THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
So why should I get baptized? Why in the world should anyone do that? I can’t think of any good reasons to be baptized. I’m following Christ. I’m putting the sayings of the gospels into my life. I’m following Jesus. Why even bother with baptism. Well, come to think of it, I can think of one good reason. Jesus thought it was a good idea, and since Jesus seems to have a good sense about these kind of things, then maybe I should follow his lead. There must be something to this baptism thing. Maybe there’s more to it than just getting wet and getting my name on a piece of paper and a candle to take home that will get dusty in some drawer and eventually get lost or thrown away. How many of you still have the candle you were given when you were baptized? Do you remember what happened to it?
The waters of baptism are a visual representation that we are part of the family of God. In the Episcopal Church we baptize children and we also baptize adults. “For me and my house we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298). In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
We are told in the gospel of John that Jesus and his disciples baptized, but it says he did not baptize much. Historians cannot tell us for sure if all the disciples at the last supper were baptized. They probably were, but the jury is still out on that.(John 3:22; 4:1-2) And, even if they were, I can’t see Jesus interrogating his disciples, one by one, in order to make sure they were baptized the right way. It is amazing how many Christian groups are like that though. If you don’t worship God in the way they do and if your dogma is askance in some way, and if you don’t answer questions right or know the right people, then you are not in the “inner circle” and you need to be re-baptized in order to be accepted and take communion with God’s anointed few.
It reminds me of the story about the guy who dies and goes to heaven, and as St. Peter is opening up the gate he walks in, and then he notices in a corner a small group of people huddled and sitting together on the grass. He asks St. Peter: “Who are those people? St. Peter says, Oh don’t worry about them. They think they are the only people here”. Sometimes we think we are the only ones here. We’re not! We are only one dimension of the church. There are a lot of different faith traditions in the universal church. If you have taken our “Imani” course, then you will agree that it’s a fascinating journey through the history of St. Alban’s Church, El Cajon, the Episcopal Church, New Testament Church history, and a review of the wider church, those that are similar to us, but different, and how to appreciate the differences and similarities. .
It’s good to understand our church history in the Anglican Communion, but it is also rewarding and clarifying to look at the movements and ways that other denominations view the Bible, church history and the way others view “Christianity”. You cannot understand unless you try to view things from their perspective and in doing so you will find that you will have a greater appreciation and desire to know more about your own roots and faith tradition. It is a process. Let’s not be judgmental. There are other people that have their act together too, but they get it together a little differently than you do. Amen.
What? Why? When? Where? What is the purpose of baptism? Why should I or my children be baptized? When should baptism take place? Where should my children be baptized?
Growing and maturing in Christ…That’s what it is all about. Our tradition is not the only tradition. You can come to this church and be involved in any way you want, but you cannot be a member until you have been baptized. In my last parish, Naomi and I lived on an Island, Tinicum Island, which really was not an island anymore, because the expressway (Interstate 95) now fills in one of the four sides. On this island that was made up mostly of Irish and Italian, most of the residents were Roman Catholic or had come from a RC background. I served as the Chaplain for the Fire Department and chaplain to the City Council. We only had around 4200 residents on the island, and only two churches that could support a priest, The Roman Catholic and the Episcopal Church.
When I went to the meetings, dinners, banquets and parties I was always treated like a special guest…I never had to buy tickets or pay for anything. The only catch is that I was expected to open all the meetings, dinners, banquets and city functions with prayer, which I figured was a small price to pay for good food and fellowship. It was also my way into the heart of the community. The volunteer fire department was full of young men and women, married and unmarried. And when we got together at community picnics and dinners it was grand to see babies and toddlers everywhere. Almost every one of the children had been baptized or was in the plans to be baptized sometime soon. The catch to this story is that very few of the parents went to church. It was a religious and family tradition to baptize children as soon as possible. Most of them were baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, but some were baptized in our church. I would give my mandatory talk to parents and tell them how we viewed baptism. It was not just an initiation, but it was an entrance into the church community, the Body of Christ. I would explain that in our baptismal covenant as parents and as a church, it was our responsibility to ensure that children were brought up and trained in the Faith and nurtured on the Bible and Christian teaching. I would require the couples to come to church, and sometimes they would join, but usually as soon as the child was baptized they would quit attending. In many people’s mind the church is a place where you are baptized, married and buried, and that is the only time they come to church. But, on our island everybody acknowledged that they belonged to a church. I would meet people at spaghetti dinners of other church functions and they told me they were members of our Episcopal Church. I found that quite amazing since I had been there for three years and they had not attended church in that time. Quite fascinating!
I used to get phone calls from parents that wanted me to baptize their children. I would ask them where they go to church and why not get them baptized in their home church. I would get answers like, “I was baptized in the Episcopal Church” or “That was the church I grew up in” or “I don’t want to come to your church, but you baptize our children and this church does not”; or here’s another one that I thought was great: “I grew up in your church, and I was baptized there. I don’t want to go to the Episcopal Church because I find it boring. My church only baptizes children at age 12 or older, and we prefer to have our children baptized now.”
Our commitment as a Christian community is to look out for your child and to be an responsible as a church for their spiritual development. That’s what a family church is all about. I’ve had several situations when I have asked a parent if their child had been baptized and on several occasions they responded: “No he or she has not and I haven’t been baptized either. Can I be baptized too”? There is a difference between baptizing an adult and baptizing a child that is older. We expect an adult or a child that is old enough to make a public testimony before we baptize them.
Baptism is one of two Holy Sacraments of our church. The other is the Eucharist. I encourage parents to have their children start taking communion as soon as they are baptized. Just as we grow into our baptismal covenant, so we grow in our relationship with God at the communion table. Liturgy and practice shapes belief. Baptism is an outward sign of and inward work, a sign that you are crucified with Christ in the waters of baptism and raised with him in eternal life.
“I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ live in me. And, the life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me”. (Galatians 2:20)