In a world and a church where most of us no longer believe that an unbaptized baby or person is not going to go to heaven, why do we bother baptizing?
In a world and a church where most of us no longer believe that we are born sinful and baptism somehow removes this stain, why do we bother baptizing?
In a multi-faith world and a church where most of no longer believe that Christianity is the only way to God, why do we bother baptizing?
These are some of the questions that rolled around in my head as I prepared to baptize Todd and Andrea’s children.
The United Church has 4 understandings of baptism:
1. A ritual of covenant and welcome into the faith community
2. A ritual of grace
3. A rite of passage
4. A ritual of belonging
Parents and adults usually approach baptism through one of these understandings. When we baptize… and let me be clear, it is not just me who is baptizing… it is us… as a community of faith… we ALL enter into the baptism. That is why in the United Church, there are rarely good reasons to baptize in private… we recognize it as a communal ritual, done in the context of weekly worship.
The following information is found on the UCC website: Baptism is a symbolic action that signifies the new life God gives us as we join the church community. Baptism uses water as a symbolic cleansing that signifies the acceptance of new life within the church family. The sacrament of baptism is the single rite of initiation into the Christian community, the church.
The United Church offers baptism to all ages. We believe the gift of God’s love doesn’t depend on our ability to understand it, so we baptize people as infants right up through adulthood. During the ceremony, everyone in the congregation pledges support for the child and his or her parents. Baptism is not a requirement for God’s love. We believe people who die without baptism are in no way condemned, lost, or damned. Baptism in the United Church is recognized by all denominations of the Christian church that practise infant baptism. Similarly, if people have already been baptized in another church, the United Church recognizes their baptism and welcomes them as Christians. (united-church.ca)
The Genesis reading speaks of the very beginnings of life on earth… life that began in the waters… the waters of life… Our ancestors, who wrote the creation accounts, understood that instinctively… and now science confirms that. A baby is cradled safely in water before birth… the waters of life… encapsulated in the human, female person.
Water is the source of life… without nothing else is possible… and so water plays a part in many of the rituals of our world’s religions.
For us, as Christians, when we baptize, we are linking lives with Jesus. Through symbol and action we are saying that we enter into his life, his death and his resurrection.
According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus began his public ministry after being baptized by John… and a voice was heard… ‘This is my beloved child…’ God’s grace touched him in the symbol of a dove…I hope and trust that each one of you experiences that grace at some point… And that you can call on that experience in times of darkness and despair to encourage you and comfort you.
You… and you… and you… are beloved children of God… baptism or no baptism.
And you can call on us… as a baptized and baptizing community, to remember that for you. Because baptism is not a private event… we enter into that life in the context of a Christian community… one in which we are challenged, encouraged, and empowered to follow Jesus and his teachings in our time and place.
So what does that mean in our time and place? For me it means following Jesus’ teachings as best as I know how. Loving God and loving neighbour…And, as is famous in a parable from Luke’s gospel… where the question is asked, “Who is my neighbour.”
Our neighbours are not necessarily the ones who live next door… or people in our community… or people we know… our neighbour is everyone… In the world that Jesus proclaimed, ALL are neighbours. We have a mutual responsibility to each other, near and far.
Our United Church Creed says this:
We are not alone,
We live in God’s world
We believe in God
Who has created and is creating
Who has come in Jesus the word made flesh.
To reconcile and make new
Who works in us and others by the faith.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Let us live out our baptism promises.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
© Rev. Catherine MacDonald
October 29, 2017 – Nine Mile River