We celebrated the sacrament of Baptism with a baby on her first birthday weekend during this morning’s service. Later in the day, we commended a dear friend to God on what would have been her eighth-seventh birthday. We read from the Proverbs: Wisdom … cries out … “I was daily [God’s] delight, rejoicing before [Them] always, rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” In the morning and at the grave, we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, knowing that God delights in the infant and those full of days, each well-beloved.
A minor technical problem this morning meant that the iPad in the pulpit presented me with an earlier draft of this sermon; but this is approximately and hopefully what I mostly preached.
Baptism is such a hopeful sacrament. It is full of promise: the promise of God‘s mercy, and our commitment, our promise, to live into that mercy. It speaks to the hopefulness of humanity, that we believe that we can do better than to wallow in original sin in all of its all too present ramifications. When we promise, for ourselves or on behalf of our children, to resist evil, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to respect the dignity of every human being and to serve Christ in everyone we meet – those promises lay out a roadmap of hope for humanity, for living into the image of God in which we were created.
The waters of baptism speak to us of the original waters of creation, out of which we were created. From the beginning, says Wisdom, God delighted in the human race, in us. In the waters of baptism, we are reminded of John the Baptizer, who saw Jesus coming and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And when he came up out of the water, God declared God’s delight once more, saying, “This is my child, my beloved.”
In the waters of baptism we are reminded of the waters of the Flood; the waters with which God has promised never again to overwhelm us; the deep waters from which God has promised to save us, parting the Red Sea, the River Jordan, breaking open a way when we have run out of ways to move forward.
In the Episcopal church we baptize people of all ages, and we have always baptized babies. When people ask me why, I have to wonder why not, because babies themselves are such hopeful sign up new life, new promise. It makes so much sense for us to invest our hope in them, and to share our hope with them.
How do we share our hope?
We put chairs outside the church this week, in order to sit around and maybe have some conversation with our neighbours who might pass by. Some people have voiced a little shyness around what would happen if somebody asked a difficult question that we don’t know how to answer. This could take many forms. We might want to talk, as we go along, about how to find resources for particular needs that might be presented to us, beyond the immeasurable and often underestimated resource of prayer which, trust me, you each carry. Those are things we should talk more about as a community as we continue in this experiment.
But when it comes to describing who we are as Christians, and what we believe in this church, each of you is as qualified to answer those questions as any other.
When we bring a baby into the church and baptize her into this form of Christ’s body, we promise, as parents, as godparents, and as witnesses, a communion of saints, if you like; we promise to raise her in the knowledge and love of God as it is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. And we don’t all promise to do that by going and studying theology at seminary, not that such study isn’t fascinating and useful. But what we more usually understand by that promise is that we will share what we know of the love of God; that we will share the love that God has made known to us in Christ Jesus. We mean that we will share our stories: the stories that sustain us; the stories of hope when all hope was lost. We share the stories of connection and community. We tell the stories of comfort in times of grief, and stories of entertaining doubt. We tell the stories that sustain our own faith, and lift our heads above the water. If we tell our stories of the love which God has for us then we can’t go too far wrong in describing what we believe as a church, because it is those stories that bring us together week by week, that bring us to the font and to the table.
Today is the feast day of the Trinity, when traditionally preachers have turned themselves inside out and committed heresy attempting to explain how God’s unity is expressed in three persons … I am not going to try that today. It is a mystery. But what it means for our everyday prayer is the realization that within God’s perfect being is the reconciliation of relationship, the interplay of love, the communication of difference and solidarity. Those aspects of God promise that we are understood, that we are accepted in all of our difference, diversity, struggle, and longing; that within the heart of a God who knows all about it from experience, we are healed. Within the heart of a God who knows even brokenness, betrayal, the shadow sides of love, we are recognized, accepted, restored.
Within the sacrament of baptism, we participate in a ritual that Jesus modeled for us. The power and the hope of these symbols is tangible. That is the very meaning of sacrament: the tangible, visible sign of God’s invisible and ineffable grace: the mystery of our Creation, the solidarity of Christ’s Incarnation, the continuing delight of the Holy Spirit.
As we are blessed by the hope that is set before us in the sacrament of Harper’s baptism, let us live into the promises we make on her behalf, and on our own. Have no fear, but always to be ready to give an account of the hope that is within you, with gentleness and reverence, by the grace of God (1 Peter 3:15).
We will, with God’s help.