Keeping Covenant in the Family of God

Rev. Sarah Buteux
Baccalaureate Sunday
June 2, 2013
Philippians 4:4-9

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

There are a whole lot of traditions that make the First Congregational Church of Hadley special: traditions like our Christmas Pageant that features real live baby lambs from the Parson’s farm, or the Spring Supper where hands as young as 8 and hands well beyond 80 all work together to serve warm salty ham and hot Hadley grass to upwards of 400 people. I love our outdoor service at the Parkers every summer, the camaraderie and healing of walking together every June at the Relay for Life, the good we have accomplished over the years during our Fifth Sundays, and I love days such as this one – Baccalaureate - where we take the time to lift up the accomplishments of our young people.

But perhaps my favorite tradition here in our church is that of baptism, which might sound a little strange given that pretty much every church baptizes people.  However, when we baptize, baptize our brothers and sisters into the life of Christ and the church, we as a congregation make a covenant with them, and that’s the part that really gets me. Right before the waters of baptism are marked in the sign of the cross upon their foreheads, -whether that person is a brand new little baby or fully grown - we as a church rise up as one and say to them that come what may, they have with us here a community that is filled with love for them. We pledge to teach them our faith. “Our homes are your homes,” we say, “our resources your resources.”

It is such a powerful moment that I never get through it without tears.  And it is also profoundly countercultural, this idea that we are all part of one body, one family, that everything I have – my faith, my home, all my resources be they spiritual or material –everything I have is yours and vice versa; not by right of birth or blood, but thanks to the waters of baptism that mark us all as beloved children of the same Father; our Father who art in heaven. 

It is so profound, this covenant we make as a congregation that, unlike most churches, here in the Congregationalist tradition you are less likely to see godparents present on that day. I learned this from Lisa West a long time ago. She explained to me that here in the church we don’t really need godparents, because we as a congregation take on that role.  We as a congregation look out for each other’s little ones as if they were all our own, we pull together to provide for one another in times of need, and we as a congregation share our faith with all of our children not just through what we say or teach, but by what we do and by who we are.

We pass on our faith to the newly baptized through our worship: the words, the prayers, the music. We pass on our faith by volunteering to teach Sunday School, by showing up for one another in times of need, by working together as one body to get things done.  Every angel costume that gets ironed before the pageant, every pledge placed with love in the offering plate, every hand raised at the Annual Meeting, folded in prayer during times of trouble, wrapped around a meal delivered by Take and Eat, or a pencil keeping minutes during church council, deacons, C.E. – what have you - is also an act of faith, a means of teaching one another what it is to be a follower of Christ and a member of his body here on earth.

I saw all this last week when, thanks to graduation, I had to come to church without Andrew. Amy and Gabby played with my kids before worship while I got ready. Without even being asked, (which is just amazing to me and such a gift) Lauri and Jen brought my little ones into worship and sat with them because I could not. Mary watched over Genevieve during coffee hour and I have no doubt there were plenty of people keeping an eye on George, not because they are the pastor’s kids, but because they’re children of First Church.  My children love all of you and have been well loved by you since before they were born, as are all children who call First Church home, including these children sitting right up here today, these children who really aren’t children anymore at all, (sorry moms) but young adults about to graduate and move out into the world in a whole new way. 

Becky, Matt, and David, you three were baptized here in this church many years ago, though I imagine to your parents it doesn’t seem that long ago at all. They brought you to church when you were young and taught you about our faith. And, thanks be to God, they have had a lot of help along the way from the people of this congregation. This sanctuary is full of people who have given of themselves over the last 18 years in part so that you would have a church to call home, so that you could have a safe place to come and learn and be who God has made you to be. Some of them, people like Toni, Joel, or your Sunday School teachers, gave to you directly, and some have given to you in ways you will never know, given that our faith might be passed down to you and become a part of you. 

But there are also some people here today who have opened their actual homes and much of their lives to you, members of this congregation who have loved you and cared for you from the very beginning. These are people of faith who have converted their worries about you into prayers, who have given thanks for you since before you were born; who have not just taught you but shown you -through their example - what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure and pleasing, what is commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. They have gone above and beyond fulfilling the vows they spoke on the day of your baptism simply by being who they are, being there for you in good times and bad, and by loving you no matter what. And I’ve asked some of those folks to speak to you today; to take a moment to tell you what a privilege it has been to be partners with your parents and the people of this church in raising you up to become the people you are today…..

I know you’re all still figuring out what you believe, and what all this means to you, and that’s as it should be. As you go off to college learn as much as you can, explore and experience what you will. But, to paraphrase our reading today from Philippians: keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen here in this place and amongst these people as well, knowing as you do that the God of peace will be with you, now and always…  Let us pray.

O Lord, we pray that you would watch over Becky and Matt and David as they embark on their respective journeys. I thank you for them and for the people of this church who have loved them and cared for them so very well. May we never forget one another but do all we can to be there for one another come what may. Watch over these young people, as I pray you would watch over us all, that we might be people of integrity, a people true to you and your word in all we think, in all we say, and in all we do.  Amen.