Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus –and at 10, the baptism of my granddaughter, Sage.
When I was doing some research on the history of infant baptism I came across articles called Infant Baptism, Its History and its Harm, Infant Baptism- Exposed!, and Infant Baptism is under Fire!
Like anything else, it can be a source of conflict and division – or a source of dialogue and acceptance.
The book of Acts talks about whole households being baptized – and it has been the norm of the church from the very beginning.
St. Irenaeus referred to baptism in his writings in the 2nd century, St. Augustine began the gloomy theology of baptism that said that baptism cleanses an individual of the stain of original sin, and that the unbaptized were doomed to hell. Later, Thomas Aquinas suggested that the unbaptized wouldn’t go to hell but to limbo, which was part of Roman Catholic theology – but several years ago the RC said limbo no longer existed--- I remember the story about the International Theological Commission, a group of theologians at the Vatican who worked on "the fate of babies who have died without baptism." They focused on of God's universal saving plan.
Sounds a bit like counting angels on the head of a pin if you ask me.
Others argue that baptism that by baptizing infants the church shows that we believe all are acceptable before God – even when as vulnerable and defenseless as a baby.
Baptism is one of the sacraments of the church and we believe that is one of those outward signs of an invisible and spiritual grace.
It is not saying the person is an Episcopalian – the person chooses that religious affiliation later in life, but simply a member of the household of God- where we all promise to walk alongside the newly baptized on their journey.
The Baptismal covenant that we say describes the very core of our beliefs as Christians – also described in the earlier reading from the prophet Isaiah. It describes not just a standard of conduct, but who we are, and that sometimes get lost amidst the daily grind of life..
Listen again to Isaiah and also to some of the baptismal covenant -
a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
In the baptismal covenant we said yes to the question,
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
If you seek and serve Christ in all persons – even yourself – that means that you treat them with a gentleness being mindful of the image of a bruised reed – because whether we are aware of it or not, every single person has battles and conflicts and bruises – we need to be careful – we need to walk gently.
Isaiah says that he will faithfully bring forth justice and will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;
And we agreed that we would take our place in that and
strive for justice and peace among all people, and do it in a manner that respects the dignity of every human being?
and then the Lord speaks through Isaiah – about Jesus, but also to each one of us - individually –
I, am the LORD, I have called you
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
You are the covenant.
When I was at St. Martin’s I wanted to really have the youth get into this story and feel as much as they could what it meant to go to the river to be baptized.
I was working with a group of youth and parents and we were repairing for a Jordan River pilgrimage for months- but it was really along the banks of he American River. I can’t remember why but I had them make a huge, huge
cardboard sculpture. They each had a huge box to paint a part of the cross and when we put it together it was supposed to make one cross made up from many different perspectives- Each box was 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and when we put it all together it was much bigger than I imagined it was going to be. And for some reason I wanted to bring this huge cross with us on our pilgrimage, so one day we packed up these boxes on the roofs of three different cars – (and it was so tall that they almost didn’t fit under a bridge we had to go under).
We parked near the riverbank – and took our bibles with us and were walking down the street reading the story of the baptism of Jesus aloud. I can tell you people who saw us and asked what we were doing did not guess that we were Episcopalians!
So we made it down a sandy path, through some brush, and were getting near the riverbank. And we all knew it wasn’t really the Jordan River, but there was a kind of excitement in the air as we got closer, … a sense of expectation …
And we were at the part that said, “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. " And a voice from heaven said,
And I paused; because I was being dramatic and just at that moment a man from down the river shouted “Be careful, there are rattlesnakes right by you”
It changed the whole atmosphere –one girl who had a snake phobia (we don’t ask on our youth field trip forms what kinds of phobias do people have) burst into tears and fled – she just ran and an and ran -
Luckily, my mother lived close to where she and we were- has a pool, She looked a bit surprised (really annoyed) with me when I showed up with a bunch of people she didn’t know (she’s very, very shy) and asked if we could pretend her pool was the Jordan River. What really got her was when we unloaded our cross from the car tops!
All of today’s readings are for you personally, so take them home and read them again and know that God is there ready to open the heavens and say to you – You, Linda and Pat and Jim. You, Kenny and Carolyn and Gregg and …
You – and you and you are God’s Beloved and with you he is well pleased.
Before we proceed with the baptism I want to say something about Sage’s name. Sage Linda-Ann Russell. In my family, my grandmother and mother and sister and me – when we are pregnant we all have our babies early, always. No exception – so when my daughter Rebecca was pregnant, I assured her that she wouldn’t make it to her due date. We always deliver early. Well, the due date approached, came and went – and three days later she finally had Sage. I turns out that sage was born 7 years to the day – after her grandmother Linda had died. And so the name Linda comes from her grandmother who is very much with us today.
Resources: Time magazine May 1968, CNN Dec, 2005