Sermon – August 18, 2013
Christ Episcopal Church, New Bern, North Carolina
Celebrating The Baptisms of Manteo and Virginia Dare
The Rev. Dr. William Carl Thomas, Interim Rector
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O Lord, our strength and our redeemer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight.
In my 24 years as a priest, I have had the privilege of serving in Sayville, New York, which is on Long Island where I was ordained; Warren, Rhode Island, which is the smallest town in the smallest state; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is home to the many times and current national champion college football team, the Crimson Tide; Charleston and, for a short-time while completing my Doctorate, Huntington, both in the beautiful mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia. When I arrived in the Deep South for the first time, I found that people wanted to know my answers to three questions:
· Where do you go to church?
· Who are you for?
· Who are your people?
In my case, where I went to church was obvious. Who are you for was really the Auburn or Alabama football question. And who are your people was more concerned with maternal than paternal lineage.
Over time, however, I came to understand these questions masked a deeper anxiety. What people were really asking was: “Do you love me?” and “Will you let me love you?”
With this Sunday, we begin our time together as congregation and interim rector. I want to assure you that you have my love. There is nothing you can or have to do to earn my love. What, however, is love if love is not shared. I can’t love unless I am loved. So my answer to the question, “Will I let you love me?” is YES in capital letters. But here’s the catch, our ability to love is bound up in where love emanates. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it best, “God does not love us because we are loveable; we are loveable because God loves us.”
The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in Rome of the power of this love when he answered their anxiety question: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Paul’s stirring words live as an anthem that put lyrics to the music that is the foundation of healthy relationships: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Perhaps Manteo, a Native American resident of Croatan within the Outer Banks, perhaps Manteo who once traveled to London to become the liaison between the English of Sir Walter Raleigh’s three colonies and the Native Americans, perhaps Manteo was drawn into the power of the love described by Paul and moved to seek Holy Baptism. Perhaps Manteo found in 1587 the faith of the 120 men, women and children of what became known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, to be the living expression of Paul’s conviction to the Ephesians: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into the holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Perhaps Manteo was ready to answer the three newcomer questions by declaring where he would go to church, knowing that he was for sharing the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, and declaring as his people: the household of God he experienced on Roanoke Island.
What makes this speculation of motive all the more powerful is the observation that Manteo must have seen the world at it’s best, and at it’s worst. One need only watch the movie Shakespeare in Love to recall the living conditions of Elizabethan London. As we remember his baptism today, Manteo reminds us what it means to be aware of Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God; the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; and all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. When Manteo renounced this evil he acknowledged the world he must have observed acting at its worst.
People who are drawn to be baptized or present their children for baptism, however, see beyond this worst and turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior; put their whole trust in his grace and love; and promise to follow and obey him as their Lord. Manteo’s baptism on August 13, 1587, the first recorded Church of England baptism in the new world, was a moment when the awesome reality of the love that makes heaven on earth possible, became an outward and visible sign to 120 anxious men, women, and children, that nothing could separate them from that love.
Colonial Governor John White was aware of an earthly reality. His granddaughter, Virginia Dare, born to his daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias five days later on August 18th, entered a struggling colony that badly needed supplies. Yet this household of God on Roanoke Island was rich in faith. Manteo was received into the household of God. As he shared in Christ’s eternal priesthood, he, along with Virginia’s parents, grandfather, and the whole colony confessed the faith of Christ crucified and proclaimed his resurrection when Virginia was baptized on August 20th. As was done for Manteo, he added his voice to a promise similar to the one we as a congregation make on behalf of the newly baptized that was, no doubt, made for Virginia: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ? We will.”
What does it mean for a community of faith to make such a promise? I suspect that Virginia was covered in prayers, witness and love to help her grow into the full stature of Christ. I wish I could report a happy ending that would make Hollywood proud concerning what happened to Virginia, Manteo, and the rest of the Lost Colony. The heart of the promise made to support a person in his or her life in Christ is to incarnate what Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” To live a life in Christ, whether in a Lost Colony or in New Bern, North Carolina, means that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength. This is how we declare to all the world that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For when Jesus stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, he offered his saving embrace in order that we could reach forth our hands in that love.
One concrete way we can reach forth our hands in love is to let the newly baptized know that we will support them in their life in Christ. I invite you to participate in a new practice for Christ Church at our next baptism. A special version of the baptismal certificate will be prepared with room for you to sign your name below the question and response: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ? We will.” By signing your name, you incarnate your intention, with God’s help, to provide love within this household of God that promotes an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.
Manteo and Virginia Dare knew such love. New Bern has felt the power of that love through Christ Church since 1715. I am blessed to be among you to share in this love.
All these words I offer in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.