Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Baptism Sermon

Today we celebrate one of the truly wonderful events in the Christian faith.  Today we celebrate the baptism of a new member into our faith community.  Actually, I feel odd saying “a new member” because it seems like we are saying that before being baptized, God had no idea who Mary was, and after we sprinkle some water on her head, suddenly there is a “poof” in Heaven and Mary is suddenly on God’s radar.
I guess this was, in part, the image I grew up with.  I remember given money for the poor pagan babies when I was in school.  We had to give money so that the missionaries could baptize all the babies so they would not be damned to Hell, or Purgatory, for those not old enough to know what they were doing.  And this didn’t even take into account those children whose parents seemed so uncaring as to not worry if their little baby was going to go to Hell or not.
So this was the image of baptism that I grew up with.  And this is the image that still haunts me.  The image of baptism as a fire escape.  The image of baptism as something that we do “To the baby” so that other terrible things don’t happen.  Probably for many of us, this image is still hanging around in our faith lives.  This is still an image that haunts us.
But, you know, this just doesn’t seem to make sense with what we read in the Bible.  The Psalmist tells us that God knew us, while we were “still in the womb.”  Baptism isn’t the point where God suddenly becomes aware of us, God know us before we are born!  Before we were born, before Morgan was born, we all were known by God and loved by God.
So, if baptism is not just a way of avoiding Hell, as I said before, a “Fire Escape” of a sacrament, if God new us from the womb, then why do we do it?
Well, we baptize as a way of saying to each other that we believe in God’s love.  We believe that God loves us and cares about us.  We baptize to tell each other, AND THE WORLD, that there is is a love that is more profound than anything we could ever know and that this wondrous love is for us!  We baptize, not as a means of making God love us, but in recognition for the love that is already there.
With the Christmas season coming, we are also entering the Season of Gifts.  Unfortunately, our world has taken the concept of gift and yanked it all out of proportion.  We have lost the concept of a gift as being something that is freely GIVEN with no expectation of anything in return.  A truly given gift is one that is given with no strings attached.  It is not given with the expectation that something bigger and better will be given in return.  A truly given gift is one that is given for the sole intent of pleasing the person who will be receiving the gift.  A truly given gift is given just to see the receiver smile.  There is no worry of repayment in a truly given gift, the only repayment that the giver receives is the joy that the gift bring.
All the gifts that we receive from God are, in fact, truly given gifts.  When God gives us a gift, no return payment is expected.  When God gives gifts, the only expectation is that we enjoy the gift; that we REVEL in the gift.  The only expectation is that we use the gift so much that we use the gift up!  But the strange thing about God’s gifts, we can never really use them up.  I have found that when we thing we have nothing left, God is there supplying more. 
In the sacrament of Baptism, we are saying, “YES!” to the wondrous gifts that God has for us.  We are saying “Yes!” to the love and care that we are given.  In baptism, we are saying “YES!” to the gift and sacrifice that Christ made for us; on our behalf.  We have been given a gift by our Savior, and in baptism, we are telling the whole world, “Yes!”
Sean, Helen, Erin, Renee, and Linda, in bringing Mary here to be baptized today, you too are saying “Yes!” to the promises of God.  You are saying “Yes!” to the promises of God in your own lives and you are promising to help Morgan see the wondrous gifts that God has given her.  By bringing her to be baptized, you are saying, “Yes!” for her for all the truly given gifts that we profess as part of our faith.  In bringing her here today, you are starting her down the road of love and wonder.
Mary’s baptism is not just a one-time event, though, it is something that will live with her and will grow with her.  Her baptism will be there to provide help and support.  We would hope that Mary’s life will be free of tears and trouble, but we all know that will never happen.  However, in her baptism, Mary will find the love and support of Christ that is reflected in the community of the Church.  Through her baptism, Mary will know that no matter what the world may tell her, she is special, loved and cherished.
This is why we baptize.  Baptism is our declaration to the world that even when thing may look lost, that we are not lost.  Baptism is our declaration to the world that there is something more to life than the idolatry and greed that we see.  Baptism is our declaration to all people that we have faith in a God that has forgiven our sins and loves us from the womb!
Some may think that the church is a little over decorated, today.  Maybe so, but why shouldn’t we celebrate?  Why shouldn’t we “bring out the good china?”  There is a new person in the world and we get to celebrate the fact that all the gifts and promises that God has given to us, God has given to Mary too!
I think it is great that we baptize babies.  This little person can do nothing to earn the wondrous gifts that she already has.  She has done NOTHING, but yet God has blessed her.  And there is nothing that she can do to earn the gift of love and forgiveness that was given in Christ.  Nothing!  All the wonders that God has for her are given, even before she would have any opportunity to prove her worthiness. 
On this day, we, too, need to remember that our baptism was a truly given gift.  Our baptism is the outward sign of the sacrifice made by our high priest Christ.  We didn’t earn it then and we couldn’t earn it now.  All we can do is take this gift and love it, use it, enjoy it!  REVEL IN IT!
Sean, Helen, Erin, Renee, and Linda, you have been given a great gift in Mary.  Love her, nurture her, help her to find the glorious gifts God has given her.  She is a special treasure and a child of God.  Help her to remember that every day of her life.


R B said...

Although I grew up in a vastly different tradition than you did, I grew up in the same kind of "spiritual mentality": that the Sacrament of Baptism was something we "did to the baby" so that the baby would not go to hell. Likewise the Sacrament of Holy Communion was this somber event in which we really felt sorry for our sins and that certainly could not be done more than four times a year or else we would "ruin" it. There was no concept of joy or of Eucharist ("let us give thanks") in either event.
I thank God (sincerely) that the Holy Spirit has led me to that place of understanding in which Baptism is a celebration of joy - not of what we do, but of what God has done for us in claiming us as his own through Love and Grace - and in which the Eucharist is a "thanksgiving feast of Love and Grace" that cannot be celebrated enough. "Get out the good china"? Indeed!! for we who were once dead are alive again. We who once thought we were unloved have discovered that unending Love and Grace that "gifts" us throughout all our days.

Anonymous said...

Preach it!!! :)