October 7, 2018
Christ Church Gardiner
This morning, we are blessed to celebrate the baptism of Henry, better known to his family as Harry. Baptism is a sacrament that makes visible to all the grace of God and reminds us that the voice of God that called down to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River, proclaiming the message, “You are my Son, the beloved” is meant for all of us. We are all beloved children of God, and today, we celebrate that with this new child who will be marked as Christ’s own forever.
Harry likely won’t remember this day, and while baptizing babies is a beautiful thing, it does put a little more responsibility on the parents and all those who care about Harry to remind him as he gets older about what happened here today. To show him the pictures, tell him the story, and help him to understand what it all means.
Because let me share with you a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don’t.
Every summer, our family packs up our van and drives down to Lake Malone in Kentucky to spend a week or so with my family. And while we are there, one of my kids’ favorite things to do is to go to Boat Church. Some of you have heard me tell stories about Boat Church before. It’s church, but the minister is standing on a long dock with a speaker that can blast his voice for miles it seems, and the congregation is gathered out on the lake in their boats. The kids love it because they can hang out in the water during the service as long as they aren’t splashing around and being loud.
A few years back, we were at boat church, the kids were on floats in the water, and the service was wrapping up. And it was time for the altar call. You know that time in churches a little more evangelical than ours, when the minister asks who in the congregation wants to commit their lives to Jesus and take Him as their Lord and Savior. And then invites them to raise their hands or come forward. And it is this commitment that paves the way to baptism for them. So on this particular Sunday at Boat Church, the minister starts asking who is ready to commit their lives to Jesus and my girls start waving their hands. Now, I was glad they were paying attention and happy they felt committed to Jesus, but as a good Episcopalian, I was also a little bit horrified. So Jeff and I are leaning over the edge of the boat, hissing at them… “Put your hands down. You’ve already been baptized.”
When we finally got back to the cabin without any of our kids being hauled up on the dock to talk about committing their life to Jesus, I realized that I shouldn’t have been surprised that they didn’t understand that they were already committed to Christ. As parents, we had made the commitment on their behalf, and while as a family we talked about God and Jesus and said our prayers and went to church, we didn’t talk to them much about what it would mean for them to commit their own lives.
And while that evangelical language of taking Jesus to be one’s Lord and Savior may sound a little too, well too Jesusy, to some of us, that is in fact what we commit to in the baptismal vows found in our Prayer Book.
You’ll hear it in a few minutes during the baptism. After a lot of renouncing of evil and sin, we will turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior. We will put our whole trust in his grace and love. And we will promise to follow and obey him as our Lord.
But what kind of Lord and Savior are we vowing to follow?
What we find in our Gospel story is that Jesus is a Lord and Savior that proclaims that it is LOVE that is the greatest power in the world and then shows us that it is only through the sacrifice of self that we will be saved. Salvation isn’t just about a promise of Heaven for individuals. If we are only focused on our own salvation, we’re missing the point.
And we can see that in our baptismal covenant. When we commit ourselves to Christ, we are vowing to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And promising to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.
That’s a tall order. But it’s not just what our Prayer Book asks of us. It’s what Jesus modeled for us. It’s the Jesus we see in our Gospel today from Mark.
And let me be clear for those who may have found Jesus’ words about divorce to be harsh. Today’s Gospel is not a story of a man preoccupied with shaming or punishing those who are divorced, but a story of a man determined to protect the vulnerable and to raise up the lowly. In reading our biblical stories, it is so important that we remember and use context. In a time when women had little to no rights, divorce could lead to their abuse and exploitation. Jesus didn’t want that. By quoting Genesis, Jesus is reminding his listeners that marriage is about mutuality and interdependence, not dominance and control.
Similar to women in the first century, children also lived without any legal rights. This is the third week in a row that we have heard the Gospel of Mark speak of Jesus’ love for and inclusion of children. Stories of Jesus gathering the children in his midst into his arms. “Let the little children come to me;” he said, “do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” (Mark 10: 14)
For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs–the powerless, the vulnerable, the oppressed. Mary the mother of Jesus sings a song in the Gospel of Luke in which she proclaims of God, her savior, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
The lowly, the hungry, the poor. The kingdom of God belongs to them. And that shows us what kind of Lord and Savior we are called to commit our lives to–at our baptism and every day of our lives. We follow Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
Therefore, let’s not shy away from committing our lives to Jesus. How do we embrace our baptismal vows when we leave here today? Will our lives look different if we are truly committed to following the way of Jesus?
We are all the beloved children of God and marked as Christ’s own forever. So take out those pictures of your baptism and your children’s baptism, if you have them. Tell the stories. Remember your baptism and all that it means. Amen.