Sunday, October 9, 2011

of water and the spirit (on baptism day)

Today is my baby girl's baptism.  People at church have been asking me essentially since the day she was born when we were going to have her baptized.  I never felt any real rush.  See, my parents never had my brother, or my sister, or myself, baptized as babies.  Instead, we waited until we could make a profession of faith on our own (at about twelve for each of us).  In our United Methodist Church, this is totally acceptable. 

I get a fair amount of people who call me in my pastoral office, wanting me to baptize their children immediately.  The youngest child I ever was called about was two weeks old.  I was impressed that the mother felt like she could have an event like a baptism - I don't think I left my bedroom for two weeks after the baby was born, much less the house!

At the heart of this urgency is a misunderstanding of baptism, I think.  See, I'm not having my baby baptized as some kind of insurance of salvation.  That is, I don't think that without baptism God's grace doesn't rest on her.  Instead I see a twofold symbolism in the water that will be dribbled down her forehead this morning:  the recognition that God's grace has been enveloping and enfolding her since the moment she came earthside; and the promise that we will raise her within a family of faith, with the baptism as the inititation into that family.

I don't believe that the unbaptized are destined for damnation.  First of all (whole other post), I can't say with certainty that there is a hell, what it is like, or who you might find there.  Secondly, baptism isn't some kind of magic that changes the person that you are.  Before baptism and after it, we continue to be people who try and fail.  And get a new chance.  And try harder and fail better. 

But the difference is that you are a person who tries and fails and gets new chances within a community of faith that is all oriented in the same direction (more or less).  You have people who have your back.  You have people who show you God's face of mercy and love and accountability over and over.  And you have people who can remind you that God's grace extends outward and over all of us - every part of us - all the time.  Whether we realize it or not. 

This is why the age of your baptism is immaterial.  Does a seventy-year-old understand the mystery of this sacrament any more than a seven-month-old?  The manner is also inconsenquential.  Wanna be dipped?  We can do that (we just have to go to a river or lake or a Baptist or Disciples church).  Wanna be dripped upon?  We can do that to, out of lovely little ornamental fonts.  The water is just a sign.  It's a powerful sign, one that participates in a reality greater than itself, but it's still just a sign. 

So today, we celebrate God's grace toward all of us, and the fact that our baby will be beloved and raised in faith by this congregation, and many others, in her life.  She is blessed, we are blessed, and God's grace abounds.

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