Magnify: A Sermon on Baptismal Promises for May 31, 2015

We usually hear the story of Mary around Christmastime. On the third Sunday in Advent we read about how the angel Gabriel came to Mary and gave her the surprise of her life. She was pregnant, and not by the guy to whom she was engaged. And she asks the angel, “How did that happen? That’s impossible!” But Gabriel just replies, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary goes from there to visit her cousin Elizabeth, a woman who was not supposed to be able to be pregnant, and yet who was about to give birth to a baby who would grow to be John the Baptist. And when Mary enters the house John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. And when she tells Mary that, Mary responds with what we’ve come to know as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

An icon from the Taize community.
An icon from the Taize community.

And now, here we are, in the end of May, reading what may sounds a lot like a Christmas story. And it may feel out of place. But in truth, this story comes up twice a year in our lectionary, once near Christmastime, and once in late spring, right about seven months before Jesus was born, and about the time when Mary would have been figuring out that something was up. And so today, on the day when we in the church remember the Visitation, we read the Magnificat again.

That word “Magnificat” is Latin and it literally means “my soul magnifies”. And when Mary, a woman who was not wealthy or powerful or likely to be chosen for anything that had to do with royalty, really realizes the importance of what she has been asked to do, those are the first words she says: my soul magnifies the Lord. That’s her first response.

It’s sort of an odd turn of phrase in today’s language, though. When you think of what it means to “magnify” something, what do you picture? I can’t help it but I always go straight to a magnifying glass, like the kind I played around with as a kid. Except I wonder what it means to magnify the Lord. Because as a kid I’d use a magnifying glass to make something that was small look bigger. Hold a magnifying glass over tiny writing and suddenly it is readable. Or look at grains of sand through it, and all of a sudden you could see different colors. The seemingly insignificant became bold.

And that’s wonderful, but God’s problem is not that God is too small. God is immense beyond our wildest imaginations, and we only need to open all our senses up to know that God is all around us. But sometimes that is difficult. Sometimes for as much as we want to see and feel and hear evidence of God’s love, we just can’t. And that’s when we look for signs of God around us. And, often, we find them in others.

That has often happened to me. Times in my life where I have felt lost or uncertain or wrestled with doubt, I was able to look to other people and see God’s love in them. It was life changing. And it taught me that the way we live magnifies the Lord, not just for ourselves, but for others.

And so, that’s when the magnifying glass comes in handy. Not because God needs to be made bigger, but because our attention to, and understanding of, God does. We are the ones who need the magnification that the glass provides, not God. We need help to refocus, and to see things in their proper light. Because it is by looking at people like Mary, and what she did, that we are able to understand more about God, and about God’s love for us.

Mary said “my soul magnifies the Lord”, and that’s really true. Mary becomes a magnifying glass through which our focus is changed, and God becomes clearer to us. By magnifying the Lord, Mary teaches us what it means to be loved by God, and chosen by God to do surprising and amazing things.

And Mary teaches us that it’s not enough to just see God more clearly. Because God also requires of us action. Because just as Mary had to be an active participant in the story of Jesus’ birth, we too have to be active participants in helping to bring Christ’s light into this world.

We can make the choice to magnify God in this way with out lives. But in order to do so, we have to look at ourselves, and see what kind of lens we are. Have we covered ourselves so that the light of God cannot penetrate us? Have we shut our souls so that the warmth of God’s love is never reflected to others?

Or, have we cleared off the lenses of our life, and are we letting God’s light shine through them? Have we chosen to live our lives as magnifiers of God’s love?

I ask you those questions today because I am going to ask you some other questions later in the service. After the sermon, and the hymn, we are going to be baptizing our newest brother in Christ. Gavin’s parents are going to bring him forward, and they are going to make promises about raising him in the faith, and teaching him about God. And Gavin’s godparents will also do the same thing. But it won’t stop there.

And that’s because we, the gathered congregation, are asked to make promises too. Because baptism is also about community. It’s about a congregation saying, “yes, we will love this child and teach him and help him to grow in love for God”. Those are serious promises. And they are promises that ask you to live your life in a way that will magnify God for Gavin as he grows up in this place.

And that’s true not just for Gavin, but for every child and young person who comes through our doors. The job that each of us has, not just the parents, is to help to teach the children and youth in our community what it is to be a Christian, and what it means to live your life in service to something greater than yourself.

Parents are such an important part of that. Church community is so important, but children learn even more about faith at home than they do at church, because they are with their parents so much of the time. And how their parents live out their own faith, how they magnify God, will shape their childrens’ spiritual lives for as long as they live. The choices they make about faith will never be forgotten.

But parents can’t do it alone. I recently read an article about children and youth in church that told me something I’d never known. It said that a child or a youth needs at least five interested adults in their church community in order for them to really connect with their faith and feel a part of the church.

Think about that for a moment. Five adults. So maybe one could be me, and another could be Pastor Cat. I hope we are both that for our youth. But what about those next three or more? Who will they be? A Sunday school teacher? Their handbell or choir director? A volunteer youth group leader? Maybe an adult who always takes the time to ask about their week? Or the one who sleeps on the hard vestry floor overnight when there is a lock-in, or cooks breakfast the next morning?

Who will be the adults who will magnify the holy for the next generation? Will you be one of them?

You don’t need any special training to do that. You don’t need a seminary degree, or one in early childhood education. And you don’t need to be versed in the latest music or trends. You simply need to care about the children and youth in our church enough to embrace what it means to be an intergenerational church, and to live your life as a magnifying glass for God’s love.

When people ask me what our goal is here with our children and youth, and what we want them to learn, I think they expect a list of things. Learn the Lord’s prayer, learn about the Bible, learn the stories of Jesus by heart.

None of that is a bad idea. I hope that by the time our youth graduate from high school they will know all that and more.

But more importantly than that, these are the two things I hope the young people in our church learn first: 1) That God loves them, and 2) That we love them too. If they take nothing else away from a children’s sermon or a Sunday school lesson, I hope it’s that. The rest will come in due time, but it will only stick if they know those two other things first.

That is something to remember on baptism days especially. Because there is a long line of children that have been brought up to this same baptismal font, including some of you decades ago who still sit in these same pews. People who are not still with us made promises to them too. And because of that, they sit here today, and they sit in other churches elsewhere, ready to make promises to another. There’s real beauty in that.

And today we will join our promises with them, and we make the promises again with another beloved child of God. We make the promises to support Gavin and his family. And in a real way we tell Gavin that we already love him, and that God loved him first and will love him all his days, and even beyond. That is the promise of the font, and it is one that we all can magnify in our lives together. Amen.

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