finding an interim to serve after I am gone. And we will have a couple months to talk about this.
This was not an easy decision to make, not because I will miss being the Dean of a Cathedral or because I will miss living in Springfield – both of which are true. But it was a difficult decision to make because of my great love for you. I will miss seeing you. I will miss blessing you and praying for you and just being together. And I will miss being alongside you in the work of being gathered, transformed and sent into the Kingdom of God.
And, of course, I will miss doing what we are doing today – which I get to do as a priest, which is to baptize new people into the body of Christ. I was twenty seven when I was baptized. And the difference between being baptized as a child and baptized as an adult is pretty big, because an adult can choose whether or not they want to be baptized. No one told 27 year old Tom that he had to be baptized. No one dressed me in my clothes in the morning and brought me down to church for the scary priest to pour the water on my head. I did that all on my own.
I remember standing there at Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts on an Easter Vigil waiting for my baptism to happen. And I remember thinking at one point, why am I doing this? I didn’t need to get baptized. Even then our culture was moving away from the church. Most of my friends would not have said they were Christians who believed in God. My friend Carrie lovingly used to call me “God boy,” which was not an insult, but as a way of identifying what was unique about me compared to all the other people we knew.
I was God boy. And that did not mean that I would stand on the corner sharing the Gospel with strangers. Or that I was pious or righteous or never did anything bad in my life. It didn’t mean that I would quote the Bible at people and tell some people they were going to hell, or that I even thought people were going to hell. I think that in almost every way I was just like my nonbelieving friends, except for this one thing in my life, which was that I had made the decision to follow Jesus Christ.
It’s a decision everyone here has made at some point. In fact, it’s a decision we’ve all made this morning by the fact that we are here. Maybe the baby who is being baptized did not choose on his own to be here. And maybe there’s a spouse or friend who was just kind of dragged here. And we’re grateful for your presence. But mainly I think it’s safe to say that this God boy is in the company of other God boys and God girls and God folks, which means that we have all decided to get into this boat together.
One of the things I always tell families of children who are being baptized is that I would much rather have you not baptize your child and bring them to church regularly than to baptize your child and then never come to church again, which often happens. Baptism in and of itself is not magic. It is a sacrament, one of the chief sacraments. But it does not bestow upon your child special powers or abilities. Baptism does not protect your child from harm. All of us still face harm in our lives. Baptism does not protect your child from pain.
What baptism does is two things –first, it puts us in the Christian boat with other people, people who are like us, people who are unlike us, people we will never meet. I don’t even know if we are a majority of the US population anymore, maybe not. But we are an ancient and important group of people which includes the likes of Mother Teresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Saint Francis and James W. Ripley, who donated that window, and Jean Ryan who lives forever in our hearts, and countless people who have seen the Cathedral through the various changes that have happened over the centuries, including the coming and going of many priests. And for the one to be baptized – you will be part of this. You have my apologies for the ways we are less than perfect. But we are not perfect. What we are is blessed.
And this is the second thing that baptism does for us – it bestows upon us the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it makes that blessing last forever. You cannot be unbaptized. You cannot be unblessed. You have been marked as Christ’s own forever and like it or not you are always his.
So in life from time to time you will be here in this boat or out there in the world and you will find yourself, like our disciples today, in a storm, battered by waves. And things will be difficult, and you will be challenged. This baptism does not take any of that away.
What baptism does do is give you, among the things of your life, the option to choose Jesus. You can be afraid, but you don’t have to be. You can be anxious, but you don’t have to be. You can be angry at the world and the fact that things are often not the way that you want, and people don’t always do what you want them to do, but you don’t have to be.
For within you, given by grace, is the life of Jesus Christ. And this life will calm you, and it will feed you, and it will guide you and direct you, and it will give you peace. And maybe you’re not going to walk out on the water every day. But if you need to, you can. And maybe you’re not going to need him to calm storms every day. But he will.
For over two hundred years, this community has been a place where the baptized have chosen Jesus Christ. And very few people have chosen who their priests will be or who their deans are. The story here is not about the priests or the deans. The story is about this boat and all the people who are in it, and the one who guides it and leads it, who is Jesus Christ.
And of course your priest makes a difference, both in your personal life and in the ministries of the church. And I have been honored to be here to help. And the one difference I can make again and again is to say Choose Christ. Choose Jesus. My greatest joy in ministry is seeing how you, in your lives, choose Jesus and how you make him known and real in so many ways for so many people. And I know that will continue.
It is amazing to me that we continue to have people who want to baptize their children like we are doing today, and that we continue to have families who are making the decision to find a church, like a new couple named Karl and Carla who have been attending the 12:15 service for the last few weeks. New people will come.
You know, sometimes you have those moments in life where Jesus is just kind of there as a presence or a thought. You think about church, or something comes into your mind, and of course you know that Jesus is there. But then other days you need him right here, you need him to hold you, or lift you, or give you patience or give you strength. You need his presence. You need to know that he will be there for when you have to get out of the boat, just as he was there to welcome you in.
I give thanks today that we are all part of something much bigger than we are, this faith, this boat which we didn’t create and which we can’t control, and which we come into at some point in our lives, and which, from time to time, we must also occasionally get out as we move on to someplace else. I look forward to talking with you more in the next couple of months. I could keep preaching, but a cute baby needs our attention.