A sermon preached on October 21, 2007 based upon Luke 18:1 – 8, on the occasion of the baptism of Isabella Katherine, entitled “Courage and Perseverance.”
There are two words that I would like to lift up in relation to child rearing on this morning in which we have baptized Isabella.
The first is courage.
Real courage is what we have when we are scared out of our daylights, but we go ahead and choose to do what we know to be right, in spite of the dangers involved.
If we really think deeply about what we’re getting ourselves into when we bring a child into this world, we can’t help but be terrified. If we weren’t terrified by what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to have a child, well then, what we were was stupid, not courageous.
But stupidity is not always a bad thing. Sometimes stupidity, like courage gets us to do what needs to done. More often than not, courage and stupidity come mixes together in this life.
The same can be said of choosing to get married. Couples come see me who want to get married, and they’ve got the “love-light” in their eyes, which is a wonderful thing, but generally speaking, they only imagine the joy of marriage without realizing how hard it will be — how much pain marriage will inevitably involve. Perhaps if they did, they wouldn’t go ahead and make those vows.
Choosing to bring a child into this world, like choosing to enter marriage requires courage because the decision to open our hearts to love necessarily means opening ourselves to pain. There’s no getting around the fact that love makes us very vulnerable.
If you don’t want to have your heart broken, the solution is pretty simple: Don’t love. Don’t care deeply about another person.
Debbie and Danny, I’m sure you already realize the truth of this in child rearing. With Isabella arriving in this world two months early, you didn’t get to relax and enjoy those blissful moments of lying leisurely in bed with your sweet new baby, which it would be wonderful if every mother, father and new born baby got to do.
Instead, you found yourselves immediately in crisis mode, with Isabella transported to another hospital in order to save her life, and you were forced to sit helplessly watching her struggle with various wires, needles and tubes as she valiantly battled to grow.
We see and touch this precious little body of our beloved child, and we can’t avoid the fact that there are an endless array of potential threats to this delicate body: illness, accidents, on and on.
We live in a culture that encourages us to be preoccupied with our bodies, as though keeping the body healthy and looking good were the secret to life.
But there is another aspect of the courage required in being a parent that isn’t quite so obvious, involving not the threats to our child’s body, but rather to the child’s soul.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says some striking words of warning where he tells us not to fear so much those who can kill the body; he says the real fear should be focused on the threats to our soul.
Here in Church, although we value the body and encourage folks to take good care of their bodies, we know that we are more than our bodies; that we are spiritual beings — that we have souls. CS Lewis put it like this: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It’s tough to precisely define what a soul is, but one thing is clear: it is the battlefront in which the struggle between good and evil takes place.
And the truly frightening thing requiring the real courage is the possibility of evil winning the battle.
We are a peculiar species, we human being. The Bible tells us that we were make in the image and likeness of God, which means that we have profound capacities for doing good — for love and creativity. But hand in hand with these capacities for good go profound capacities for evil as well — for cruelty and destruction; violence and hatred. You can’t have one capacity without the other.
I don’t think I’ve ever read this morning’s parable in the context of baptism before. Doing so, I hear Jesus speaking to us about child rearing.
There are two characters in this parable: the poor widow and the unjust judge. The widow is quite clear about the struggle between good and evil. She has seen evil and the suffering it has produced, and she devotes herself to trying to overcome this evil.
The judge, on the other hand, is pretty determined to be oblivious to the struggle. His life is all about his own comfort and convenience. He wasn’t the direct agent of the evil against which the widow is struggling. His guilt arises from his refusal to get involved on her behalf and take a stand for good against evil. In the end, he only acts because widow is such a persistent “bother”; an ongoing inconvenience to him.
As such, I think the unjust judge is a pretty good caricature of the way this culture encourages us to view life: Live is an amoral journey in pursuit of comfort, nothing more.
When we bring a child into this world, however, we are compelled to recognize that there is a whole lot more at stake. Our child has a soul. The overarching question of our child’s life is, will good, or evil, win the soul of our kid.
So the widow, it seems to me, represents all us parents.
At this point in the process, Debbie and Danny, I expect that all you’ve seen is the goodness of Isabella. She seems to be innocence personified. I hate to break it to you, but soon enough she will show you something other than pure goodness. And then the widow’s plight may seem all too familiar. Where is sweet, innocent Isabella? Where did this little demon come from? You’ll go knocking on whatever door you can to in seardh of sweet, innocent Isabella. Hey, you’ll say, I poured all my energy and time and money on this child, and what I get for all my effort is this little brat?! Where’s the justice!
And here’s the weird part. They’ll be days when Isabella will express that original goodness, and you will be moved to tears by the beauty of it, and then in the next moment, the little demon will reappear.
Which calls to mind another parable Jesus told. He said there was a field where good seed was planted. But the workers in the field were perplexed to discover that along with the wheat that grew in that field, weeds appeared as well. They asked the master of the field whether they should set to yanking up the weeds. No, said the master, for in doing so you might yank out the wheat by mistake. Let them grow together, and at the harvest I’ll take care of the separating.
And so now I give you the second word I wanted to lift up this morning about child rearing. (Remember, at the outset I said there were two words. Courage was one. Maybe you thought the other was stupidity. It wasn’t.)
The word is perseverance.
To be a parent in this great struggle is to sign up for the long haul. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Don’t give up. There will be countless days when you will feel like giving up; when you will feel like a failure as a parent. (Here’s a little secret: Every parent has days when they feel like a complete failure.) But you will get back up and you try again. You will keep knocking at the unjust judge’s door. You will hold out for the final harvest, trusting in the mercy of the Lord. For yourself, and for your kid.