As a young mother of two babies who were both baptized by their grandfather in the Methodist church, I was mostly concerned with all the things young mothers tend to be concerned about, what the babies would wear, who we would invite, and what we would serve to eat afterwards.
The theological meaning of baptism was not on my radar and was just not something that would have ever entered my mind at that time. All I knew and all I needed to know was that It was a special day, to be shared with family and friends. A celebration that warranted a party, it was a day that required invitations that went in the mail, and it was a day to dress up and a day to be photographed. Those were the markers of meaning.
We were given a candle on the day of Morgan’s baptism and for a few years I would light the candle on the anniversary of that day. When the church gave us the candle, the idea was that each year I would tell Morgan about the day he was too young to remember. And for the first few years I followed through, but because he was just a baby it seemed silly to talk so…. I would just stare at the flame, knowing in my bones, that the lighting of the candle was enough to honor a special day.Baptism meant something, in my bones then, not in my head. Then I went to seminary and that got ruined with theology and words.
Which is why my hope this morning is that we can all know in our bones, that being loved by God is enough. That if anyone came to you and asked what is the meaning of baptism, you could simply answer, that I am a beloved child of God. When the heavens opened and God’s voice broke in, God didn’t choose to explain the a theological implications of baptism….Instead God kept it real simple, and chose to say one thing out loud, and to anyone who was there to listen; This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
It was a love letter, spoken out loud….not much different than the letter in this children’s book; saying, you are a joy, a light, a secret hope, a safe goodnight.
Martha Moore-Keish tells the story of a friend who had taken to telling her daughter each night before she would go to bed that she is a baptized child of God. She writes; Now at 12 years old, I do this lightheartedly but am aware of the peer pressures she faces. I want her to claim her identity as one who is already beloved of God, who does not need to follow the latest trend or fashion to be of value in God’s sight. I hope she hears this affirmation. She certainly enjoys repeating it back to me,”
That’s a safe goodnight and I don’t think we ever stop needing to hear it. We’re beloved of God. It’s everything our faith is built upon.
Isaiah’s speaks to the Israelites;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah spoke words of affirmation and comfort to a people who were in a kind of hell, displaced, lost and convinced they had been abandoned.
We have all experienced a kind of living hell here on earth at some point in our lives. Whether through things that have happened to us, or a loved one, the words that we are beloved, comes as a comfort.
As Rachel Held Evans writes; Where God calls the baptized beloved, demons (whether our internal ones or the dark forces of the world) call the (baptized beloved) addict, slut, sinner, failure, worthless, faker, screwup. Where God calls her child, the demons beckon with rich powerful, pretty, important, religious, esteemed, accomplished, right.
God names us just one name; beloved.
And while that’s enough……it’s not all
Our baptism also affirms that we are united and incorporated into the love of Christ.
That’s what we mean when we say we’re baptized into Christ. We’re part of the same love, part of the same God.
When John the baptist initially refuses to baptize jesus it’s because he doesn’t feel worthy, it should be the other way around, but jesus wins that argument, reminding us that Jesus came to live as one of us, in turn teaching us that our lives can and should reflect that love back into the world.
And our lives, and all we do with them, reflects that love.
…. just as Hedgehog, bunny and squirrel had their lives changed by love, so it is with each of us. Being a loved child of God’s is a life changer, and everything we do becomes a response to that love.
But that’s not all baptism does..… (I feel like a salesman, selling you an appliance, but wait there’s more
Baptism washes us into new birth, in the forgiveness of sin, and not because of what you’ve done, otherwise, there would be no reason to baptize a baby, babies aren’t old enough to have done anything wrong. The washing away of is a cleansing that stays with us, so that no matter how many times we get it wrong, and we do, we have been baptized by a spirit that renews and deepens our commitment to a more holy life.
Or in the words of the love letter——
When you go, I miss you so, don’t you know I love you? No matter how often we get it wrong, or how often we go, God misses us and loves us through it. Baptism affirms that as well.
And that should bring a smile to your face.
But that’s not all, wait there’s more…..
This baptism incorporates us into one body of christ, in community, that is the universal church. Or as Rachel Held Evans said, the good news is you’re a beloved child of gods, the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.
That’s good for a chuckle, but it’s also beautifully true.
How do you explain church to those who aren’t familiar with it? You could say it’s a place you come to get centered, a place you feel moved, that helps you carry through the rest of the week. That’s nice, but church, is so much more. Remember these words? Church is not just about relationship, it’s all about relationship. Relationship with God, Christ and one another..
And the more of you you give or incorporate yourself into this community the more connected we feel to the core identity of this community which is based in God’s unconditional love and grace.
Even in our imperfections, our impatience, our occasional bickering, there is a trust that we’re in it together, through thick and through thin.
Rachel Held Evans began her journey in the evangelical church and over the years moved out of that theology into a more open and affirming one…She writes that at times she tries to wring the waters of my baptism out of my clothes, shake the people of her upbringing in that church out of her hair and ask God for a do over in some other community where they ordain women and believe in evolution.
I too have felt that way, having been baptized in a catholic church, I want so badly to wash the sins of the catholic church out of my hair, but as
Jesus has this odd habit of allowing ordinary screwed up people to introduce him. And so it was ordinary screwed up people who first told me I was a beloved child of God, who first called me christian.
I was baptized by my father. And by my mother. By Pastor George, by my Sunday school teachers, by my sister, by that used car salesman who sang a sauntering gospel version of that old rugged cross every easter, by the boy who put boogers in my hair, by the little girl in the wheel chair who couldn’t speak. I was baptized by Alabama, by Reaganomics, by evangelism, by MLK Jr, and George Wallace and Billy Graham. I was baptized by the sort of people who turn fish stories into sermons and listen to Rush Limbaugh and sometimes love me the wrong way. I was baptized by water and by spirit and by this strange bundle of atoms and genes and experiences that God has assembled, delighted in, and in an act of absurd mercy, named beloved,
That’s a beautiful description of how God works in this world. Through what we perceive as imperfection, God names beloved. So it is with you and me, and this entire church.
If I could be re-baptized I would choose the bay instead of the church, but I would invite you all, because church is not a building, it’s it’s people. I would choose to be baptized into the church of support and love, of cards that come in the mail. I would be baptized into the love of good food and beautiful views. I would be introduced into a faith of looking beyond politics and calling the person next to you brother or sister, the church of good humor, strong handshakes, and endless hugs, of tuna salad, bourbon and more food, and counsel, and the wisdom of this older, of dedication to spouses, and generosity. I could go on but you get the picture.
There is but one baptism. We don’t get a do over. But we receive one another, again and again, in community, in Christ, in love.
You are a joy, a light,
a secret hope,
a safe goodnight….
a face that shines just for me
When you go
I miss you so,
don’t you know
I love you?
 A Love Letter, Anika, Aldamuy Denise