January 13, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we will witness infant baptism. Today, we also hear of baptism in our gospel reading – the narrative of the baptism of Christ.
Jesus, an image of the invisible God, come to us – Incarnation – taking off some of God’s self and putting on some of humanities self – fully human, fully God; has become one of us.
Jesus saves us and shows us the way – how to live.
Here. Now. In our narrative this morning Jesus is showing us the need for baptism.
Scripturally Jesus models two things for us that are what we call “sacraments” – though there may be a wider lens of considering sacrament. In the New Testament, it is Holy Communion and Baptism.
In Greek, the word for baptism has a more descriptive meaning than English conveys that helps us understand the significance of what is taking place. The verb “bapto” means to “dip in or under, to dye” – like dying a garment…when you dip in the cloth the garment changes completely into something different: it’s evident; it shows. The word “baptizmo” appears in different constructions throughout the New Testament: it may vary a bit but includes meaning “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into…” (Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 410).
We hear both the power and force of baptism. And perhaps the danger.
In the back of our Book of Common Prayer – which you have in your pews – there is a wonderful section called “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism.” The word Catechism tells us the format of this outline – it is a summary in question and answer structure. How great is that?
On page 857 we have the questions: what are the sacraments? And what is baptism?
A sacrament is defined as an “outward visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” We spoke recently of grace – grace is unmerited favor. Something we neither deserve nor earn…it just is…God’s extravagant posture toward us: full of grace.
A sacrament is something outward that is a means of grace. A vehicle of grace…of God’s extravagance…a special way God provides connection to God…revelation of God.
Bread. Wine. Water.
Normal and familiar things with cultural associations that God uses to show us God, to connect us to God.
God is so good to us to continue to reveal the truth to us in the midst of who we are – quite small humans with great limitation.
Jesus today model’s baptism. The narrative sounds a bit tidy, but what we see is that Jesus is with others, quite simply in line to be baptized in a river. Outside. Crowded. He models what we need to do and does it as we do. Jesus is - in blunt terms – getting into dirty water with dirty sinners. He’s not aloof, not separated, but connecting himself to us as we are.
But why a sacrament of involving water? What is the outward visible sign and the inward spiritual grace given?
The outward sign is water. Familiar.
When we think of water, what do we think of?
Well, washing and cleansing. Recreation – it’s delightful. Satisfying – we thirst. Terrifying – we cannot breathe underwater.
Life and death.
Kenneth Leech, in his book, True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality, beautifully asserts: “The Baptismal liturgy embodies the spiritual life in miniature”
The inward grace of baptism is union with God.
The means comes through the experience of blessed water.
Baptism in the early church showed this a bit more dramatically: candidates for baptism would be stripped of their clothes – symbolic of stripping off the old nature. Then, baptism – going through the waters. Signaling the washing away of sin. And further, the waters of baptism signify death – a dying. Finally, a coming up out of the waters – rising to new life.
A passing through the waters…we hear the gravity of it in our Isaiah reading this morning: “Do not fear…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you [says the Lord], and the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”
Baptism – the means of grace that unites us to Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. Buried with Christ. Raised with Christ. A sacrament. A miracle.
The primary actor in baptism is God. A gift of God.
Today we respond – we have the privilege of witnessing this sacrament…this miracle with infants: James, Hamilton, and Madeline.
And we have the fortunate experience to remember our baptismal commitment. We may become aware that in our journey in the faith there is daily drowning – as symbolized in the baptismal waters…and daily renewal or resurrection in coming through the waters. We could say that metaphorically, we experience daily a renewal at the baptismal font: we die with Christ, we rise with Christ.
You may wonder why we would baptize a baby – certainly they are not making this commitment themselves? Our Book of Common prayer states simply and importantly: “Infants are baptized so that they can share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.”
“Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.”
There is power in household commitments, family connection, and name. We hear in the book of Acts of entire households being baptized.
In our Christian culture, the reason for baptizing infants may be put simply and directly: it is a concern for the soul.
Infant baptism is not something to be trivialized.
What fuels this concern for the soul?
Augustine (or August-ine depending on your geographical rooting for pronunciation) helped tease out the term “original sin” - meaning it’s something we have, not something we do. We all have it. It’s something we suffer and endure. Something hardwired into us…even as babies. We all need Jesus all the time.
Sin separates us from God, baptism effectively unites us to God. And we work out this union with God over the entire course of our lives.
A one-time miracle. But a lifetime commitment. As we baptize infants, we make commitments on their behalf – a scaffolding if you will, until that commitment may be fully made for themselves.
New life. Freedom. United with Christ and with one another.
As we renew our baptismal vows this morning and witness these baptisms let us be mindful of God’s extravagance toward us…a miracle has happened to us who have been baptized, we will witness a miracle this morning…and as we consider the miracle remember – it’s all initiated by God…we do not rate a miracle by what it does or does not look like…by what it does or does not feel like…it simply is…we welcome it, we receive it by faith: we pass through the waters and are effectively united with God through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.