Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
Holy Baptism of Eleanor Rose King
When my sister and I were 12 and 13 years old,
we went on a trip by ourselves
to see our beloved Aunt Ellen in the Windy City.
We rode all the way from Anniston, Alabama to Chicago, Illinois by train.
Looking back now, it seems quite brave of our parents
to send us off alone on such a long trip,
but at the time, I can tell you, Gretel and I were not worried a bit.
We were excited.
Aunt Ellen was excited too.
She had prepared for months for our arrival that summer
and planned a wonderful week for us to spend together.
Ellen never had any children of her own.
She lived all by herself in a condo just off Michigan Avenue.
Her husband, Uncle Bill died of leukemia only a year after they were married,
and it would be several years yet before she’d meet Uncle Dave who she later married.
I remember SO much about that magical week.
The three of us girls window shopped walked along the ritzy downtown stores
and we visited all the museums—my favorite was the Museum of Science and Industry—I can still picture my Aunt Ellen, a little taken back by all the questions we had looking at the specimens in that museum.
We ate great food, and ate a lot.
At one lunch she fixed for us, I ate, three BLT sandwiches.
I think I remember this because I overheard her tell my mother on the phone, “that’s six slices of bread!”
I just think she didn’t realize how much growing girls can eat.
Even though our Aunt Ellen didn’t live near us as we grew up,
she was at the heart of our family.
We thought of her as immediate family.
This term has always seemed funny to me, “Immediate family.”
I read that it goes back to late medieval times.
In 1924 some wise guy invented the term nuclear family, to replace it,
but to me, that term is even odder.
I felt better when I learned that nuclear family comes from the word nucleus,
which at its root, is the Latin word for nut,
as in the core of something.
I don’t think the term has really ever caught on,
though most families I’ve known, have plenty of nuts in them.
I’m not a fan of immediate family or nuclear family,
nor of the newest iteration, the conjugal family. Sounds a bit risqué to me.
But I’m told these terms are necessary in legal matters.
So, while we counted her as family,
Ellen wasn’t technically in our immediate family.
There was a time when I realized,
legally, she wouldn’t have had any immediate family.
Aunt Ellen, my dad, and their brother John grew up in a broken home.
The three kids were raised by an aunt and uncle,
who were childless themselves.
My uncle John became a teacher, My dad went to law school, then seminary,
and Ellen became a nurse;
She was the one we all called to get advice on health matters.
Ellen cared for lots of us extended family members,
and she went on vacations with us,
even traveling to NZ for a year with my cousins
when Uncle John taught in a teacher exchange.
She organized our reunions and kept the official family albums, keeping our memories alive.
She may not have had a nuclear family,
but I want you to know my Aunt Ellen, who died just last fall,
she knew more about family—the God-given gift of family—
than anyone I have ever met.
On this day of your baptism, Nora, I hope with all my heart,
you’ve inherited Aunt Ellen’s gift of making relationships special.
You are named after her. Eleanor.
And you are named after both your father’s grandmothers
Rosalie and Mary Elizabeth Primrose—
I hope you’ll also learn about these strong women one day.
These persons are your family.
And today your family gets even larger!
Today you join the biggest family of all, God’s family.
In just a few minutes this part of the family of God, St. Luke’s,
joins with your family and friends to receive you into the household of God.
This is a great big family. So big, you’ll find,
we might not always agree on everything.
Don’t let this discourage you, sweetheart.
My “immediate family” can’t even agree on what to eat most nights.
But we still share a table, we share the gifts God gives us.
This is what your church family will be like.
After conflict over the silliest things, we’ll come to the Lord’s table,
and be reminded that our life is centered here, grounded in the love of Christ.
We agree on the important things, Nora.
We agree that God made us in God’s image—we are made out of love.
We agree that we are called to love one another and when we forget this,
and “fall into sin,” we know to return to God.
We are about to say all these promises out loud—together,
encouraging one another to hold on to them, as best we can.
My favorite promise is the last one, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
And together we say, I will with God’s help.
At the heart of it, this is what the writer to the Ephesians is saying when he writes about
Bearing with one another in love.
This is the crux of the Christian life.
As alone as this world may make us feel at times,
even classifying family in legal terms,
we are not alone.
We belong to one another,
just as we belong to God.
Nora, I can’t wait for you to meet your new family.
We promise to walk alongside with you in this
wonderful, life-giving, amazing journey of faith.
So help us God.