A short off-Lectionary message for the baptism of an infant
1 Corinthians 10.1–13
Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.
In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed in his death and resurrection.
By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.
Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus. — ‘The Meaning of Baptism’, from Uniting in Worship 2
Twice in C’s baptism today, I addressed her directly. The first time, I said these words from Mark 7.34, words traditionally used at baptisms:
may the Lord open your ears to hear his word
and your mouth to proclaim his praise.
This echoes what Jesus said as he healed a deaf man with a speech impediment. It also reflects that without God’s grace, our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths utter imperfect praise. We need to be brought into relationship with God to become people of God’s grace.
The second time I spoke directly to C was in these beautiful words derived from the Baptismal Liturgy of the French Reformed Church:
for you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
long before you were born.
It’s traditional to address an infant who is about to be baptised. Now, S and B, I know C is really clever, but—she really didn’t understand what I was saying to her. (I’m sorry to break it to you like this…)
But you know, we all talk to babies and we don’t mind that they just look at us and smile. We do that because one day, they will understand. And one day, C will talk back to you.
And that of course is why we do so many things with children before they are quite ready for them: we want them to learn.
So, we let them practise sitting up. We sit them on the floor with plenty of cushions around them so if they fall, they don’t hurt themselves.
We give them a spoon to eat food with, even though it ends up on their clothes, their face, and on the floor.
We teach our children by doing things with them. We don’t give them a lecture on table etiquette, and expect them straightaway to use the soup spoon instead of the dessert spoon.
It’s the same in every area of life, including the spiritual. So we do things that open the spiritual world to our children. We make sure they aren’t strangers to the church. We bring them to the Eucharist. We pray with them, perhaps at meals and the end of the day. We teach them values, like fairness and sharing.
One day, they’ll grow up and call fairness and sharing ‘justice’ and ‘compassion’. They will make the link with caring for the earth in a time of climate change, and with welcoming those who have a different culture or faith or sexuality, resisting the forces that try to entrench division and hatred in Australian society.
We’ve seen something of this lately; we have seen what extremist nationalism can do when it is unleashed. As people of faith, we stand against this, and for a peaceful and multicultural society.
One day, we all realise that life is far bigger than we are, and that we need to be plugged in to something bigger than we are in order to flourish.
We Christians name that something bigger as ‘God’. We plug in to God through faith, hope and love.
Baptism is the public beginning of a walk with God, with Jesus as our companion and the Holy Spirit strengthening our hearts.
Today, C has started that public walk. We all have a responsibility in her spiritual care. The congregation has promised to provide a secure base; parents and godparents have also promised to teach her the Way of Jesus Christ.
To do that, we all need to pay attention to our own life of love, faith and hope, of prayer, sharing in the life of the church and serving others.
So we give thanks for C, and for the triune God who has received her as a member of God’s family. And we pledge ourselves to help C and all the other children here towards a mature Christian faith.
West End Uniting Church, 24 March 2019