What is baptism for you?
For me Baptism is several things, but it starts always with a recognition that God has called us before we can even respond, before we are even aware. We honor God’s choosing us when we baptize our children, our babies who cannot choose it for themselves. We also honor God’s choosing us when we say “yes” to our own baptisms and declare that we accept this calling from God.
Maybe the bigger question then is, does baptism change anything?
I saw this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon this week…
Unlike what Calvin says about change not being a positive, baptism is a declaration of choosing to follow God’s will for our lives and for our families. That does involve change. I love what Frederick Buechner says about Baptism. He describes baptism in this way: “Baptism consists of getting dunked or sprinkled. Which technique is used matters about as much as whether you pray kneeling or standing on your head. Dunking is a better symbol, however. Going under symbolizes the end of everything about your life that is less than human. Coming up again symbolizes the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful. You can breathe again.” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC: New York: Harper and Row, 1973. p5). I love this. “the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful”.
On a daily basis, baptism should affect how we behave, what we say, what we do, how we interact with people who are mean to us, or those who at any moment act as “enemies”. To love them, to strive to love even those we fear, we hate, we condemn: that has to involved constant change and growth. Baptism is a commitment to follow in the ways of Christ, to care for each other, to love one another, and to study, pray, and listen for God’s direction for our lives. If we take it seriously, it WILL make a change in our lives. Baptism doesn’t change that God loves us. It doesn’t change that God has called us. But we hope that it will change how we respond to God. We make a commitment through our baptisms, through the baptisms of our children and through the promises we make when anyone in our church is baptized, to live lives of grace, faith, compassion, but mostly of love.
I see this in your lives, in the lives of those within this congregation. I see that you are people of love and support and care. I see that you are people committed to ministry as you minister to each other, to me, and to people beyond this congregation and beyond this community. On Thanksgiving Sunday when I ask everyone who contributes in any way to stand and pretty much the entire congregation stands up, I see how much each and every one of you gives to this place and to the community beyond. I see in those who are not necessarily serving in official capacities but who help with our many mission projects, who do the sanctuary flowers, who provide coffee hour, who write cards, who sing in the choir, who come to Thursday adult ed, who help with the children on Sunday, who usher, serve communion, attend our programs or even those who just come Sunday mornings – I see in all of you a deep commitment to living out your baptism promises. You are choosing to live out those baptism promises. You are choosing to live faithful and committed lives. You are choosing to be people renewed, reborn, re-committed as baptized children of God.
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It is a time of remembrance and renewal. We remember that Jesus, too, had a time of renewal, a cleansing, a rebirth. For Jesus in the book of Matthew, his baptism began his time of leadership in the church. It was a changing point for him in which he took on full-force the commitment he made to serve God with all of his being, even to the point of being killed. That deep commitment, the promise of that accepting of God’s call began with Jesus’ baptism as it may for us, too.
As an aside, baptism, the embracing of new life, the deeper commitment to living lives of fullness in love and compassion and grace: this is NOT an invitation to beat ourselves up over the past. I recently re-watched one of my favorite Star Trek the Next Generation episodes (Tapestry), in which Captain Picard was given the “glimpse” of seeing what his life might have been had he made a different choice than one he had deeply regretted making during his life time. That one choice would have led him down a completely different path, one that ultimately had little value, little meaning. Regrets are useful only in that they can inform us how to make different choices for the future. But they are not useful in terms of wishes that we had chosen differently in the past because we would not be the people we are now if our paths had gone a different way. After seeing the glimpse of what might have been, his comment requesting to return to his old life was profound: “I’d rather die as the man I was then live the life I just saw.”
Our baptism invites us into change, but not into regret.
Jesus’ baptism was also a time for God to declare ‘this is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.’ We recognize in our baptism the same declaration from God. God has called us all God’s children, chosen us before we were even aware of our own existence, God has claimed us as God’s own. We celebrate that, we remember that as we are baptized, as we baptize our children, as we make the promises of the congregation to support those baptized on their faith journeys. Today I would also like us to remember that commitment and that promise of God’s love and God’s call that we received through baptism, through a renewal of our baptism vows. This is a time for us to remember that God calls us before we are aware of our own existence, that God loves us before we are born, that God chooses us before we can even respond. I am going to invite you in a moment to come forward at this time as you feel led, to be anointed with the oil and to remember that God calls you before you are able even to respond.
“Remember that God loves you, has chosen you, and calls you into new life. May you follow Christ in all you do!”