Sunday, May 28th, I was given the gift to preach on the day of a Baptism! Here is what I came up with, enjoy!!
Today, I need you all to go with me a little. Give me a little grace, as it were. Because I’d like to do something a little different.
Because today, is a special day. Today, we welcome a new member into the Holy catholic and Apostolic Church. And because Jack, much like I was, and like many of us were, is probably a tad too young to remember his Baptism, I’d like to give this sermon for future Jack.
I’d like to explain to future Jack what he’s being baptized into.
What happens today is more than just sprinkling water on Jack’s head and showing him off to the cheering congregation. Today, God is moving through this congregation. The Holy Spirit is floating around and between us, and will soon descend into the water of Baptism. And we, as the members of the Body of Christ, will welcome this beautiful boy into our family.
In that last paragraph, I said a lot. And a lot of what I said are things that we hear fairly frequently in church.
But how often do we actually think about what it means to be Baptized? Really, what does Baptism even mean? What is this “Body of Christ” business? What does the Holy catholic and Apostolic church even mean? Aren’t we Episcopalians?
These are some of the questions I had when I first started going to church. And these are some of the questions that I’d like to take a shot at answering. And my hope is that all of us will leave here today refreshed and renewed in our understanding and love of being Christian, and that when he’s ready, Jack will have something to look back over and have some of his questions answered.
The world today looks remarkably different than the world in which Jack will (hopefully) read these worlds. And I think that’s a really, really good thing! 35 years ago, at my Baptism, there were no cell phones, there was no internet (I googled it; the internet started when I was 2)!
As the world around us continues to change, so does our understanding of our faith, and how we live out that faith in our day-to-day lives. But there are certain core tenets of our faith, of Christianity, that are true today and will still be true in the future. I say all of this with a caveat: if Jesus comes back between now and then and says I’m wrong, go with what he says. But that being said, I think Jesus will agree with me on what I’m about to say.
Being a Christian means you are part of something more than just yourself. You are part of a community; you’re part of the body of Christ. We all have different parts. Your parents Jack, they’re part of the harmonizing voice of Christ! (they’re in the choir, for those of you who don’t know)
Being a Christian also means believing in something more than just yourself. This something more, what we call God, came down from heaven, took human form, and learned what it’s like to be truly human. After being human for about 30 years, Jesus started to teach. Those teachings were complicated and confusing to many of those who heard them 2,000 years ago. They require a master’s degree to even begin to understand now.
It is those teachings, the addressing concerns, complaints, and answering questions that fill the New Testament and combined with the Hebrew Scripture, provide us a clue as to how to live out this faith and therefore also live out the lives we were created to live.
We come to church to be in community with others who are struggling to live this life, and to learn more about our faith, and to grow in our relationship with God.
Baptism in the Anglican tradition, is a Sacrament that initiates and welcomes someone into this community. A sacrament, being the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace, or act of God.
The earliest followers of Christ, the first to become known as Christians, started a practice of Baptism. It’s important here to remember that the earliest Christians, and Jesus himself, were Jewish. And baptism is a repurposed version of the Jewish practice of Ritual cleansing.
The early Christian church borrowed heavily from Jewish practices because those practices were meaningful to them, and the practices were recognized by those the early Christians hoped to reach. (for the record, it isn’t just baptism, it’s also prayer, singing, sermons and the sharing of bread and wine)
Christians didn’t (and don’t) all agree on baptism nor on its importance. During the Reformation, people actually died over the issue of when Baptism should be preformed – as infants or adults only. And it continues to be a contested issue, though fortunately, no longer as deadly of an issue.
Understandings and explanations of what happens in Baptism and its importance vary widely as well. Augustine said baptism washed away original sin. Paul in the Epistles describes baptism as a rebirth into the life of the spirit. Jesus said, well, nothing. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, in the ritual cleansing sense of the Jewish rite. But on the issue of Baptism and if it’s required or not, Jesus was absolutely silent, at least in what is recorded in the New Testament.
There is a very long tradition within the Episcopal Church. And that tradition tells us about Baptism, and it’s importance. But here is what I would like to say to Jack, to all of those gathered here today, and to all of those who aren’t Baptized but are curious about having a relationship with God:
The stirring in your heart that brings you to church; that inner voice that tells you to offer to help someone in need; that thing that pulls you to do something you don’t necessarily want to do. That’s God. Baptism, is a formal welcoming into the body of Christ and the life of the Christian Church.
God, the same God who after his resurrection ascended into heaven instead of dying. This God wants to know you and wants you to know God as well. And to be known by God, is quite possibly the greatest gift of all. When you let God into your life, the things described in the Epistle to the Ephesians, those become real. As you come to know God, you receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation. The eyes of your heart become enlightened.
You see and experience the world differently.
My hope and prayer for Jack, and for all of us gathered here today, and for anyone who ever reads or hears these words, my prayer is that the eyes of all of our hearts be enlightened.
Because this world is beautiful, when you have eyes to truly see it.
God is in action everywhere. God is in the beauty that follows tragedy. God is standing with people in Manchester as they wait in line to give blood.
God is holding the hands and hearts of those who grieve. And is walking with those who’ve died.
That same God is here with us today.
That same God has opened the door for Jack to enter into relationship with God.
And for all of us, Baptized or not, that door is open.
Walking through that door is hands down, the most terrifying and wonderful thing that I have ever done.
My life is immeasurably different, and more wonderful than it was before I went through that door.
But to be clear, I didn’t go through it when I was Baptized. I went through that door, alone, in my bedroom, while praying, 6 years ago, before I had any idea what any of this stuff means, and long after I was Baptized.
Being Baptized opens the door of Christianity to you formally. It opens the door to this body of Christ helping you cross the threshold and navigating what awaits inside.
The same God who is holding that door open to all of us, will soon descend into the waters of Baptism. And later will surround and bless the elements of Eucharist so that we can all be nourished in the Holy Meal.
This God, this God is so much more than we could ever put into words. This God passes all human understanding. And yet, this God also waits patiently for us to enter into relationship with God.
God waits to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we can truly know and understand what it means to receive the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.
May the eyes of all of our hearts be enlightened!
Oh, and before I forget, the Holy catholic and apostolic church, that means this religion is universal, available to all, and that our Bishops can trace back to the Apostles.
We stand in a long line of people who have seen the world through the enlightened eyes of their hearts.
May we all be fortunate enough to see the world that way. To experience the beauty. Always.
This is my prayer for Jack, on the day of his baptism, and for all of us, as we go forward in this life with Christ.