One of my first baptisms after being called to Forest Hill was for a little girl, perhaps 2 or 3 years old. Her parents were stationed overseas, moved a lot, and had not found a church – Forest Hill had been their home church and so when the parents felt moved to baptize their child it was here that they came.Well, this little girl wanted no part of me, or of getting wet. She started to thrash about, twist and turn and cry out. So when I got to the part of actually putting water on her forehead it was “ready, aim, fire!”
I think I got water on her on at least one pass and probably ended up sprinkling several people sitting in the front pews.
After the service, the little girl’s parents were worried that maybe the baptism hadn’t “taken” since none of us were 100% sure that any water had touched her. I said then– and I still believe I am correct about this – that it is not me who makes the baptism happen; it is God who pours out divine love and grace, even upon those who don’t want it. And it is up to the church to support and teach and nurture the baptized person into a deeper experience of what baptism means.
I would like to think that this is what is happening in the passage in Acts where Peter and John come from the church in Jerusalem to support, encourage, and bring the Spirit. Baptism, after all is the beginning of our life in Christ, not the end!
Perhaps there is no better image/metaphor or deeper theological truth representing human separation from God then the little girl, thrashing about not sure she wants anything to do with God who is trying to hold her and show her acceptance and love.
There may also be a little bit of the Groucho Marx attitude: we don’t want to join a “club” who would have us for a member! There is a spirit of suspicion. We want to read the fine print!
But being baptized is not an initiation into a club.
Although I admit that sometimes when we get too “churchy” and start using “insider” language, talking about GCC or Labre (let alone Sine Nomine, the Group, Bullsheviks, Sanctus, Kyrie—and I am not talking about Mr. Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers—and who are these Elders and what does membership even mean anyway?) well, I admit it can sure sound as if there is secret language and maybe a secret handshake?
So I think we always have to ask ourselves: are we being as transparent as possible?
Because baptism is not a rite of passage into a closed club; it is an acknowledgement that our identity is shaped by a story, a spirit, a worldview, a community, by a love that passes understanding.
Indeed, baptism is the sign and seal that nothing – not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…” nor, as Paul continues, “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.”
So I don’t worry about that girl that I tried to baptize, now grown. But I do reflect upon that moment now and again and wonder about baptism, and how you and I need to claim our baptisms and live into them and invite others to take the mark and start living as if we really believe that the promises are true for us and for all.
Since the beginning of the church there has been all sorts of thrashing about in regards to baptism. Should be baptize infants or adults? Can you get baptized more than once? The church, through the centuries, has divided more on the interpretations of the sacraments than on anything else!
Here is what we say at each and every baptism of child or adult – whenever it occurs:
“In baptism God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God.
God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice.”
Those are amazing claims: You belong to God and not to yourself. It is not all up to you – you are not alone; you have worth and value just because.
You are playing with house money, with God’s money, now! (Just don’t forget to tithe your Power Ball winnings!)
Dying is not the end – we are included in the mystery of the resurrection.
When you’re baptized, you now have a family, a church – you are part of the body of Christ – and the marching orders, how we as the family are to be identified, define how we are to live in the world: with love, peacefully and justly.
That gets me fired up! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that! I think it is the perfect antidote to the dis-eases of our lives and of our world, those things that makes us quake and shake and wonder.
I have been at the bedside of the dying and reminded them of their baptism and read the words of Paul, the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd psalm, and more often than not the mere reminder of their baptism lets the calm come and the tension abate.
So remind yourself daily that you are a baptized and beloved child of God and move into your day knowing that that you can face whatever you have to face. It will make a difference.
Whenever I go into a Roman Catholic church I look for the holy water at the door and touch my finger into it and mark my forehead with the sign of the cross and remind myself that I am baptized. (Yes, Presbyterians can do that!)
Some days, my baptism is what gets me out of bed: “John, you are a baptized child of God – so get your feet on the floor and do what you do!”
It reminds me of a funny story about one Sunday morning when a mother went into her son’s bedroom to wake him up to get ready for church. The son said: “I am not going to church today!”
“Why not?” she said.
“Well, I don’t feel like it this morning, I am not in the mood.”
To which the mother replied: “I will give you two good reasons to get out of bed and go to church! You are 58 years old and you are the Pastor!”
We know Jesus was baptized; all four gospels report it. And if it’s good enough for Jesus…well….
I have always interpreted John the Baptist’s words about the separation of the wheat from the chaff as not so much about the separation of individuals (I get in and you don’t) but rather as a “shakedown” of my being, or a pruning of my limbs and everything that is dead in me, so that everything in me that is not in plumb with the divine wish gets separated and taken away and I get to be refined and made whole, and made holy.
My baptism keeps reminding me of growth potential; I am not done growing and God is not done with me….or you.
We are all on a journey of discovery, of growth, of movement – we find our faith in locomotion not location alone.
Baptism refreshes, and restores, reminds and re-energizes me for the work that is before us in the world.
I may be all “wet” – but I am also fired up!! So be it.