Today we celebrate Jaleesa’s birth, Sander and Christel’s adoption of her, and her baptism! This is the first baptism—“the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ,”1 since I’ve been at this church. And we’re baptizing Jaleesa on the Sunday we observe Christ’s Ascension. Now really, Thursday was Ascension day—the day that we recognize if not celebrate Christ’s ascension into the heavens before the on looking disciples (we all knew that right?). Okay, so while it’s not a big deal for us in the US, Ascension day in Holland (where the van Doorns are from) is a national holiday, actually it’s bigger than Christmas and Easter for them (why?). Everyone—The faithful and not so faithful—gets up early in the morning and hops on bicycles and peddles from church to church for services to commemorate Jesus’ departure
(bike ride for bells May 18). Last year Christel and Sander were “shocked” we didn’t even have services on Ascension day, much less a big bike ride.
Well, how beautiful that on the day of such great significance for our Dutch friends we are fulfilling in part Christ’s command to his disciples just before he ascended: As you go, make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you (to love). And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age (Mt. 28:19). by baptizing Jaleesa, aka Baby J on this day, Ascension Sunday!
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. That’s where it all started in the Christian Church and it’s still a common practice today. Today infants may get sprinkled, and adults may get “dunked”. Even with the variations in practices and interpretations of meaning,
it is important that we remember our baptism: Do we remember our baptism? Well, for those of you who—like me—were baptized as babies, that can be a challenge. I actually was baptized twice (not very Presbyterian?), once as an infant and once when I was 24.
Let me tell about my first baptism; December 21, 1975, a week before I would have been six months old. My parents, sisters, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course members of the church were there. My grandmother, mother and her siblings, as well as my two older sisters had been baptized in the same church before me. I was dressed in a christening gown, originally sewn by nuns in New Orleans for my great grandfather’s family.
It had been worn by my great-grandfather, his siblings, and just about every child of each subsequent generation in the family. The minister who baptized me was the Rev. J. Davidson Philips; my father, both grandfathers, and great-grandfather were elders in that church.
My parents, at my baptism, were concerned not only about me being cared for by the whole church, but also that I would not spittle on the minister’s robe. I am sure that it was a special moment for all in attendance, as all baptisms are. But I don’t remember anything about it.
I can only tell you something about it because my parents told me about it, or because I imagined how it was when I see other infants’ baptisms. But I do know it happened, and in a mysterious way it has deep meaning for me.
Can I ask us to share with each other our baptism stories, briefly? Turn to someone nearby if you’d like and tell of your own baptism story if you’ve been baptized, and if you haven’t been baptized or if you don’t remember your baptism, maybe share your thoughts about baptism.
Now that we have our brains working a bit. Let’s do another fun activity: A catechetical exercise—how fun can you! Questions and answers.
What is baptism?2
Baptism is a symbolic act. Symbols have a whole lot of meaning;
So does baptism. Maybe more than we thought. Here are just a few.
Baptism is with water.
Why are we baptized with water?
Christ was baptized with water; in a river called the Jordan.3 What does water do? Water washes, water cleanses, water is refreshing. When we are baptized, we are washed, we are cleaned, and it is refreshing. Water gives life and it is eternal.4 Our baptism gives new life and reassurance of eternal life!
Baptism is acceptance.5
What do we accept?
When we are baptized we accept that we are not perfect; we realize our sinfulness.6 When we are baptized we accept truth in Christ, and our need for him,7 his authority on earth and in heaven,8 and his right to be Lord of our life.9 Acceptance is the willing receipt of a gift.
When we are baptized we willingly receive God’s free gift of grace.
Baptism is sharing. 10
What do we share?
We can share in something; like sharing in “a celebration; or a pension plan”. When we are baptized we share in Christ’s death and resurrection; we die to our old selves, and are made alive to God.11 We can share something in common with others: When we are baptized, we are share in common new life in Christ with all baptized.12
Baptism is announcement.
What are we announcing?
When we are baptized we announce officially and publicly that we are committing our lives to Christ [as Christ is committed to us]. When we announce something we indicate clearly; like “when we wear a button that proclaims your choice for president.”13 In baptism, we show clearly to all who will see our choice for leadership, Jesus Christ—Jesus for President.14
Baptism is beginning.
What are we beginning?
Baptism is celebration.
What are we celebrating?
A celebration is an observance of a day or event with ceremonies, festivities, rejoicing, like a birthday party, like fiestas. Our baptism is a celebration on earth and in heaven.17 Celebrations are parties to make something widely known. When we are baptized, it is like we are telling the whole world of our allegiance to Christ, and our community is making widely known their acceptance of us.
Baptism is belonging.
What do we belong to?
In baptism, we belong to God—we are called sons and daughters of God.18 In baptism we belong to one another—we call one another sisters and brothers and together we make up the body of Christ, each with our unique gifts.19
I could say a lot more.
The important thing for all of us is to remember our baptism. For those who have been baptized as adults, or may one day be baptized as adults—a very biblical practice—Jesus was baptized as an adult—it will be easier for you to remember than for those who were baptized as a baby just like Jaleesa. We practice adult baptism in the Presbyterian church, but the reason it is common in our church to baptize babies is because it is easier to pick babies up and hold them. (tonio). No, because it shows that God loves us and claims us even before we can say anything other than pppphhhhhhbbbbb. God’s grace is in our life before we even know it.
Also, it is a common practice because in a moment we’re all going to make promises to baby J.
We make these promises any time a child is baptized in this church. It is the only sacramental promise that we make in this church. We will promise to help guide, raise, and nurture Jaleesa and every child or adult baptized in the ways of the Church of Jesus Christ. Almost everyone here will raise their hand and say “I do.” Now do we really mean this? Do we know what this means?
Eric Ytuarte’s story.
A friend of mine from seminary told me one time that “85% of PC(USA) high school students stop going to church when they go off to college and less than 15% ever return.”20 He was in business before he went to seminary and said, losing that many in our churches is terrible business. But this rate of young people leaving the church and never coming back has nothing to do with business, it has everything to do with being faithful. We raise our hands and commit to the spiritual development of the child. Do we really care if the children are raised in the faith and find a home in the church after they turn 18?
Our promise is also about stewardship. What do we do with the children God has given us?
Do we take care of one another? Jaleesa at some point will go back to the Netherlands with her parents (not at the end of this year thank goodness). And we will write her and continue to hear about how she is doing, and in a few years be her friend on facebook. But it will be harder to fulfill our promises to her. Fortunately we know her parents will find a good church with people who will help us to fulfill our promises. But Jaleesa helps to remind us of our commitment to one another…to continue to help guide, raise and nuture each other in the faith, with the love of Christ. May we fulfill our promises. May we remember our baptism.
1 BOO, W-2.3001.
2 Context: children’s sermon at WPC (older kids).
3 Mark 1:9-11 and synoptic parallels.
4 Images discussed in class.
5 All definitions, unless otherwise indicated, are found on www.dictionary.com. Direct quotes are in italics.
6 Rom 3:23.
7 Phil. 4:19.
8 Mt. 28:16-20.
9 Phil. 2:9-11.
10 1 Peter 4:13; 2 Peter 1:4.
11 Romans 6:6-11.
12 Romans 5:18; Eph. 4:17-24; 2 Cor 5:17
14 Title of a Shane Claiborne book, 2008.
15 This would especially be important for those who have been baptized as invents or when very young.
16 Mark 1:9-11; and synoptic parallels.
17 Luke 15.
18 1 John 2:29-3:1; Gal. 4:7
19 Galatians 3:27-28.
20 Rodger Nishioka, associate professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary, from John Richardson article, “College Ministries: I’m a big, fat liar,” Presbyterian Outlook, 1/28/08: http://www.pres-outlook.com/tabid/2119/Article/6773/Default.aspx