Baptism Gives Us Roots & Wings

Almost the first thing I knew about the service today was that there would be a butterfly on the front cover of the bulletin. The other thing that I knew is that we were celebrating on this day something that this community has been waiting for and working toward for years. 

Butterflies are often called a sign of new life and of transformation—and so when Jennifer asked  me to preach today my first thought was that I would preach a sermon about butterflies. Then I started doing some research…and I found out some interesting things. 

A single orange and white butterfly lights on the beach as a wave starts to recede. Image by Erik Karits from Pixabay.

First of all, there are no butterflies in the Bible.  A close reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament brings a handful of mentions of annoying insects: locusts, grasshoppers, flies, gnats, maggots, hornets, fleas, and ants.  In a handful of passages there are bees (but the focus is mostly on honey. Moths get ten mentions—always though as a destructive force.   

It wasn’t until modern times that there was even a word in Hebrew for butterfly. Prior to that, Hebrew writers used the word for “bird” or “vineyard bird” when talking about any flying insect, including butterflies.  In 1910, a poet called Ben-Yehuda used the word parpar—a play on the word pirper, which means “flutter”—to describe the beautiful and colorful bursts of color that bob across a field.  He was perhaps the first to feel the need to articulate a particular kind of beauty that he saw in the world. And it caught on.  That historical tidbit appealed to me—because like the poet, our job as people of faith is to name and articulate the beauty in the world that the world may see but not have a name for. 

We are here today to celebrate the community of Transfiguration—and its efforts in doing the work of helping people see and name holiness in this world.  In this celebration of new ministry we are pointing to a new iteration of something that has been going on for a really long time—a new era of something wonderful and beautiful. 

Whenever a new rector comes into a parish, we celebrate and encourage the new relationship that has been created. It is tempting to compare this new relationship to marriage—the coming together of two to become one. Instead, though, let’s think about this more as a baptism—we are anointing a new stage of ministry in this place and all of us, Jennifer, and the people of Transfiguration are pledging today to watch over it. We are all the godparents and the sponsors of this iteration of ministry in this place.  

And it is apt because this community is in the midst of transformation and is doing the work of nurturing and developing something that is both new and vulnerable. Today is the beginning of a new articulation of what this community is and how it lives in the broader community.

Let’s think of ourselves as sponsors or godparents of this new thing that we are baptizing. Image by Hermann H. from Pixabay

Like the little children that came to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, this newly born iteration of Transfiguration must be protected and nurtured and encouraged by all of us. 

How do we do that? I am reminded of an often used quote that good parents give their children both roots and wings. (In trying to find out where the saying comes from I found it has been attributed to a variety of sources from an African folk saying to writer Goethe and American virologist Jonas Salk. That says to me it is a truth that resonates.)

As we work together to nurture the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in this time and place, that then is a good goal… Let us celebrate both the wonderful roots that this community has in its history and the wings that will take it to new places in the future.  Let us be a place of roots where people can come and feel safe, where their identity can be rooted, where there is sureness and depth and strength. Let us be a place of wings where love can be carried into the world, where beauty can dance, and where holiness shows up in a riot of color. These are the gifts that our faith gives us: roots and wings. 

And this is what we are being called into: 

  • Love and nurture those things that are vulnerable. 
  • Heal and care for those things that broken. 
  • Be rooted in the history and holiness of this place. 
  • Let our wings take us to new places together. 

Preached by the Ven. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in San Mateo, CA on Saturday, March 18, 2023 on the occasion of the Celebration of New Ministry of the Rev. Jennifer Hornbeck.

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