January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:109 and Matthew 3:13-17
‘Branded in Baptism’
The Rev. Martha M. Shiverick
This Sunday is called Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It is not just the Sunday that we talk about Jesus’ baptism, but it is also the Sunday when Pastors are to teach and remind their congregations of the meaning and importance of the Sacrament of Baptism in our church. The Gospel lesson tells of Jesus’ baptism. Unique to this account is the little argument between John and Jesus as to who is going to baptize who…. But Jesus states that it is indeed important for him to be baptized. And as Jesus was baptized… and this is my absolute favorite part, a voice from heaven calls him a beloved child. Baptism is the absolute statement that we are indeed beloved children of God. Somehow in the act we are branded as God’s own.
So, we teach the importance of this day. To do so, here is a short ‘Catechism by Missy on Baptism’… a primer of sorts for those who need a refresher on its meaning.
Baptism is one of two sacraments in our church and today we will also celebrate our second one as we share Communion with one another. In the Presbyterian Church, you are only baptized once. And it doesn’t matter if you were baptized in another denomination, you are still baptized. Unlike the Catholic Church, Presbyterians do not baptize for salvation. So you can still go to heaven if you are not baptized. At the core of our belief, is that salvation comes from God and that God loves each of us unconditionally. In our church, we have infant and what we call ‘believer’ baptism which means that both infants, whose parents speak for them and adults who are joining the church but have not yet been baptized participate in the sacrament.
If you were baptized or had your children baptized in the church, at the baptism the parents are asked questions pertaining to their faith. Parents also promise to raise their children in the church and one of my favorite parts is that the congregation as a whole also vows to help. Confirmation Classes for teens are named that as they come to a point where they confirm the vows that were said at their baptism when they join the church. We don’t have ‘Godparents’ in our church as the whole congregation is, in fact, the Godparent to each child. However, most ministers allow families to have special friends or family members stand with the family when the children are baptized.
OK – Enough of the Missy Catechism…. If you ask any pastor what the joys of being a pastor are, one of the things they will list is The Sacrament of Baptism. To baptize an adult person is joyful as they are making a public statement of their faith and saying that they want to be a part of the membership and community of the church. And… well… baptizing an infant…. well, that is just pure love and thanksgiving as we bless the child and welcome them into the community.
It is appropriate to have Baptisms on this Sunday. I baptized my son Asa on this Sunday 35 years ago. And even if you are not the pastor, it is a powerful and emotional thing to present your child to be baptized. At Baptism, you state your child’s name and you claim him as God’s own. Mixed in with the emotions of love and thanksgiving for your little child is a hope that this sacrament will, in fact, one day have great meaning for them. We bring our children here because we want them brought up in an ethic of love and acceptance and to grow and flourish in a supportive community. We want them to know God, to learn Jesus’ teachings and ethics, and to form a life of meaning by being God’s hands and heart on earth. And for those of us whose kids have grown and left the homes of their childhood for their own homes, we still hope and pray the same prayer for our children… that they know God’s love and are in a loving community.
At the very heart of our understanding of Baptism is that we belong to and are beloved by God. And whether you are 6 months old or 80 years old, that is a powerful foundation from which to stand and live. All the self-help books you got for Christmas and the New Year’s resolutions we made last week, are superfluous to believing and really living as if we are God’s own. We were branded; we were named and marked at baptism as God’s and this allows us to face the world with purpose.
My faith is always developing as is, I hope, yours. And I want to share with you a theological or faith issue I am now working through. I have been ordained as a minister for enough years now that it isn’t surprising that some of the people I have baptized and celebrated the gift of their lives have now died. But this past year, a young woman died that hit me very hard. When Bo and I were young parents and our son Asa was little we made good friends with another couple who were members of our church and had two boys just a little older and just a little younger than our son. Our families traveled and played together. Imagine our joy when they adopted their daughter Jamee the same month as I gave birth to Nonie. We decided that it was fitting that our daughters would be baptized together on the same Sunday at church. Both Bo’s and my families had beautiful Baptismal gowns that had been handed down for generations so Nonie wore one, while Jamee wore the other. I have so many photos that we took that day. We are all so happy and felt so blessed. In the photos, it is literally written over all of our faces.
Within the first year of Jamee and Nonie’s life, we found out that Jamee had a heart condition. Even after several surgeries, we knew that this would be a condition of her life. And last year, Jamee died… She lived through her 20’s but was not to see her 30th birthday.
Bo and Nonie were able to go to her memorial service in Columbus Ohio and I sent with them a long handwritten letter I had written. In it, I was trying to make sense of the line that is said at memorial services towards the end at the time of the commendation and comital. It says: ‘Her baptism is now complete in her death.’ I have said it for years at memorial services but never felt it so personally. Jamee’s baptism, the act of naming her as God’s own as I said her name and dipped my hand into the water and placed it on her baptizing her in the name of God, of the Son, and the Holy Spirit was just the beginning. That is when she was branded as beloved by her creator, as delightful in God’s eyes; it was when she became a part of the community where we live as known children of God, as free, and as forgiven. At Baptism she was introduced as God’s own child, with whom God is and will always be well pleased.
And her Baptism was completed at her death. She was claimed as God’s at Baptism and lived as God’s beloved throughout her life until she was claimed by God at death. It did not matter if her life was 20 years long or 90 years long, she was always God’s.
And the same is for us. Baptism is our gift. It is a mark, a tattoo of sorts made by the Holy Water in the baptismal font. And so branded, we get to wear that tattoo and live with it throughout our lives. It is a reminder of just who’s we are… that we are a part of the body called the church and are beloved and accepted. And just as we are claimed as God’s in baptism, we will finally be claimed as God’s at death. And that, dear friends, is good news. Amen.