Baptism, a sacrament and commitment

Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Article Image Alt Text

Courtesy photo
            Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, in the Columbus Community Congregational Church we celebrated the baptism of two children, one in his mother’s arms while big brother stood at their side. Baptism is one of the sacraments that serve as signs of the connection between the commonplace and the sacred, the everyday and the holy.

Baptism acknowledges what God already knows, that one is known by God, claimed by God, named as a beloved child of God. Each of us is called to remember that we too are known by God and named Beloved Child of God. It is a powerful and empowering moment.

Each Baptism is not just about the one(s) being baptized or one’s own baptism. People in the congregation vow to take a role in nurturing the child in the future. Baptism also means being baptized into the Christian Church universal.

We represent not just a particular congregation, but also all of the churches who will take part in raising these children through their childhood and beyond.

Just as we represent more than a particular church, we extend our vows to more than these particular children. In each Baptism, our vows encompass all children, those children who sit on our chancel steps and those we have never seen. Those who are young and impressionable and those who have grown and aged. The vows we make are to all God’s children.

God’s children. Not just the ones related to us by blood or marriage or choice. Not just the ones who attend our church or go to our schools. They are our children because they are part of our world; because our decisions impact their lives; because their lives . . . deaths, their successes . . . and failures, have an impact on our lives.

One of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver, points out that “since the advent of child-labor laws, children have come to hold an increasingly negative position in the economy. They’re spoken of as a responsibility, a legal liability, and encumbrance or, if their mothers are unwed or on welfare, a mistake that should not be rewarded.”

We see this in school districts with reduced budgets because voters are not willing to pay higher taxes, communities who are reluctant to accept immigrants for fear they will take away jobs, and refugees for fear they are somehow dangerous. In effect we say, those ones are not our children, they aren’t part of our family, they don’t deserve our care.

But scripture tells us that we belong to more than our family of origin, and our community is broader than our zip code. Created as we are in the Image of God, we all are part of God’s family. As Paul writes in Galatians 3, ‘in our baptism we are no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are no longer separated by ethnicity, by economics or by gender. We are one in Christ.’

In baptism, Christians vow to accept children as members of the family of God. We vow to enfold children in our love. We vow to live lives modeled after Jesus Christ. We vow to support the parents. I want us to take these vows very seriously. I want us to know and feel that these are not just words that we say but sacred commitments that we will not shirk, holy words that we will make real.

In baptism we make a sacred commitment to accept children as members of our family. Family members look out for one another, come together when one is hurting, and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Let us take our role as family seriously enough that we will take the time to notice the pain in our children’s eyes. And let us also be courageous enough to see the pain in the eyes of the children of Syria and Central America. As we will celebrate the accomplishments of our youth, let us work tirelessly so that ever more children have access to education, tools, and encouragement that will enable them to accomplish their dreams.

We have made a sacred commitment to enfold our children in our love. Not just a sentimental, “Oh aren’t they cute,” kind of love. But a love that is willing to work. Our children and youth need your love, your attention. They need you to speak to them and for them. They need you to work with them and for them. They need you to have faith in them, a faith that will allow them to attempt something new, perhaps to fail and then try again.

It’s not just local children and youth who need our enacted love. It’s the runaway teen seeking shelter at Tumbleweed, children throughout our country who go to bed hungry, and ones throughout our world who are orphaned or made homeless by war and disaster.

My prayer is that God will turn from these children toward us, hear the sacred commitments that we make, and will watch as the years unfold and the commitments are kept and say to us, “well done, good and faithful servants.”