The Quinceranera of Bella Fasano

A sermon preached by the Rev. Nils Chittenden

Sunday, June 19, 2016 at St. MAry's Church, North castle

It’s easy to go onto autopilot in church. The readings. Yada yada. Same old same old. The archaic words of the liturgy. The priest doing his thing up at the altar. It’s easy to let everything pass one by. Myself included. Familiarity can breed sterility. We become so used to our expectations of church that it becomes routine, or worse, becomes tedious, or worse still, becomes boring, or even worse than that, becomes irrelevant.

It’s easy to forget that what we are here for today is not only more relevant than almost anything we could imagine, but it is revolutionary.

Bella, in just a moment, you are going to be declaring revolutionary stuff in front of everyone here. I know it might not seem that revolutionary, because we are so used to going onto autopilot here in church. But it is revolutionary stuff, believe me.

Yesterday, Kelly and I were at a beach. It was a beach on a lake, not an ocean, but no matter. A beach is a beach, right? There was sand there, and that’s what counts.

It reminded me of this fact: that when you pick up a handful of sand, there is roughly a million grains in that handful. A million. That’s a lot of grains. Then imagine all of the grains on the tiny beach at Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. An inconceivably large number. But then think of all the grains of sand on every beach in Connecticut, and then all the beaches of the Atlantic coast, and then all the sand on all the beaches of North America. We could not even begin to imagine the magnitude of that number, it is so vast. And then think of all the grains of sand on every beach on every continent on this planet that we live on. I don’t know about you, but it makes my brain hurt to even try to imagine what that number might look like. Trillions upon trillions upon trillions.

And now, imagine you’re lying on the beach looking up at the night sky, and all the stars you can see. And here’s the thing: there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on this planet. And who knows how many universes there are.

And in a moment, Bella will attest to the existence of an entity, a divine being, a good and kind force of love who created not only every one of those grains of sand, and every one of those stars in the sky, but also created each one of us, who we call God, and if that itself were not remarkable enough, that God arranged it that each and every one of us was totally and completely unique, that there was no other creation in existence exactly the same as each one of us, and…. and… that God knows each and every one of those creations… us….and that each and every one of us is infinitely loved by God.

And then, as if this were not amazing enough a thing to publicly attest to, Bella will attest that this God, outside of space and time, who created every grain of sand and every living creature on this earth, decided, through his love for us, to be both outside space and time, but also to enter space and time – to become a human being in order to be with us and to show us how much he loves us, and to be one of us in order to arrange a show-down with the forces of evil, resulting in the God of all creation being nailed to a cross in first century Palestine.

When one puts it like that, you can see how that is anything but rote, anything but yada yada, anything but same old same old. This is revolutionary stuff.

And this is why it compels us to say that we will resist evil and, when we fall into sin, that we will repent and return to the Lord.

This is why the prophet Isaiah, in our first reading today, tells us why it is so important that we acknowledge that we owe our very existence to God, and to know that God loves us, and to acknowledge that God wants us to live life in all of the fullness that he always intended for us.

And that is why, in a moment, Bella, you will publicly declare that you will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

And, again, it’s easy to go onto autopilot when we are saying this stuff. Easy for us to go onto autopilot when you are listening to me saying this stuff. But let’s never forget how important these declarations are. Because when we strive for justice and peace among all peoples, then the implications of that are huge: that’s going to affect everything. It’s going to affect how you behave at school, at home, at work when you get to the workplace, and every day for the rest of your life. And for all of us, just by coming here today, and by coming to church week by week, we align ourselves with these ideals, and with the ways in which they require to examine ourselves and ask ourselves the question, in every situation: ‘what’s the right thing to do here, what would God want me to do?’

We have the opportunity, everyday, to bring God’s light to the world. I know that might sound a bit grandiose, when our daily existence consists of trying to get out of the house on time, looking vaguely presentable, or trying to get a parking spot at the grocery store. But, believe me, in everything, we have the opportunity to be light to the world. And if everyone strove for justice and peace, and not only respected the dignity of every human being, but recognized it, too, then atrocities like Orlando would never have happened, nor any war, nor any famine.

I know it’s an old cliché, but old clichés are old clichés for a reason. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, whether you have just turned fifteen, or whether you are about to turn fifty, or whether fifty seems young, and a distant memory.

At the end of the quinceanera rite, I will declare God’s blessing on Bella, but may we all know that God’s blessing is on us, and that his blessing strengthens each one of us to start afresh our commitment to doing the right thing, to seeing the hand of God in our lives, and to seeing the face of God in everyone we meet.

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