J. Barry Vaughn. The baptism of James Gordon Brush. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, AL. Sept. 5, 2010.
Today we are baptizing James Gordon Brush. I am going to explain baptism to him, but the rest of you are invited to listen, too.
Gordon, I want to begin with a quotation from one of the most important and best-known theologians of the last century:
Today is your day.
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!
The theologian, of course, is Dr. Seuss. Somehow I doubt that his doctorate was in theology, because most theologians I know would have to write an entire book to say what he says in only four lines. But it’s hard to find a better explanation of baptism than Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
Who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind because you’ll have speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Gordon, today is the day you launch out into a sea of adventure. Or (to repeat what Dr. Seuss says)
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Christian life is safe and peaceful. In baptism your ship sets sail and you leave the safe harbor behind and sail into adventure and adversity. That may sound a little scary but remember this: you will never be alone. Look around you. Everyone here is going along with you on that adventure. Today you become part of what someone called “one family with a billion names.” Today you acquire millions of new brothers and sisters on every continent, every nationality, and every race. And especially remember that whether your ship sails into the storm or the calm, Jesus is going with you on your journey through life.
Gordon, we have several gifts for you: First, here is a baptismal certificate. I’ve made it large deliberately. I wanted it to be about the same size as the certificate priests receive when they are ordained, because the most important ordination anyone receives is the ordination all of us receive in baptism. In baptism, Gordon, you are ordained into the priesthood all Christians share. All baptized persons are ordained to proclaim the Good News; we are all ordained to reach out to the lost and lonely, the hungry and the hurt; we are ordained to lift ourselves and others into the healing and transforming presence of God through prayer.
Second, I will take some water from the baptismal font and put it in a bottle for you to keep. Remember, Gordon, that while life is always good, it is not always fun. Or as Dr. Seuss puts it
I’m sorry to say so
But sadly, it’s true
Can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
In a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang can fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
With an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
That you’ll be in a Slump
And when you’re in a Slump,
You’re not much fun.
Is not easily done.
All of us go through slumps, Gordon, but baptism gives us the resources to deal with slumps. That’s why I’m giving you some of the baptismal water to take home. When you find yourself in a slump, look at this bottle of water, and remind yourself that were baptized. In baptism you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit can lift us out of any slump.
Third, we are giving you this t-shirt. In the early church, people who were baptized wore white garments for 50 days after their baptism. This shirt is too big for you today, although in no time at all, it will be too small for you. But remember what it says: You are a Christian, a child of God, an heir of the kingdom of Heaven; a disciple of Jesus; and a member of God’s royal priesthood. All your life, people will try to make you forget who you are. They will try to make you think you are something other than and less than the person God made you to be. Don’t let them do that. A former bishop of this diocese used to say to the people he confirmed, “Remember who you are and what you represent.” This shirt will help you do that.
Fourth, when we go back to the font, Deacon Mary will light a candle from the Paschal candle and give it to you. You’re supposed to burn it every year on the anniversary of your baptism. The candle will remind you of the light that burns brightly inside you. You may not always see that light, but it is always there. All of us go through dark places from time to time, and when you do, light your baptismal candle and remember that God’s light is burning in your heart.
Finally, we are giving you a cross. Most Christian churches have crosses inside or outside or both. There’s a large cross on the front of St. Alban’s and many crosses inside. The cross has many meanings. The most important meaning of the cross is that it tells us that God can take the worst possible thing that can happen to us and turn it into something glorious. But in a sense, the cross is a sign that shows us the way to go when we get lost.
Sometimes, Dr. Seuss says
You’ll come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to go out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
Or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find.
For a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind .
There’s a story about a little boy who got lost in a big city. Fortunately, a policeman found him and walked around the neighborhood with him, hoping that he would see a landmark. Finally, they stopped in front of a big building with a cross on top, and the little boy’s face lit up, and he said, “It’s OK, officer, this is my church. I can find my way home from here.”
Gordon, when you come to that “place where the streets are not marked” (and all of us find ourselves there from time to time), look for the cross and look for the church. The cross will point you the way, and the church is full of people who will help you find your way home.
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
As you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
With many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s
A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)