Our gospel reading this morning comes from the Gospel According to Mark, which is thought to be the first written account of the ministry of Jesus the Christ. The very first words of the first chapter link the good news of Jesus Christ to the foundational Hebrew Scriptures, and they tell us that John the Baptist was the messenger, the one preparing the way.
According to Mark, John the Baptist was baptizing with a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from all around were going out into the wilderness to find him, to listen to him, and to be baptized by him.
The faithful were already aware of Jewish rituals using water to cleanse a person from their sins. But this was different. John wasn’t baptizing people simply so they would be ritually cleansed, he was baptizing to prepare the way for our Lord and Savior, Jesus. The one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And so, when Jesus showed up to be baptized by John, he wasn’t the first person John baptized. And history, time, and our baptism today tells us that Jesus wasn’t the last person baptized in this tradition either.
With his baptism, Henry will stand with countless Christians who have been cleansed, and who have made promises to follow Jesus in the way. The promises that Samantha and TJ made today will lead Henry to profess his own connection with Jesus, and with God, at his confirmation, which is our reformed tradition after infant baptism.
There are only two sacraments in our reformed Christian tradition, Communion and Baptism, and Henry is welcome to both sacraments: to sit at the table with Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and to share in the same baptism Jesus had so many years ago.
Most of us, if not all of us, share in that baptism as well. We are able to drink from the same cup from which Jesus did, and we share in the same baptism, too.
With the simple symbolism of cleansing and promise, but with the mystery of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness it proclaims, we are all linked by faith to the God, and to the Son of God.
Like many of us, Henry won’t know much about his baptism for quite a few years. He has some growing and maturing to do! But one day, he will have some questions. He may ask his parents, he may ask a relative, or a Sunday School teacher, but at some point in his life, he’s going to want to know what this whole baptism thing is about.
And the baptized will help him. Help him understand that his parents and his church made promises for him that he will get to reaffirm when he’s ready. And they will make him feel welcome. Make him feel part of the large Christian community.
Living out our daily lives, we often forget that we are bound by those baptismal promises. It isn’t until we attend a baptism that we are reminded that we also have promises to live in to.
I would dare say that if most of the baptized were reminded of their baptismal and confirmation vows more often, the world would be a better place.
The world Henry will mature in is in flux. What many of us considered established law is shifting. What many of us consider solid history, is being challenged. Values that many of us consider Christian are being ignored or even ridiculed by a growing number of our neighbors.
You and I, together, need to prepare the way for Henry, and for all those who come after him in baptism and in the profession of our Christian connections in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. We need to prepare the way so that the newly baptized can learn to live into their faith lives with meaning, with integrity, and with intention.
You and I need to find ways to equip the parents of baptized children, today, TJ and Samantha, with ways to keep their newly baptized children connected to the faith, and to the values that Jesus taught us: forgiveness, love, peace, generosity…
Those values translate into observable behaviors, don’t they? We can tell a lot about a person by the way they behave: the way one lives their life is a testament to their faith.
Not only can we be more aware of how our behaviors align with our faith, we can become more aware of how our community, our one, worshiping community can help the newest members of the Christian faith grow to align their own behaviors with the way in which Jesus leads.
I believe the world depends upon it.
The Gaines family came here today to participate in an ancient Christian tradition. Their hopes and dreams for Henry are now forever tied to this foundational ritual of cleansing and promise, as are we, the loving and supporting faith family.
Our hope and our dream will be that this baptism tips the scales toward justice, toward neighborly love, toward forgiveness, toward freedom, toward respect…hey, no pressure, Henry!
Let us bear our responsibilities of celebration and support with gladness: the world became a little better today, because a soul was added to our faith family.
But let us also be reminded of our own baptismal promises, so that we might make small changes in our own approach to the growing threats of liberty, the growing movement to embrace lies over truth, and the growing distrust and violence aimed at those who appear different, whether because of the color of their skin, or because of whom they love, or because of how God made them. This is not what Jesus had in mind. This is not what God had in mind. This has to stop, and we’re just the ones to stop it.
Let our lives show love to the world. Let our use of freedom show forgiveness to the world. Let our respect for the baptismal promises made here this day be our reason for growing in faith.
Today we were witnesses to an act of faith and hope. Today we will need to take that faith and that hope, and multiply it across our homes, our neighborhoods, and communities. Tomorrow, more will come seeking to become part of this fellowship. Let’s try and make it a little better for them. I will, if you will. Amen.