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Message for a Baptismal Service
1 September 2012Posted by on
This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.
Scripture readings for this Sunday are: Ezekiel 36:24-28; Galatians 3:26-28; John 4:5-14
You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010
Over the last few weeks we have looked at some of the parables that Jesus taught. Parables are simple stories about our lives. Parables are stories with layers and layers of meaning. Parables are stories that are meant to challenge us and to make us think. Parables are stories that we understand better and better as we mature emotionally and as we live through different stages of our lives. Parables are stories that paint for us a picture of who we are today and give us a vision of who we MIGHT want to become tomorrow.
Stories and narratives are important in our lives. Think of the times when families get together: in this day and age it happens most often at funerals and weddings. And when it happens and everybody catches up with everybody, we begin exchanging stories. Stories about grandpa so-and-so or grandma who came from the old country, the goofball uncle who is a no-goodnic yet somehow ended up doing well for himself, and now the whole family is kinda proud of him…
Just like any other family, when we gather together as a church and as a community of Christian sisters and brothers, we also remind ourselves of the foundational stories of our faith. One of the many ways that we do this is by celebrating and sharing the Sacraments.
The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are channels of God’s grace, love, reconciliation, and healing (to put it in other words: that is one of the ways, one of the “HOW”’s of God’s Grace reaching us). Sacraments are about God’s grace in our lives. Sacraments are about God empowering us, helping us to grow and mature on our walk with God and helping us to become agents of God’s presence in the world that we live in. As we celebrate Sacraments we remind ourselves of the stories of our faith; we etch those stories on our consciousness and these stories shape us as human beings and as Christians; as we grow in wisdom and experience, these stories acquire more and more meaning and significance.
Just like we acquire a deeper understanding of the parables as we mature, we also understand sacraments in a different way. A child may watch his or her younger sibling be baptized and wonder what all the hoopla is about and why all the adults gather after the service and share sandwiches, or pizza, or cake and why there is so much laughter and joy. And they think of baptism as a great party. A little later in life we listen to and participate in the baptismal service and we remember that God cleansed the earth through the waters of the flood and that he provided Noah with vision and guidance to build an ark. We also think of the rainbow and remember that God promised never again to destroy all life on Earth through the waters of the flood; and all of a sudden we remember that God came to dwell among us and to redeem all of God’s Creation (including all of us) through coming, life, death, resurrection of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.
As we think of the waters, ladies remember that just like the Holy Mother, they carried their children in the waters of their womb for nine months; we recall that as God led the Israelites out of Egypt, the waters of the Reed Sea were parted and the Hebrew children crossed the sea on dry land. As young Christians we wonder, “How did God do that?” As we mature, the “how” question becomes secondary to the “what” question. We start asking questions like, “What did God do in the lives of the Hebrew nation and what is God doing in our own lives today.”
There are two Sacraments that all Christians celebrate: Baptism and Holy Communion. Baptism is celebrated only once in each person’s life; when we are baptized, we are not baptized Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Catholic: we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Christians. Congregation, god-parents, and parents make a promise to help the person being baptized to reflect on the stories of our faith and to grow in their faith and understanding of God.
Here is the question: can a baby make such a promise? The answer is: NO! A baby cannot consciously comprehend and understand the significance of what happens. But the baby’s parents, god-parents and the baby’s church family can.
The sacrament of Baptism represents a symbolic acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior and a washing away of ‘original sin.’ It is an outward sign of the inward spiritual process of transformation that eventually will take us to Jesus; Baptism begins our journey towards perfection.
Because we baptize babies in the United Methodist Church, there must be a process in place for the child to consciously accept or reject being a follower of Jesus. That is why there is a process of Confirmation. After going through confirmation, every young man and woman has a chance to make their own conscious decision about whether they want to embrace or accept their Christian roots and heritage.
The church community and the family make a promise to each other to watch over each other in-love, to help each other to rear the child in faith so that when she is old enough to make a decision about whether she wants to follow Jesus, she knows the stories, she understands the Christian history and tradition and she can make that decision.
We make promise to each other and to God to be diligent and purposeful about listening to God’s voice in our lives. We make a promise to each other that we will help each other to recognize Jesus when he approaches us as he approached the woman at the well. We make a promise to each other that we will help each other to come back to God if and when our hearts become as cold and as hard as stone.
Baptism is a non-repeatable sacrament. We only get baptized once. By contrast, the Sacrament of the Holy Communion is a repeatable sacrament. The current practice is for most churches to celebrate the Holy Communion once per month. Personally I would love to celebrate the Holy communion every Sunday, because the Sacrament reminds us of what Jesus did for us, and that now it is our chance and opportunity to be God’s hands and feet in the world that by and large has forgotten how to listen to the voice of the shepherd or what that voice sounds like. That is why there is so much evil in the world, that is why there are shootings in movie theaters and crime on our streets.
Baptism is the sacrament of initiation and incorporation into the Body of Christ; it is a tangible act of faith and also a sign of regeneration and new birth in the Spirit (John 3:5, Titus 3:5).
John 3:5 NIV2010
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.