July 15, 2018 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 1:1-11; Baptism
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
In a few minutes we will all be participating in Eleanor’s baptism, her initiation rite into the fellowship of Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We will be participating in a ritual that has been used by Christians everywhere for 2,000 years. All Christian communities baptize new members for two reasons based in the New Testament. The Gospel writers report that at the start of his ministry Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. And after his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples and commissioned them with these words: “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Baptism signifies a person’s entrance into the community of the followers of Jesus. The baptismal font stands by the door into our worship space to emphasize this entrance. Like the sacrament of Holy Communion, the sacrament of baptism – because it is shared by all Christians – is a sign of our unity in Christ. Our opening sentences this morning emphasize this meaning of baptism: “There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” Baptism is also understood to be a means of sharing in Christ, a means of dying with him, of being baptized into him, of becoming a member of his body, of receiving his Spirit.
We will be joining Eleanor in her baptism as we make promises on her behalf and make promises to support her in her Christian life. Eleanor’s parents and godmother will promise to raise her in the church, because the church is our primary “school” of Christian faith and life. They will promise that as Eleanor grows up she will have the opportunity to learn about God and about the life and teaching of Jesus. They will promise to pray for her and to be positive examples for her follow. The whole congregation will also promise to do all in our power to support Eleanor in her life in Christ.
We say in the Nicene Creed that we acknowledge “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” What does this mean? In the early years of the church people being baptized were primarily adults. I say primarily because entire households were sometimes baptized, including the children. But in general baptism was the ritual by which adults entered the Christian community after a long and rigorous period of preparation. Part of the meaning of baptism was repentance from sin, just as it meant in the days of John the Baptist. What the Nicene Creed is acknowledging is that though after baptism new Christians certainly sin again – as we all know from experience – Christians are not baptized repeatedly as a sign of repentance. We are only baptized once, though we are called to repent and receive God’s forgiveness often.
As part of our participation in Eleanor’s baptism we will renew our own baptismal covenant. As you know, we do this on various occasions during the church year. There is a very good reason for this. It is the spiritual work of a lifetime to grow into the promises made for us in baptism, the promises we will all be making for Eleanor. Our faith as Christians isn’t primarily a matter of agreeing with certain theological statements about God, such as we find in the Apostles’ Creed at the beginning of The Baptismal Covenant. Our faith is more about learning to know God and trust God. It is about how we live our lives as a result of knowing and trusting God. Our faith is about loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. It is about our daily lives, our priorities and the choices we make. Renewing our baptismal vows reminds us of our ongoing commitment to live according to the values of our faith, to live as followers of Jesus.
It is good for us to be reminded of all this when we baptize a new member of the church, as individuals and as a parish. We will be promising to do all in our power to support Eleanor in her life in Christ. That means being here as Eleanor grows up. It means providing her with good examples of how people are meant to relate to one another. It means showing her that the church’s work includes helping others in the parish and in the wider community, in fact, throughout the world.
Think for a moment about your experience of church when you were a child. Perhaps, like me, you can remember kind and loving people in your church who were good adult role models, whose faith impressed you. We will be promising to do our best to be people whom Eleanor may remember that way.
In a few minutes, when I baptize Eleanor in the name of the Trinity and anoint her with oil blessed by the Bishop, she will officially join a huge family, a family of people here on earth and people in heaven with God, a family joined by love in Christ’s name. As she is baptized this huge Christian family will rejoice to welcome another precious child of God, Eleanor Raye Capen. What a blessing it is for all of us to be here today and share this joyous occasion! Amen.