Sermon; 17 Pentecost/Proper 21; Baptism of Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel
Today we welcome three new people into the household of God. Today we baptize with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three people and seal them with holy oil marking them as Christ's own for ever. Today we sign the adoption papers for Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel. Today these three young people take their first steps in their walk with Christ. Today their journey begins.
As with any first steps there will be stumbles and falls. As with any journey there will be joys and disappointments, awe-inspiring vistas and boring scenery, wrong turns, set backs, sorrows, and joys. These are things we have all experienced, and things we continue to experience. Some of these will be shared and some of them will be specific to each child.
As I've said, baptism is that act by which we are adopted into the household of God. Today's lessons don't really lend themselves to baptism, but there are a few things we can take away. The appointed Collect for today makes a petition that, through the fullness of God's grace, we may run to obtain God's promises and become partakers of a heavenly treasure. I like that imagery, especially for today.
Paul often talks about the promises of God, beginning with the patriarchs and being fulfilled in Christ's resurrection. Through our baptism we also become partakers of those promises. Beginning with our baptism we run to obtain those promises.
Baptism, though, is not the finish line. Baptism is the starting line. Baptism is where our Christian journey begins, not where it ends. Those who are baptized are grafted into the body of Christ. Those new members will draw strength and nourishment from this body – from us, from the Church, and from Christ himself.
During today's service all baptized Christians will renew their own vows by reciting the Baptismal Covenant. Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Those, along with five other behavioral questions outline what we believe are how we should live lives grounded in the gospel. We should use this covenant as the basis for everything we do – from regular worship to respecting the dignity of every human being.
In the passage from Philippians Paul lays out his form, of sorts, of a baptismal covenant. Be of the same mind, have the same love, do nothing from selfish ambition, look to the interests of others. Do these things because this is what Christ did. He didn't see himself as better than anyone, but he humbled himself and became obedient. And because of that obedience, God exalted him.
Our baptism doesn't make us better than anyone else. Our baptism allows us to empty ourselves, to have all our sin washed away, to be cleansed, and to be reborn as an obedient child of God.
That sinless bit, though, may not last long; but being sinless isn't the point. The point is that we have been reborn as a new creation in Christ. If you haven't noticed, new creations begin small – a seed, a sapling, a puppy, a baby – and grow over time.
Today we welcome three new creations into the world. Today we welcome three new members into the household of God. Today these three young people – Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel – begin their journey of running to obtain God's promises. Today these three people's lives will be bound together in the life of Christ who took the form of a human to show the rest of us what a life lived in total relationship with God could look like. Today these three people's lives will also be bound up with us, the parishioners of St. John's, as we help them along on their journey.
Today we celebrate a baptism – three of them, actually. Today would be a good time to reflect on your own Christian journey. Today would be a good time to re-read the Baptismal Covenant – how are you doing at regular worship, honest repentance, evangelism, loving your neighbor, and working for justice?
Baptisms are a time for celebration, but they are also a time to remember that they come at the beginning of our journey. And for that reason, they are a good opportunity for us to hit the Reset button as we continue running to obtain the promises of God.