Our Hebrew Scripture this morning is the first half of the 25th Psalm. In preparing for this morning’s sermon, I was immediately drawn to the last line: All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and God’s decrees.
Keeping covenant. Paths of steadfast love and faithfulness. These things are intimately related to our sacrament of baptism. This Psalm, though written by an adult, seeking guidance and deliverance, could easily be a prayer for one newly baptized.
As Julia grows and matures, she will have an infinitely complex set of choices, multiple paths to adulthood. She will have Matt and Tiffany, her grandparents and her Aunts and Uncles to help guide her, along with countless teachers, mentors, and friends.
But this morning, we, along with her family, have set Julia on God’s path, a path of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. As long as she is on this path, she is forgiven any and all transgressions.
Now, if, as a new driver she gets into a fender bender after staying out past her curfew, well that will be up to Tiffany and Matt to decide if she’s forgiven! But for us, for today, our faith tells us that the promises made on her behalf, and the promises she may be led to uphold at her confirmation, put her on the right path.
I love this concept of God’s paths. Many paths, leading to God. Paths we can learn about, paths we can explore. If the way to God is through multiple paths, then living our faith lives becomes a journey, sacred movement, leading us to our Creator God.
Like all of us, Julia will have some choices to make. But her family, and her faith family, will be there for her as resources. Our challenge will be to remain available, accessible, without being overbearing.
Many paths, one truth.
The path of mercy, the truth of love.
The path of forgiveness, the truth of love.
The path of salvation, the truth of love.
The path of humility, the truth of love.
While God’s promises, God’s covenant, are steadfast and sure, our promises can sometimes be a little wobbly.
But God knows that. God anticipates that at some point in our growing, we might waver, might become unsure, may lose our confidence in the direction the path is taking us.
Whenever we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, we can’t help but be reminded of our own sacred promises, be reminded of God’s covenant that guides our own faith journeys. That is a very good thing.
What better way to be reminded of God’s covenantal promises, and our own promises, than to celebrate with an eternally hopeful act of baptizing a new member of the Christian family.
Though many of our baptismal vows and confirmation promises are years in the past, our actual journey, our way along God’s path is fresh, and new. Each day we awaken, we arise again to that journey. We traverse the paths of mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and humility, each day, with varying degrees of success. But we all are led into the one truth: God’s love.
Even when we lose our way, even when we are so far off the path, we fear we’ll never find it again, God’s steadfast love, the one truth, is always there as a beacon, a light for our path.
For me, that is the core message of this Psalm: that God patiently guides us along God’s paths, lighting the way even when we’ve lost our way. Like a sacred GPS, we just have to check it every once in a while, to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.
And let us not forget that these paths, these paths of mercy, forgiveness, and humility, we are not only recipients of these graceful gifts from God, we are also meant to show mercy, bestow forgiveness, and practice humility while on our journey.
Seriously, I know it sounds like a cliché, but if we awaken each day resolved to walk the paths of mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and humility, and knew that if we took risks for God in doing so, that God’s steadfast love, the one truth, would be there to catch us if we fall or stray, then the world would most certainly be a better place.
But we’re human, and forgetful, and sometimes resentful and angry. We don’t awaken with God’s paths on our hearts, because our lives are complicated, and we’re anxious, and we worry.
The Psalmist was worried. That’s why they wrote this Psalm. That’s why it begins with lifting up their soul to God, and putting their trust in God.
And so can we. And so can Julia, as she matures. With so many loving guides, so many guideposts in her life, gently nudging her back to the paths God has set before her, she too, will experience God’s truth, God’s steadfast love.
Julia’s journey is just beginning. Her first few steps on God’s paths will be tentative and cautious. Maybe even with a few missteps.
The gift, the joy, the truth, is that God’s love is as near to her today, early in the journey, as it will be during the journey. It never wavers, it is never distant. That is true for each of us, too.
Doesn’t that make you feel better? Doesn’t that make you feel freer to take risks for God? Doesn’t that support your decisions and your choices so that you don’t have to worry about what God will think?
Because we already know what God thinks. God thinks we are worthy of God’s love. God’s unconditional, all encompassing, forgiving, restoring and guiding love.
The baptismal water was just plain tap water before it was blessed. But once blessed, it became a visible symbol of an invisible covenant. Well, almost invisible. Because though God knows our promises, our promises today and our promises in the past, the world will only see our actions.
But it is our actions, the visible living out of our faith lives, that the world will know what we believe.
With baptisms being few and far between for this worshiping community, let us use the gift of 3 in 3 months as a powerful reminder of what was promised at our own baptisms, and what was confirmed by us at our confirmations: that God’s steadfast love guides us always, and that the many paths that lead to God’s love are as diverse as all of humanity.
Let us also be prepared to offer our support and our resources to the children and the families celebrating baptisms recently, with faith formation instruction and activities. Let us set aside some resources, so that we may fulfill our promises to the newly baptized. Another path God has put before us. Another path that leads to God’s truth, God’s love.
Baptizing a child is a choice, made by loving families, to set their child on a particular path. Making promises to encourage and support that journey is a choice. Confirming those promises at a time when a young person feels ready to take on them on for themselves is a choice. Living into those promises as an adult, through a church, in covenant with God, is a choice.
Each one of these choices is yet another path. Like the paths of mercy, forgiveness, and humility, these paths of promise lead to God’s truth: love.
And God’s love is the ultimate guide for all of God’s faithful children on the journey, no matter our chronological age.
Our celebration today of Julia’s baptism is part of a sacrament we set aside as special, and rare. And the drops of water we place upon her head are just a few precious drops from an ocean of love from our Creator God.
May Julia always feel God’s presence, God’s steadfast and guiding love, her whole life long. And may she never be embarrassed or afraid to ask questions of God, or about God, or about God’s work in the world though Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior.
The world is a better place today, because of the promises made here today. But it is also a better place today because we have been reminded of our own baptismal and confirmation promises.
Let us go from this place with joy for Julia’s baptism, and with resolve to live out our own faith journeys, on God’s many paths, with God’s one truth, love, as our guide. Amen.
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.