Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Promises, Promises at Water’s Edge”
(Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20
September 10, 2017 (14th Sunday after Pentecost)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park West & 65th
In a few moments, we will make a lot of promises. Margot’s parents, Christine and Steven, will make promises; her godparents, Elizabeth and Jens, will make promises, too, as will her grandmas and grandpas. Promises, promises. We will all make promises.
Margot is such a precious little child. She may need a story tonight when she awakens at three in the morning and a pesky monster lurks under her crib. Mommy and daddy—you will come running and you must be able to tell a story that will calm her fears and let her know God is with her.
This will happen countless times in her life. Some of Margot’s first words will be, “Tell me a story.” You might tell her “Goldilocks,” “Good Night Moon,” “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Her eyes will be wide open as she listens and she will almost always beg you, “Tell me one more story.”
That’s why we make promises this morning. We promise to place the holy scriptures in Margot’s hands so she may know that one last story where God is with her every moment of her life.
In our second reading this morning, St. Paul told the Christians in Rome that their highest calling was to love one another. That is one way of saying that our highest calling is to dig deep for the one last story that will comfort our friends and family.
Jesus told countless stories to do just that. One was about ninety-nine sheep who behaved themselves and one rascal that wandered away. The astonishing thing—unlike almost any story we know—is that the shepherd risked ninety-nine sheep in order to save one mischief-maker. Jesus told this story so we might know the extent to which God goes to save us from disaster. He told another story, one about forgiving a person. How many times must we forgive someone who has done us wrong? Jesus’ story suggested not once or twice but at a bare minimum of 490 times.
These stories are worth telling…and hearing.
Never forget this: we are not the only ones making promises this morning. God makes promises, too, to Margot and to all of us, to be with us and to love us no matter what life brings.
Think of all the people who need such a story this morning.
What story should we tell the people in the Caribbean and Florida? Might we tell them that once upon a time there was a horrific storm a thousand times worse than Irma or Harvey?
Remember? God was so frustrated with the treachery of his children that he annihilated just about everything and everyone, except for Noah and his family and a few scraggly animals on a rickety boat. As the waters finally began to subside, after forty days and forty nights of terror, God was heartbroken by the destruction God had rained down on the beloved creation. The final part of the story which we must never forget is how God stretched a rainbow across the sky. You can see the tears sliding down God’s face as he says, “Never again will I deliver such devastation on my dear children.” We promise to tell this story on God’s behalf to the people of the Caribbean and Florida this morning.
Oh yes, think of everyone who needs a story.
Tomorrow morning, I will offer prayers at Engine 40/ Ladder 35 Firehouse. Twelve of thirteen men on duty at the firehouse two blocks from here at 66th and Amsterdam perished that day when they went to rescue their brothers and sisters at the raging Twin Tower inferno. (The relic at the altar this morning is Twin Tower rubble now kept permanently in the pastor’s office; it was a gift from the firehouse to Holy Trinity’s pastor, Robert Scholz, who provided exemplary pastoral care during those horrific days.) What story might I tell on your behalf, tomorrow, to parents, wives, and children who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones? I probably will tell them something like this, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil.”
It is not always easy to keep our promise, to tell a compelling and comforting story of God’s presence when evil lurks and does its dirty dance. That is why we dare not forget the story of the baptismal waters where, here today, great sea monsters will try to grab Margot’s little toe and pull her under and yet, in the midst of the fury, God will go to battle to rout the great Leviathan of the deep and to save Margot. Is it any wonder she might scream as water streams down her face?
The only story finally worth telling is when, once upon a time, the world tried to keep God from loving us by hanging Jesus on the cross. You know the story—the greatest one ever told. Death was not the end of that story nor can it ever be when we are telling God’s stories. Never! We champion life: for hurricane victims, families grieving the loss of firemen sixteen years later, and dreaming refugees fearful that they might be carted off from this country they love.
Keep telling that story to Margot, when she dances for the first time, when she walks down the aisle with the love of her life, when she has her first baby. Tell that story, too, when she breaks up with her first boyfriend and is crushed, when she comes down with a weird cough that while likely harmless scares you to death; tell the story of God’s love when she calls late at night from college a million miles away and says, “Mommy and daddy, I need to talk.”
That’s why we go to the water now. Yes, in years to come, tell Margot Elizabeth Rocchio about what happened today, something like this: “My dear and precious Margot, once upon a time, long ago, we dressed you in a beautiful white gown and took you to church. You were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then you were anointed with oil because you are a queen in God’s sight. Yes, on that day, precious Margot, God promised to love you forever and ever.”