“The Advent of God’s Presence: Holy Baptism” (Part Three of Four)
Malachi 3:1-4 & Galatians 3: 23-29 ~Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Dec 9, 2018
I don’t know about you, but one of the most beautiful things, that I believe, we have the opportunity to participate in is Holy baptism. Following the 15th Century Protestant reformation, the church slimmed the list of holy sacraments down to just two: baptism and communion. This was, of course, from the seven original sacraments which had also included confirmation, penance, marriage, ordination, and the anointing of the sick sacraments. We focused last Sunday on Holy communion, which we celebrate each month. And this morning we focus on the Advent of the Advent of God’s presence in Holy Baptism.
But what makes baptism so truly beautiful? How is it a sign, symbol and preparation for God’s arrival? One thing that adds to baptism’s wonder, is that it is not done as frequently as many other parts of worship. Baptism certainly is not a weekly ocurance … this will be our third service this year which includes Holy Baptism this year. Indeed, baptism is a rare thing to behold. And even more rare and beautiful is that it is done only once in a person’s lifetime. While we renew our baptism each year in festivals such as Easter, this morning we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in Liam and Ryan’s baptisms. What a priceless beautiful gift.
But baptism’s beauty is found beyond its rarity. It is one of the few things that bridges us across denominational lines. One’s baptism connects us not just with other people of the United Church of Canada ~ as wonderful as that is. One’s baptism connects us with brothers and sisters of the universal global church. I inevitably get a question after a baptismal service about the use of the term “catholic”. “Ummm…Rev. Scott, have we changed denominations? Are we Roman Catholic now?” The answer, of course, is no. We are still United Church, but we are reminded in our baptism that we are members of the (small c) catholic church ~ meaning ‘church universal’. In baptism, we are reminded that we are members of the one church of Jesus Christ that is truly united and unbroken. So often our churches seem to disagree over every little thing matters of gender, politics, sexuality, and so many divisive factors. Yet, in our baptism, we are reminded of this one unity we have as one church, with one faith, with one baptism. Recalling Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded that we are all ‘Children of God’ united in the common grace and love revealed in Jesus. In our baptism, we are united in Jesus’ ministry in being the living body of Christ on this earth. What a truly beautiful moment for the church ~ that so often disagrees about the many ways we ought to operate. The beauty in this sacrament is that we can truly come in our common unity and wash the human separations and divisions away and celebrate that we are ‘kin’ ~ we are One in Christ.
That is where the text from Galatians speaks so beautifully to us, even 2,000 years later. Paul, quoting the baptismal formula used in the day reminded the people of Galatia the way they were to commune ~ baptism was symbolically preparing them for how they were to be together. “There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female. For all are one in Christ”. No Jew or Greek ~ speaking to the separations amidst social class, Paul stripped away all the class separations and united people simply as brothers and sisters in Christ. No Jew or Greek ~ speaking to the religious and cultural separations that were growing, Paul stripped those separations away to all that mattered: our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no male and female ~ separations based upon gender lines would have no claim on them for they would be a new creation where subordinated roles of gender of the past would have no bearing into their future. All of these earthy divisions: social class, religious and cultural separations, gender…in the new community Christ has established, these distinctions are washed away. Paul concludes: “all are one in Christ”. How truly beautiful is that!!!
There is a key word used in verses 24 and 25 that is especially beautiful ~ in the NRSV it is translated as “disciplinarian”. But in other versions it is translated more softly as “teacher”. The Greek translates literally to ‘pedagogue’. What this word referred to in the Greco-Roman household was what they called the “child leader” who was the slave assigned to supervise and guard the children. The “child leader” was responsible for walking the children to and from school, seeing that they behaved properly and were out of harm’s way. The beautiful part of baptism is how our unity into Christ through our baptism becomes our new “child leader”. As the parents ~ Tara, Michael & Kelly took on vows to allow Christ’s Way to be shared and lived with Ryan and Liam. As the Godparents ~ Karen, Candie & Brenda took on vows to be God parents in the lives of these children. And as we all stand up, on behalf of the universal / catholic church, we vow to create a community where these (and all) children can come and be welcomed and find Christ’s Way guiding their journey. That is truly beautiful! The waters of our baptism are our ‘pedagogue’ ~ they define what it means for us to be community, as we come in unity and become Christ’s people.
Hilary Clinton wrote a powerful book that mirrors what this might look in action entitled “It takes a Village.” Her premise was a simple one: generations of people from all races and cultures and languages recognized that it takes more than just the “nuclear family” to raise children. ‘It takes a village’ was a reminder of the profound beauty of that African proverb applied on the ground in North America. As I think about it, it seems to me that every parent knows what Clinton was writing about. Without our extended family, without our support system of schools and churches and scout groups and sports teams and neighbors and son on, it is nearly impossible to raise a child. The church incorporates this perspective into the way we live out the call to be a baptized and baptizing church. Parents present their children, share their faith. And the church, in turn, promises to embrace these children and to play a supporting role in their nurture and guidance. This beautiful reality has been a central feature of what it means to be the community of faith for generation upon generation upon generation — we know that it takes a village to raise children in the faith.
And that is why this beautiful sacrament is such a wonderful opportunity to prepare for the Advent of God’s arrival. We see the water poured and it reminds us of God’s grace. The water opens a place for it God’s arrival. We set a place of welcome…we say you are a beloved child of God (Liam / Ryan)…welcome to the village where Jesus celebrates and unites us one and all. We create a place of welcome for the children. Because long before we welcomed the child, God would first send a little child as a symbol of the Kin-dom coming. A little would be child sent into a world of darkness and pain ~ yet God would send him in order for light and peace to come. And so, we pour the water, creating a place of welcome for all God’s children!
Come Lord Jesus come!