A letter to Lakai on the occasion of her baptism
With reference to 1st Samuel 16:1-13, and Mark 4:26- 32
The first thing I want to say is, Thank You! Thank you for the honour of asking me to baptize you today, just before I retire from a ministry that has been such a huge part of my life for the past 31 years. The thing is, the seeds of this ministry go back much further… but I’ll tell you more about that a little later.
The seeds of your baptism go back a way too. You have wanted to take this step in your life since before I met you – about four years ago. Somehow, the timing was never just right, but you did not lose the feeling, and for that I am grateful, and I am also assured that God’s spirit is at work in you, in ways both you and the world shall yet discover.
The scripture today about Samuel choosing the shepherd boy David, to be king, shows a bit of the mystery of how God steadfastly calls us, not because we are the biggest and strongest, the most wealthy and powerful, but because God sees the gift of who we are and what we can bring to bless the world.
The gospel reading, about the kingdom of God being like a seed, is similar. At first, it looks tiny, insignificant; but there is within that seed, if nurtured by life, the potential to expand and grow and be nourishment and blessing far, far beyond its original self.
But it’s got to risk being planted, it’s got to let go of just being a seed, so that it can be a field of grain, or a plant that gives shelter and strength to others.
I read a quote this week that uses the term `your unique gift,’ like Jesus uses the term `seed.’ Bill Plotkin writes: The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift—your true self—is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.
Lakai, your unique gift is what God calls you to offer the world. None of us have all the gifts for all the people. You can’t be someone you are not. You can’t be everything to everyone. Even the seed that is planted can grow into only one kind of tree or grain or flower. That’s what the plant it is meant to be. So honour that in yourself, and trust that God will use it to bless the world.
Now, remember I said at the beginning of my letter that the seeds of my ministry go back a long way. Well, in May 1987, at the Alberta North West U.C. Conference meeting, I sat down with a man named Tom Sawyer – Rev. Tom Sawyer. Tom was retiring from ministry in the United Church of Canada that year; I was just about to begin. My memories of Tom were very hazy; I would have met him briefly when I was about five or six years old. My dad’s folks were loosely connected with the United Church, my mom’s roots were in the Nazarene Church. `How did I end up in the United Church?’ I asked him. And he told me:
In the early – mid 1960’s, as a new minister, he had been sent to Ft. Nelson – Mile 300 on the Alaska Highway. He and the local Catholic priest got together and talked about this long dusty rutted highway that stretched for 250 miles from Ft. Nelson to the next town south. Someone ought to be offering ministry to these people, they agreed. They divided the highway – Catholic and other. Tom had to make a plea to a very reluctant Home Missions Board, asking for 2 cents a mile for the road ministry. He apparently visited our home at Mile 245 on the Alaska Highway several times and even did an Easter service there. (I don’t remember it.) When we moved to Ft. Nelson in 1965, Mom babysat for the Sawyer’s and consequently got involved in church. So did our family. I got to know a lot of United Church ministers while growing up – all of them had their gifts; all of them had their flaws. I knew this was where I belonged. I knew that ministry in the United Church of Canada is what God had called me to.
Tom said, `Today, while you were being interviewed in front of us all, I happened to be sitting beside the man who used to be Chair of the Home Missions Board. I leaned over and said to him, You see that young woman up there? You remember that 2 cents a mile I asked for in 1964? See, I told you it was worth it!’
What I have found in my years of ministry is that you don’t often get to know what will bloom from the seeds of faith that you plant. But plant the seed anyway. And trust God. Don’t just say you trust God, I mean really trust God. The kingdom will grow, one relationship at a time.
Lakai, I wanted to offer you a special song to end this letter with, but I couldn’t find what I wanted in the hymn books.
But then I thought of this beautiful song by Amanda McBroom. And I think if Jesus had a conversation with Amanda, he would say – “What an awesome song, Amanda. You really understand what the kingdom of God is about. You understand that it takes courage and vulnerability, and that you have to plant the seed.
The Rose (by Amanda McBroom)
Some say, “Love. It is a river that drowns the tender reed.”
Some say, “Love. It is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.”
Some say, “Love. It is a hunger, an endless aching need.”
I say, “Love. It is a flower, and you its only seed.”
It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.
It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give,
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long.
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.
With love and blessings on your faith journey,
Rev. Juanita Austin