Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two Baptism Sermons

The Baptism of Sydney and Grayson. May 22, 2011. St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Hoover, AL.

Dear Sydney and Grayson,

This letter is from the priest who baptized you. I look forward to watching you grow up, but I am 55 years older than you, so some of the most interesting parts of your life will happen long after I am gone. That’s OK, though, because what the people of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and I are doing today will help you establish a sturdy foundation on which you can build a strong and healthy spiritual life.

First, I want to congratulate you on your choice of families. Sydney, you were born on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I remember because your dad, Kevin, was supposed to acolyte that day and he didn’t show up. I knew that something important had happened because Kevin is such a faithful acolyte. The first time I saw you, your mother Krystal was holding you and I could see that she loved you a lot. So I know that you will be well cared for.

Grayson, I don’t know your mom and dad, but I do know your great grandparents, Bill and Gerri Blythe, and they are outstanding people. Bill is very smart and thoughtful and reads a lot. Gerri helped start our Daughters of the King chapter at St. Alban’s. The Daughters of the King is an organization for women that encourages prayer and service. Gerri and the Daughters have made blankets for shut ins and prayer beads for me to take to the sick. But the most important thing about your great grandparents is that they are almost always in church. Anyway, both of you are lucky to have such wonderful families.

Second, remember I said that today is the day of your baptism. By the time that you are able to read this I know that you will know what baptism is. I know that because your parents promised me that they would take you to Sunday School and church and help you to become a good Christian. I also said that the people of St. Alban’s and I were baptizing you. That’s kind of a funny way to say it because it sounds like everyone in the church picked you up and held you over the font and poured the water over your head. Actually, I was the one who held you and poured the water. But in the Episcopal Church we almost always baptize people as part of the Sunday service. We do that because baptism makes you part of God’s family and the church is God’s family. In baptism the church says that you are one of us, a part of our family.

Baptism means that you are now a Christian. Right now, you are a baby Christian, just like you are a baby girl or boy. Your responsibility as a baby Christian and as a baby girl or boy is the same: you are supposed to grow. Right now, you don’t have to do anything special to grow; it just happens. But in a few years you will begin to take some responsibility for your growth. You will need to eat healthy and nourishing food, to exercise, and to get enough rest and sleep. You will also have to take responsibility for your spiritual growth. You will have to pray, to read the Bible, to come to church, and to participate in the sacraments. But spiritual growth is just as natural as physical growth. It is God who makes us grow both spiritually and physically. We can choose to work with God in fostering our growth or to work against God. I hope you will choose to work with God.

One of the scripture readings for today talks about our spiritual growth. In 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 2, it says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Infants need milk, both spiritually and physically. It is just as natural for you to desire spiritual milk as it is for you to desire physical milk. However, you are going to grow up in a world that will do everything in its power to make you forget that you are spiritual beings. The world will try to make you believe that you can be fulfilled and complete without seeking God’s spiritual milk. The world will try to make you believe that life is only about professional success and making money and having more and better things. But if you are quiet and look within and listen very carefully, God will remind you that you cannot be truly happy without him. God will remind you that love is more important than success, that forgiveness is better than anger, that hope is stronger than despair.

But I don’t want to mislead you. Another of today’s readings is about St. Stephen, the first martyr, the first of Jesus’ followers who was put to death for his faith in Jesus. Life is difficult. Following Jesus does not mean that life will be easy, but it does mean that God will give you the strength to overcome the difficulties you will encounter.

Finally, in today’s reading from John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” That doesn’t necessarily mean that if you follow Jesus you will multiply loaves and fishes and walk on water, but it does mean that you can do things that are just as miraculous: you can pray for and forgive your enemies, you can return kindness for anger, you can be courageous and cheerful in the face of adversity.

Today we are giving you four gifts: The first is a candle that we will light from the paschal candle. The paschal candle is a large candle marked with a cross that is next to the baptismal font. Burn this candle every year on the anniversary of your baptism to remind yourself that the light of Christ shines inside you. Second, we are giving you a t shirt. In the early church, people who baptized on the night before Easter and for the next fifty days they wore a special white baptismal garment. The t shirt represents that garment. On one said it says “Christian,” “Disciple,” “Child of God,” “Heir of the kingdom of God”, because that is what you are. On the other side, it says “St. Alban’s Episcopal Church” because we never pass up an opportunity for free advertising! The third gift is a small container that holds some of the water from the baptismal font. There’s a story about the great German Reformer, Martin Luther, that says that the devil appeared to him and said, “Luther, who do you think you are? You’re nobody and you’ll never amount to anything!” Luther threw a bottle of ink at the devil, and said, “Be gone, devil! I am baptized!” When you are tempted to believe that you are nobody and will never amount to anything, remember that you, too, are baptized. Finally, we are giving you a cross.

A little girl was lost in a big city, and a policeman saw her crying, and asked why she was crying. She explained that she was lost and couldn’t find her way home, so he took her around the neighborhood in his police car, and suddenly she said, “You can let me out here. I know this is my church because of the cross on top. I can find my way home from here.” When you feel lost and alone, look for the cross because it will help you find your way home.

The Baptism of Victoria and Caleigh. June 5, 2011. St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Hoover, AL.

Victoria and Caleigh, today we are going to baptize you. One of you told me that you don’t want me to get too much water on your head. I don’t blame you. You both look so pretty today, and I don’t want to mess up your outfits, so I will be as careful as I can be.

But baptism is a bath. When you take your bath at night or in the morning, you do it to wash off the dust and dirt that we all encounter during the day. That’s also why we are baptized.

As we go through life all kinds of things stick to us – anger, fear, greed, and so on. We have a name for those things. We call them “sins.” Neither of you have encountered very many sins yet, but you will. When you do, remember that you were baptized. Remember that God wants to wash those things off you.

But baptism has another meaning. Do you like the way the warm water in the bath tub surrounds you and sort of embraces you? I like that feeling a lot. In baptism, God doesn’t just wash away our sins, God also embraces us like the water in the bath. God embraces us completely, embraces all of us. God embraces our hopes and fears, our strengths and weaknesses, and tells us that we are good, that we are his daughters and sons. In baptism God tells us that he loves us and that we are a part of his family.

I imagine that at this point in your life there aren’t that many things that you worry about, but adults worry a lot. We probably worry more than we should. Some day you may worry, too. You may not feel as close to God as you do now. When you do, remember that you were baptized. That God embraced you, hugged you, held you close and said that he loved you and that you belong to him.

Now, I want to say something to the members of St. Alban’s. Remember that baptism is not just something that I do. It’s something that all of us do. We are all taking responsibility for Victoria and Caleigh today. We are taking the responsibility for raising them in the Christian faith. We are taking the responsibility for supporting them and loving them. It’s not something we can do by ourselves. God will help us. But we have to do our part.

We have to make sure that we have a Sunday school program for Victoria and Caleigh and the other young people who come here so that they can learn about the Bible and the Christian faith. We have to make sure that they are included and given ways to participate in the things we do, given responsibilities appropriate to their ages, and so on.

Many years ago a great man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that he wanted his children to live in a world in which they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That’s what baptism is about. Baptism says that’s what’s on our inside is more important than what’s on our outside.

It doesn’t matter what the color of our skin is or our hair or our eyes. These are good things. Be grateful for them. They are God’s good gifts. But they are not the most important things about it. The most important things are inside us: our faith, our hope, our love, our joy…

Baptism makes us one. Baptism says that whether we are young or old, men or women, black or white, we are one in Christ.

Welcome to St. Alban’s, Caleigh and Victoria. Welcome to God’s family.