Towards a Whole-Hearted Faith, Part 5

Remember your baptism.   For the next few minutes, recall to mind anything you remember about your baptism. When was it?  Who was present? What pictures or mementos have you seen?  Were you sprinkled with water or fully immersed?   (If you haven’t been baptized, simply reflect on the baptism you’ve just witnessed).

Remember your baptism.

A dear saint of the church, now gone on to glory, used to give me a hard time about that phrase.  Remember???  Remember your baptism??!!!  We’re Presbyterians and baptize our children as infants.   They’re not going to remember anything about it!

She had a point, I guess, unless you think of re-membering as something different from memory.  The only memory I have of my own baptism is a photograph that used to hang in my mother’s hallway, one that includes my brother (the one who isn’t Jack) and younger sister Sue, since we were all baptized on the same Palm Sunday worship service at Broadlands Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.  Little Leo will probably have no memories of this occasion except the ones formed through photos and stories of the occasion told to him by his parents and grandparents and sister.

Yet I remember.  Leo will remember.   The waters of baptism leave a mark on us, revealing our identity as children of God, and as a member of the community of faith.   We are named.  We are loved beyond anything we can imagine.  We belong.  We can—and will—move away from this identity at times.  But we can’t rid ourselves of it, anymore than we can repudiate our genetic make-up.

No matter how Leo’s life unfolds, he will remember that his parents brought him to be baptized, to affirm how dearly and deeply he is loved, not simply by them, but by the larger family of faith, and most of all by God.  There is nothing he can do or not do:  no failure, no disappointment, no rejection that can take that essential truth away.

Remember your baptism.

Baptism is by water.  In the prayer of thanksgiving for baptism we prayed moments ago, we remember the significance of water and it’s life-giving, elemental, and cleansing qualities.  Remember how the Spirit of God moved over chaotic primordial waters to create; remember how God delivered a family from devastating and destructive waters in an ark God directed them to build and then blessed them not only with survival but with the bright rainbow promise refracted in water to be with them always.  Remember how God parted the mighty waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites might exit slavery and walk towards liberation and wholeness as a covenant community.  Remember that Jesus was baptized by John and authorized as God’s beloved and God’s spokesperson.

Every single human was first nurtured in womb-waters;  and once we’re born need to sustain life by drinking water, bathing in water, having waste flushed out with water.  Water provides a medium for exercise, for sport, for chilling (and chilling out).

I had served in one particular church only a few months before celebrating a baptism and realized after the service had started that there was no water in the font; there was no pitcher of water by the font. There was no water.   This was either going to be a dry baptism or I had to think of something fast.  So at the introduction to the baptism, I announced in my best pulpit voice:  “We will now have the presentation of the water.”  Some quick-witted ushers in the back saved my hide by running to the kitchen and then processing down the aisle with a Tupperware pitcher of tap water.

It worked just fine.

Remember your baptism. 

Baptism is by Spirit.  It wasn’t just Jesus’ baptism that the Spirit showed up for, it’s every baptism.  This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased. God is present in the water, in the promises, in the baptized and their family, among the congregation.  Sometimes we get hung up in the ritual itself and develop all kinds of rules about how it’s to be done, who can be presented, and so on, as if those things will ensure it “works.”

I remember a family with one parent who had been raised Roman Catholic.  As she had moved away from that tradition, she was hesitant to participate in the ritual, even in a Presbyterian Church.  So we had a “baby blessing” in their backyard, in which God’s love was invoked, the parents made promise, and the gathered group of family and friends represented the community.  The Catholic grandmother even came up to me after the ceremony and whispered, Well, they might not call it baptism, but we know it is!   And guess what?  That little baby grew up and as a teenager was confirmed as a member of Central.

The Spirit can’t be controlled by the rules of our rituals, but is constantly on the move in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Baptism affirms we are not alone.  That’s one reason it’s generally part of a Sunday worship service and not a private ceremony.  Although special people are sometimes chosen as “sponsors,” more regularly the congregation fulfills that role, promising to love the child and provide for their faith formation.

As a parent, I remain eternally grateful for all those folks in previous congregations who mentored and challenged and hung out with my son during times when his parents were the last people he wanted to be with or listen to.  And something of his baptism has stayed with him into fatherhood as he values a faith community for his children.

Finally, we recognize that baptism is not an end.  It’s the start of living in this world in a different way.  It’s a commitment we’ll be invited to confirm for ourselves; and then choose to nurture again and again throughout our lives.  The placid water of the font represents mighty seas and laughing brooks; roiling waters and shocking cold streams that we will encounter in real life.  That baptism water is a force that continues to work on the landscape of our lives:  reshaping, changing, preparing it for cultivation, marking it.

These waters never stay still, but take us along an ever-flowing stream to learn and be taught, to receive and give blessing.  We can navigate the future, as we look back and remember the power of God in our baptism.  Our lives shadowed by our mortality take on different meaning when we know death is not our end.

Some of you may be wondering what happened to the Scripture text this week.  Remembering baptism is good preparation, because the truth of our text lies in its back story.  Jesus, and the women who became his followers too. They listened to him and he listened to them; he called them beloved; they called him beloved Teacher.  They prepared meals to sustain him for his own journey.  And very late in his ministry, one woman anointed him not with water but with fragrant perfume, expensive beyond compare, pouring out the entire bottle upon this one who she now understood as the way, the truth, and the life.

We’ve been learning much about this woman who very likely is Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles whom God entrusted to be the first witness to the Resurrection.  But before all that, Mary defied social custom to provide comfort and balm for his impending death.   In baptism we go under water as a symbol of our dying.  And we rise out of those waters to new life.  Life overflowing with goodness.  Life that revives the hearts made cynical by the world’s despair.  Life that delights us with bread and beauty.  Life that enlarges our capacity to love beyond rhyme or reason.   Life that overcomes the finality of death.

A reading from the good news according to John, chapter twelve, verses one through eight.  Hear God’s word to us, beloved.

JOHN 12:1-8

Friends, When we see the body of Christ still broken in this world,
May we meet it with lavish grace
And pour ourselves out with extravagant love

Remember your baptism.

Thanks be to God!