Baptism: Uh-oh!

We are here today, among other things, to baptize Emmeline Brene into Christ’s Holy Family, the Church. 

A brief word about the connection between me and part of little Emmeline’s family. In the 1970’s my wife Ann and I lived in Greenville, Ohio, where Scott Johns and his parents and brother were our very dear friends. When we had children, young Scottie, as we knew him then, was our babysitter. Over the years we have stayed in touch and have attended family weddings, funerals, graduations, including the marriage of Scott and his wife Joyie, and most recently the marriage of Emmeline’s parents, Quinn and Hillary. That young Scott Johns who babysat for us those many years ago is Emmeline’s maternal grandfather. A warm welcome to the Johns family and to the Schweiers, the other side of Emmeline’s family.

It’s appropriate to have a baptism here in the middle of the Easter Season, which lasts for the great fifty days between Easter Day and the Feast of Pentecost. In the early church, Eastertide was the season of baptisms. As far as we can discern, infants and children were baptized at almost any time of year. Adults, however, by the third century underwent a serious time of preparation, which intensified during Lent. In times of persecution those candidates for baptism often met secretly for instruction in the catacombs under the city of Rome, and so they came to be called catechumens and their teachers were known as catechists

Easter time is especially appropriate for baptism, because of the emphasis on death to an old way of life and rising to a new way of being in the world.

As we proceed with this service, Emma’s family and godparents will be asked to see that she is raised in the Christian way of life. Quite frankly, this is the generally the easiest way to form a person into an adult Christian—since they grow up speaking “Christian” just as they speak English and learn the values and traditions of their family. It’s much harder to convert an adult from no religion or another religion than it is to simply raise them in the faith. 

Among the vows that we make are to “turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior, to put our whole trust in his grace and love, and to follow and obey him as our Lord.”

What does it mean to follow and obey, to love God, to accept Jesus as our savior? To help us think about that and to serve as a guide, the church provides us with that we call the Baptismal Covenant. It adds content to the vows we make and gives them legs so to speak.

The Baptismal Covenant begins with the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Although it’s called the Apostles’ Creed, it dates to the fourth century. But it reflects the basic faith of the apostles as taught in the books of the New Testament. 

The three paragraphs of the creed proclaim belief in the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The word translated from both Latin and Greek for “believe” is not an intellectual affirmation so much as it’s a statement of trust. So to say, “I believe” is actually a matter of the heart, “I trust in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.” In the same way that the sheep trust the Good Shepherd, the same way that the Psalmist proclaims his trust when he declares, “The Lord is my shepherd . . . .

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Baptismal Covenant goes on.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

This is a promise to stay connected to the Church, which is the Body of Christ. It’s in the community of faith that we hear and wrestle with the teaching of the apostles, where we encounter the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread, where we learn to pray for ourselves, for one another, for our world. 

Last week we heard the Gospel that described how two disciples of Jesus met him on the road to the town of Emmaus. It was on Easter Day in the afternoon, and they didn’t recognize him. But when they came to the inn and sat down to dinner, the text says that “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Other than his appearance to Mary in the garden outside the tomb, every single resurrection appearance of Jesus occurred during a meal—in the upper room on two occasions, at the Emmaus Inn, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And so it has become the expectation that when we break bread together—the risen Christ will be present.

Will your persevere is resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

As much as we’d like to think that there’s no evil in the world, it only takes a moment to recall the wars and genocides, the mistreatment and abuse of refugees, the mass murders, we could go on and on. To persevere in resisting evil means, at the very least, to resist! To fight to change the systems and -isms and slogans that promulgate and perpetuate evil. And it means to root out the sin in ourselves that separates us from God and God’s creation, to repent, to turn away from the evil and turn back to God’s way of love and grace.

The next vow is this: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? 

This vow is self-explanatory. When you get a chance to share the Good News (without brow-beating or pounding them over the head with your Bible), then do it. Your example, the way you live and the values you represent are often a more powerful testimony than the verbal one. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”

 Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? 

Jesus was once approached by lawyer who wanted to know who the “neighbor” was? And Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What many don’t realize is that in the first century, a Samaritan was despised as a heretic, a low-life, an enemy. And yet it was the Samaritan who took care of the man who’d been beaten and robbed on the Jericho road while the good guys, the priest and the Levite, passed bye on the other side of the road. Jesus then asked the lawyer, “So who was neighbor to the injured man?” Obviously, it was the low-life heretic, the enemy. 

Vowing to seek and serve Christ in all persons recalls the time that Jesus pointed out that whenever we care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, the naked, the sick—we are serving Christ himself. And please note that we are not just to serve the needy when we have chance encounters—but we are to actively seek them out. 

These vows seem to be getting harder and harder. The next one is

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Not only justice and peace for our friends, for people like us, for people whose political views, station in life, skin color, gender identity, religion, nationality, language, culture are similar to ours . . . but all people. 

We strive to respect the dignity of every human being. What a contrast to the ways of the world, the media, some of the members of school boards, cities, states, nations—even churches—who seem to think that they were elected or appointed to denigrate and deny the dignity of whole groups of human beings. We aren’t asked to agree with everybody or condone all types of behavior or ways of thinking. But if we follow and obey Jesus, then there’s a burden put upon us to understand that everyone—every one—even those who commit the gravest atrocities and evils—even they are children of God. Resist, argue, disagree with all your might—but do not demonize or malign the dignity that is their birthright as created in the image of God.

And the final vow is this. 

Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect the beauty and integrity of all Creation?

This vow is relatively new and doesn’t appear in the current version of The Book of Common Prayer that was first published in the 1970’s. But then, Earth Day only emerged in that same decade, and global climate change has been generally, if reluctantly, only acknowledged more recently. But from the time that the Creation stories in the Book of Genesis were first told around campfires more than 3,000 years ago—there’s been an understanding that our Creator has charged us with the responsibility to be stewards of the Creator’s work. We are to care for one another, the planet, the atmosphere, the earth and seas, the plants and animals. It is becoming more and more critical for us to think carefully and faithfully about our consumption of natural resources, development, and use of energy.  

This is not a plank in a political platform or a suggestion from an environmental organization. It is a commitment that we’re asked to pursue as a matter of our faith—a vow to cherish and protect the wondrous works of God. 

The Rev. John Buchanan, former publisher of The Christian Century magazine, tells about a Sunday service where he baptized a two-year child. He made the standard pronouncement from the prayer book: “You are a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” Unexpectedly, the child blurted out, “Uh-oh!” 

Buchanan writes: “It was an appropriate response . . . a stunning theological affirmation.” 

For you see, Baptism is not just a rite of passage and a family occasion. It’s an Easter moment. It marks our death to an old life and way of being. It is being reborn, resurrected into a whole new life as a “Christ-ian.” We are followers, believers, lovers of Jesus and doers of his values. He wants more than our regard, our respect as a religious leader, and our occasional attention. He wants our souls, our whole being. Uh-oh!

Let the Church say, “A-men.”

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