Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Everything's Gonna Be All Right
Mark 1: 4-11
There's a sense that you get, sometimes, when a decision has been made, a threshold has been crossed. It's a scary moment, and sometimes you are forced into it by circumstances. Almost always, there is a situation that is begging for a resolution. But, once that resolution is chosen, there's a sense that you get of rest, of peace, of decision.
Now, I am not talking about such things as choosing what to have for dinner--I am not talking even about buying a car, though these feelings can happen then. No, I am talking about the big transcendent decisions we make just a few times in our lives. For me, there have been three--deciding to get married, going into the ministry, and deciding to be baptized.
I realize that I am a minister in a tradition that practices infant baptism, and that means that many of you do not have a memory of this decision. Perhaps even Confirmation was, for you, something that you just did. Perhaps you have never really thought about your faith, but you have just attended church, taken the occasional peek at a Bible, and maybe gone to camp once. The momentous decision of accepting the invitation of God, of allowing the Holy Spirit into your heart is not something you have experienced.
That's OK. Not everyone has to have a great conversion narrative. Not everyone can point to one moment and say "that is when I accepted Jesus into my heart". Not everyone can. For some people it was a gradual acceptance over time, years, perhaps, and this is what comes from having been baptized as babies--there was never a time when Jesus was not a part of your life. The way I mean that is that if you were baptized as a baby, that meant your family was probably already Christian, so there was never a time when you were not steeped in the language of the church, the presence of people who are not your blood family but who nonetheless know you as if they were aunts and uncles.
Because that is what it means to be a member of the body--that you have family all over the world. When we pledge to support the family as a congregation in the vows of our baptism rite, what we're saying is that you are mine, and I am yours. Your child is as important to me as my own, and I will care for them spiritually as if they were mine.
It is a rite of acceptance. This child is OK, and is a child of God.
I read the language of cleansing the same as any other Christian. I hear the songs about being made white as show through baptism. I understand what John the Baptist was baptizing for in the Jordan the day that Jesus showed up. In understand John's hesitation, knowing full well who Jesus is. " I should be baptized by you", he says in Matthew's version of this story. "Let it be so for now, because we need to fulfill all righteousness".
You know, what I think this means is, that even though Jesus is blameless before God, and there is nothing for him to repent of, baptism is still necessary, because the symbol of spiritual cleansing is still necessary. No one will believe what he claims if he does not submit to the symbols they understand. Indeed, this story appears in some form in all four gospels, one of the few stories that do.
When we speak of baptism as Methodist Christians, we use the language of baptism being the "outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace. . . " Whether you are a child or an adult, being baptized means that you are part of something. As a child, you become part of something as a way of being raised--the church, God, and Jesus are just part of how you live. If you chose to be baptized as an adult, then you choose to be a part of this thing on your own. Confirmation is that choosing if you were baptized as an infant.
We acknowledge that, by this baptism, God does work in our lives. We have faith that what has happened to us, or what will happen to our children, and the sign of that belief is baptism, the same event that happened to Jesus himself. God was well pleased with Jesus, his son, the beloved. By our being baptized, by washing our sons and daughters, we are demonstrating to ourselves and to each other our faith that God is well pleased with us as well.
God is in the midst of our lives. Our baptism is our reminder and our claim on that fact.
By being baptized, we know that everything is gonna be all right. There will be hard times, there will be easy times, but the claim of the baptism is true and certain, because God doesn't lie. We are his, we are marked.
In a few minutes we will have the opportunity to be reassured of our baptism. We will say words, we will speak the proper responses. But beneath those words, I hope will be for you the true and certain belief that in the water of baptism, you are marked as one of Christ's' own. As you come forward to touch the water, put some on your forehead or on your lips, be reassured that you are Christ's own brothers and sisters. God loves you, and in you he is well pleased. No matter where you are in life, no matter what mistakes you make, you are one of God's own. Even if the waters of baptism have not touched your head, you are still a child of God.
Everything's gonna be all right.