I will never forget my youngest granddaughter’s baptism. What stands out was not anything baby Elisabeth did; it was her sister’s amazing feat of disruption that stole the day. It rivaled any scenario we would have created if we had marched in a herd of goats down the center aisle of the sanctuary. Sarah was only two but she made up for her lack of years by her speed. As her daddy sat down she grabbed a pencil from the pew holder and drew a series of circles on the back of the pew in front of her. Then when he took the pencil out of her hand she stood in the pew, turned around, leaned over and spat onto the floor right in front of the woman sitting behind us. Her sister must have acted like an angel because there is no story of how she acted that day. She probably slept through the whole thing.
Where some denominations will baptize you any old time you feel you need one, Presbyterians baptize only once. Our theory is that is not an act of salvation or an extension of our own beliefs; it is a sign of inclusion into the family of God. We like to accomplish this as soon as possible--before you can do a bunch of stuff (like spitting) that might make the congregation less than overjoyed at including you into the family.
In yet another example of the poetry of God, this Sunday I will represent the congregation at the baptism of LilyMae Faith Holloman. She will be baptized by her grandfather who was the same minister to baptize Elisabeth the day her sister was so horrible. Come to think of it, Ron baptized Sarah, also. Maybe we can blame him.
I get one line in the whole sacrament and it’s something along the lines of asking the congregation, “Do you promise to love this kid and teach her about Jesus?” One itsy bitsy little sentence when there is so much to say. Thank goodness I’ve got this blog or else I would have a lot of words with no place to go.
Because we all know that when we promise to love someone it's never that simple. It that includes a whole lot of things like sending a birthday cards and telling her to not run around in the parking lot where she could get run over. It includes being her friend on facebook and LOLing at some of the stuff she posts. Or quietly praying over the other stuff she posts.
The teaching part is where I can draw the most blood because it implies a promise to teach Sunday School, Confirmation class and Vacation Bible School. If you say “I do” to this question then we have a lot of work ahead. Teaching seeps into every part of your life: how you act in public not just in church on Sunday but at the ball game on Friday or in the aisle at the grocery store. It can involve letting LilyMae sit on your lap no matter how much she wiggles or bringing lunch for her to eat before youth group, or going to a youth event as a sponsor. There is no limit to how deeply you can get involved if you are really serious about your baptism vows. If you would prefer to pull out your checkbook you can help pay to send her to summer camp but we’d really love to have your heart and your hands as well.
Here’s what I would say if they let ME have the mike: Baptism is dangerous. Do we have the time and the energy to raise up another disciple? Do we have the strength for more hugs and conversation? Do we have the stamina to keep up with what grade they are in and what instrument they play in the band? Are we willing to learn enough about this person to laugh with them and cry with them and know why we’re laughing or crying? And how about when they mark the pews with pencils and/or spit on the floor? Because it will happen. Maybe not exactly that but there will come a time when it will be easy enough to lose track of this child. And it will be up to us, as the adults, to maintain ties when all others have broken.
It is a very rare person who becomes a Christian in a vacuum. Christianity, when done correctly, is just a very messy situation. Are we willing to love LilyMae when she is unloveable? When there is no reward and when no one even notices? When she withdraws into the teenage years for some private reflection? Will we be there for her when she enters the wilderness of life?
The story of Christ’s baptism is found in all four of the gospels. My favorites are the one in Mark and Matthew. In both of these stories two interesting things happen. As soon as Jesus comes out of the waters of baptism the voice of God pronounces: “This is my son and I am proud of him.” Then, immediately following this, Jesus enters the wilderness where he is tempted. Some people read this as two different stories. We make a big mistake when we separate them.
I think the story of Jesus’ temptation might have been very different if God had not told Jesus and everyone within earshot that God was proud of Jesus. Jesus’ time in the wilderness might have been very different had he not known that. We all need to know our parents are pleased with us. We need to know that they love us no matter what.
We all walk in the wilderness of temptation every day of our lives. How much easier is it when we know our parents love us and support what we do. Tell someone you love them today. Call your kids and tell them you’re proud of them.
Pay attention to baptisms.