Sunday, May 05, 2013

Easter 6C

“I’d like you to baptize my baby,” she said, on the other end of the phone.

“I’d be glad to,” I replied.

“What’s involved?” she asked

“Well, I’d like to meet with you and we can talk about that. When can you meet?” I asked

“How’s Sunday at 1:00?” she said.

“How about you come to church and see what we’re all about then we’ll meet in my office after worship,” I suggested.

“, I don’t think so,” she responded. “How about you come to my place at 1:00.”

“Umm...Okay,” I responded.

I arrived at her house armed with a hymnal marked to the baptism service, as well as a copy of Baptized We Live, a sort of comic book version of what we believe as Lutherans.

“So, why a baptism?” I asked her.

I ask this question every time I meet with a family who presents their child for baptism, not to jam parents into a corner, and I’m NOT looking for a “correct” answer. But because I’m genuinely interested in what parents believe about baptism.

“Well, I got done, my parents got done, and I should have my baby done,” she said. Her answer was pretty typical from what I get from parents. At least she was honest.

I opened the hymnal and turned to the liturgy for Holy Baptism, and I pointed out the section where she would be making some pretty heavy duty promises on behalf of her child:

“As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:

to live with her among God’s faithful people,
bring her to the Word of God and the Holy Supper
teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in her hands the holy scriptures,
nurture her in faith and prayer,
so that your child may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.

Do you promise to help your child grow in the Christian faith and life?”

I couldn’t get through the rest of my spiel because she immediately burst out crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do any of that,” she said.

“I don’t understand, what’s your concern?” I asked.

“I don’t want to force any religion on my baby. I’m not going to bring her to church because I want her to make her own choice when she grows up. I don’t believe in church. I don’t believe you have to go to a building to worship God,” she said.

(“Then why am I here?” I whispered to myself)

“It’s not the building that’s important, it’s where God’s people gather to worship,” I replied.

“I don’t care!” she said, and stormed out of the room.


I always find it interesting that many parents see faith and spirituality as areas where they can raise their children with little or no guidance, yet still assume their children will make good choices about these when they grow up.

And I often wonder if she told her friends about the mean ol’ pastor who wouldn’t baptize her baby. But then I realized it wasn’t me who said “No” to her child’s baptism, it was her.

At an earlier point in my ministry I would have been furious at this encounter. I would have thought “How dare she treat the sacrament of Holy Baptism with such cavalier consumerism, as if I’m in the religious service industry! This is God’s activity in her child’s life, not the Sears portrait studio!”

But after a few years into this job I realize that she’s just doing what the culture taught her to do, to define life and faith on her own terms, rather than seek the wisdom of a community who lived and breathed their faith for thousands of years.

She was making it up as she went along, dogmatically asserting the infallibility of personal choice and the inerrancy individual spiritual preferences.

She’s so deeply immersed in the waters of consumerism, believing that she is swimming upstream, against the religious current, that she can’t see that most other people are floating in the same direction.

She is not as unique and radical as she probably believes herself to be.

She was probably worried that I was trying to jam her into a religious box that was not her own making, where she would gasp for air, rather than providing a doorway into new and abundant life that God wants for her and her child, offering her and her daughter an opportunity for participate in the world’s salvation.

And she was right about one thing. You don’t have to go to a building to worship God. That much is true. But you can’t be a Christian without others. We need the support, encouragement, fellowship, and prayers of others to grow into our faith. There cannot be any individual Christians, because there is no individual God.

God is a community. Three-in-one and one-in-three. Don’t ask me how this all works because I haven’t a clue. No one really knows.

But what I do know is that God is profoundly relational. In today’s gospel Jesus talked about The Advocate - The Holy Spirit - sent from himself and the Father, the small intimate community we call “God,” so that his followers would never be alone. And that’s typical of God. God-is-with-us because that’s who God is. And that’s who God wants us to be. We can’t be Christians without each other. That’s why God calls us into the church.

Some say that such a perspective coming from a guy like me, doing what I do, is just the theological justification for keeping my job, and it’s the religious rationale for propping up the church institution.

(I won’t deny that you folks coming to church helps pay my bills and puts shoes on my kids’ feet. After all, a guy’s gotta eat. And I really like my job.

But there are easier ways to make money than being a pastor. And more of it.)

When we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we baptize into a community - God’s community - where we are never alone.

As I thought about what that mom said I realized that at least she had the integrity to NOT go through with a ritual that she didn’t believe in. And it could be said that her saying “No” to her child’s baptism respected the sacrament and what we as Christians believe.

But still, I never say No to a baptism because God never says No. Even when the parents clearly have no desire or intention to follow through on the promises they make on behalf of their child at baptism, I still do the baptism, because God DOES follow through on God’s promises at baptism. Right to the end.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,” John tells us in today’s second reading, “bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

That’s why we were brought to waters of life, and why we still bring people to these waters: to be washed clean of the curse of sin, to be fed by the tree of life, to be healed by its fruit, to live according to God’s vision of life for the world, to bask in the warmth of God’s light.

This is not our doing. This is not YOUR doing. This is God’s doing. This is future God has for you. This is the future God has for US. God’s future for the world has already been established, the future of healing and peace, the future of forgiveness and joy, a future where all will be fed by the tree of life, and we drink from the rivers of new life. The future when Jesus reigns over everything, and all people worship together in the presence of God.

And until that day comes in its fullness, our challenge - as a church - is learning how to live our promises in world that doesn’t believe in them, in a world that tries to make up faith and spirituality as it goes along, in a world that’s - rightly or wrongly - suspicious of formalized faith.

But whether we live up to that challenge or if we fail, God who is never alone will remain faithful to us and to the world, because that’s who God is.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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