Floating on God’s grace
Thousands of black robed graduates found themselves either giving thanks for the shade provided by the trees of Harvard Yard’s Tercentenary Theater, or shedding their robes under the unrelenting summer sun. Parents, with hearts bursting with pride, sat on the perimeter around them after arriving hours earlier to get seats. Steven Spielberg, director of movies, Mary Bonauto, director of the legal efforts to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso former president of Brazil, sat on stage under the tent waiting to receive Honorary Doctorate degrees.
I was floating. As if on a gentle river on a hot summer day, the lazy current carrying me past green leafy trees and around water bugs zigzagging across the water and over fish darting about underneath.
I have been floating for 40 years.
Since the time my parents, like Jochebed the mother of Moses, placed me as an infant in a basket and left me in the reeds on the banks of the river. The reeds were the arms of my baptismal sponsors who stood with my parents around the font. The basket was the list of promises my parents made to bring me to the word of God and the holy supper, teach me the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, and nurture me in faith and prayer so that, “I would learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” The river, mightier and more powerful than any on earth, consisted of three splashes of water.
As a child, as I struggled to get out of the water, my parents kept pushing me back. Not ruthlessly, but lovingly as they fulfilled their baptismal promises and introduced me to a life of faith. Eventually, attracted by the beauty of the water as a gift of the Holy Spirit, I stopped struggling and began floating. My life was not my own, my life was to be lived in the water. My seminary classmate who said I looked like Aquaman was right – my strength and power would come from the baptismal waters of faith.
I was carried on the currents of grace and faith to the day of my Confirmation where I made my own promise “to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” To the day of my ordination, the Feast Day of St. Michael & All Angels, where I promised to receive the call to serve as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Quincy, Massachusetts as coming directly from God. To the raging rivers of early adulthood and parish ministry where at times, tossed around by the waves beating against the small boat of my life and parish, I cried out with the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). I was always safe, even in danger, on the waters of faith.
I was carried into Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a student and floated on the same mighty Harvard river that carried men and women towards the White House, the Supreme Court, and the halls of power and influence throughout society and around the world. Immersed for a year in the knowledge of professors who were experts in economics, finance, diplomacy, negotiation, and international law, now on graduation day I floated past the same commencement traditions seen by the men and women of the previous 364 Harvard Commencement activities … the call to order by the Middlesex County Sherriff … the Latin Address by a graduating student from the college … the presentation of graduates and conferral of degrees by the President of Harvard.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther taught that, of course, it is not the water of baptism alone that does God’s work, but the word of God. “Not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5-8).
Floating on the water and word of baptism, Christ is my beginning, my present, and my future. With Paul, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” (Romans 15:18). Thanks be to God!