Having children in one’s life changes that life forever. Whether one is a biological, adoptive, or step parent, godparent, caregiver, friend, or teacher, it does not take long to discover just how right our friend Kahlil Gibran was when he wrote, “your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself.” I’ve been blessed through my whole life to be in churches and communities and jobs where I’ve gotten to know many children. Like most of you I have been a child who can vaguely remember the confusion, the wisdom and the fear of what it was like to be one. Like many of you, I have never been a biological parent, but I have been both a step parent and an adoptive parent, and it was always quite clear to me that genetically related to their parents or caregivers or not, the children I have known and loved did not belong to me or anyone else, and that their thoughts were not my thoughts.
But what did and does surprise and delight me, is the depth and breadth of the spiritual truth that we have seen and celebrated among us today—that there is something mysterious that goes beyond biology which lives between us that forms and reforms us into family. You don’t have to physically give birth or be born into a family to belong to it, body and soul. I have also found that family often does not look like what we thought it would, and the life we have is often quite a different one from the one we had mapped out. Circumstances and people change. What it takes to be family shapes and shifts and oh, that something mysterious that makes us family is not just love. Oh, if only it were just love that did it. It is also the long nights and the exhausting days and the commitment to show up over and over again. The ability, sometimes, to say no and to end something that is in dis-ease or dying in order for something new to be born. What forms us into family requires of us a decision we make sometimes minute by minute that the survival of our own souls and ultimately the welfare of the most vulnerable members among us will transcend ego or pride or expectations or being right or having the last word or exercising some misplaced sense of autonomy or duty or control. Being true family requires of all of us a vulnerability and humility and resiliency and willingness to listen and to tell the truth and to make amends, and to offer forgiveness– and patience, oh, infinite patience! Patience that is practiced, minute by minute, as it is a skill that is learned like meditation in sitting and in outlasting the noise, over time.
Lindsey, Brandon, Elise, along with your extended families, over time you have begun the spiritual work and play of learning to be family to one another. And then, in the great mystery of God’s blessing, in that mysterious way that no one can explain of how children who are not our children become our children, you met Johan and adopted him. And now, you are partners and spouses and parents to a daughter and a son and co-parenting Elise with her mom, Jaime, and the gift is multiplied through grandparents and extended family and friends and in the blessed love we share in this church, and the circle of love widens.
In this very busy and violent and dysfunctional world we live in, it is easy to lose track of what is central in our lives, to get caught as in a rip tide that pulls us farther from the harbor of love that gives our lives a place to launch. In the scripture the disciples fuss and putz about with the concerns of adult busyness, endless competition, and responsibility while Jesus pulls children into the center of the community to remind them all of the gentle spiritual reality, “Look at this child—be like this child. Of such is the realm of God.” Children themselves—look at them, their very selves—their way, their vulnerability, their gifts offered—be like them. And when we are–when we observe and listen and learn and love and teach and play and work with them, we are of the realm as well—for that care and love and commitment to one another is the way of the Holy One.
Often when I baptize children, I look in their eyes as I did today, and looking back at me is, well, the face of God—the Giver of all good Gifts. When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John said to him, “You have come to me to be baptized, but it is I who needs to be baptized by you.” Of these is the realm of God made—walk this way, be this way. When I looked in her eyes today, I thought of how Elise has welcomed Johan with a remarkable example of expansive love and acceptance and in her unique way has joined in the work and play of being mentor, protector, and friend to him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. I thought of how much her generous spirit teaches me, all of us, this is the stuff of the realm of God. I thought of Johan’s courage, resilience and willingness to trust and to love and to open his heart to his parents and sister. This is the way of the Giver; these are the gifts in these children.
And today, in the act of baptism, we welcome these two people—Elise and Johan, and say “welcome to the family, O blessed ones. As we look at you, we renew our vows and reclaim our own identities as beloved members of this same human family we share with you.” And we say to one another, “behold your responsibility, behold your joy, behold your brother and your sister, and your parent and your child, and then even though we are not what we’d planned, and not what we’d expected our church family to look like, we promise again to be family to each other.” And in the wonderment of how God brings us together in the community of faith, we become church, family, loved ones to one another even though biologically we are not related and we are diverse, and disagree, and yet, and yet, we are one in the spirit, we are one in God’s love. It is that kind of mystery—something that is a sacred act.
The story is told of the Sunday School teacher who asked her little class what each one wanted to be when she or he grew up. One said, “teacher,” one said, “firefighter,” one said, “a doctor.” And then it came Susie’s turn. The teacher asked, “Susie, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “Possible,” Susie said. “My mom said that it was impossible we could have ever found each other and become a family. But we did so I’m possible. I want to be possible.” That is part of our responsibility and joy as Johan and Elise’s extended family, and Brandon and Lindsey’s, too, to remind them every day that they are uniquely, beautifully, blessedly, possible. So that in the haven of our community of grace, they grow to discover within themselves a resilience and strength and trustworthiness—that is what we offer to one another. A chance to become our fully realized selves.
So, welcome to the UCG family, Johan and Elise! We join your parents and all your family, in celebrating the Giver and the Gift within you. Amen.