Category Archives: Baptism

Baptism ABC: D is for Dying

Our mortality is difficult to face. Even more difficult is to contmeplate the mortality of our children. Yet the ritual of baptism faces the reality of death head on.

When my daughter Suzanne was about two years old, she was diagnosed with mitral valve insufficiency, which means she had a small hole in her heart. The cardiologist told us that she would need open heart surgery to repair her heart. Such surgery required stopping Suzanne’s heart and placing her on a heart/lung machine while the surgeon closed the hole. Such surgery had become routine in the early 90’s, yet nothing is routine when it comes to one’s own child. The news rocked my world.

That night I stood over her bed as Suzanne slept. I prayed for Suzanne and her upcoming surgery. I prayed concerning my own fear and apprehension. Tears welled up.  Then I contemplated the promise God made to her in her baptism.

Baptism holds a bold declaration and even bolder promise. In his letter to Romans, Paul writes

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul uses the act of baptism by immersion, where the baptized person is completely submerged under the water. This immersion is a symbolic burial, just as Jesus died and was buried. In baptism we die with Jesus. Paul goes on to write that in baptism, “our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).” Baptism recognizes our mortality comes from our sin, our rebellion with God, and overcomes the power of sin by burying our sinful self with Christ. In stark terms, baptism declares us dead.

Christina and Suzanne at Jacks Baptism

Daughters Christina and Suzanne enjoy their nephew Jack at his baptism

But it goes beyond that declaration to a more glorious promise. Not only are we buried with Jesus, but, like Jesus, we are raised to newness of life. The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. In baptism we are joined to his resurrection. Symbolically this is expressed in an immersion baptism when the newly baptized is raised up out of the water, breathing the new life.

As I stood over my daughter’s bed, contemplating her pending surgery, I remembered this promise. She was alive in Christ and was already experiencing the newness of life. Even if she were to die in surgery, she was Christ’s child and held by the promise of eternal life.

Her surgery went well and she recovered quickly (though, as with any trauma, she did have some emotional residue that was challenging for her and her family at times). Today, twenty years later, she is a vivacious, creative young woman who I deeply love. I am glad that she remains on this earth.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and walk in newness of life with you today.

Baptism ABC: C is for Cleansing

Baptism cleanses us from sin. The Greek word for baptism means “washed or cleansed.” The promise of baptism is that all my sins are washed away by God.

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life! (Titus 3:4-6, The Message)

And with infant baptism (like my grandson Jack’s baptism) that includes Original Sin.

The concept of Original Sin has been a troubling one for me. How can such an innocent baby be labeled as a sinner? It troubled me until I looked at this picture from Jack’s baptism.Jack Baptism Fam
Jack was born into a sinful world where sin has entrapped and ensnare him. Jack lives in a family system of sin. (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.) I will not speak for my daughter-in-law Maggie’s family, but I know my own family is tainted and trapped by sin. And the most notable offender being the grandpa who holds baby Jack. Our sin, our brokenness, our wayward fickle hearts will hurt and pull Jack away from God. Or to be perfectly honest, my sin, my brokenness, my wayward fickle heart will hurt and pull Jack away from God. And for that I need God’s grace and forgiveness as much as Jack.

As Frederick Buechner writes,

Original Sin means we all originate out of a sinful world, which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that center everything that seems to impede its freewheeling. More even than hunger, poverty or disease, it what Jesus said he came to save the world from. (Beyond Words, p. 369)

Jack’s baptism was a powerful reminder to me to once again claim the promise of my own baptism, to be washed clean of my sinful inclination to make it all about me. To remember that God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in and saved me. I need to walk “wet and clean,” especially when I am entrusted to love and hold Jack.

The great and glorious news is that Jesus Christ has cleansed Jack and me and given us newness of life.

Next post: D is for dying.

Lord Jesus, cleanse my heart again.

Baptism ABC: B is for Belonging

When my grandson was baptized on Sunday it was a family celebration. His parents, aunts, grandparents and friends were present to publicly welcome the tiny newborn into God’s kingdom. Though Jack slept the entire time, his baptism was filled with praise and promises.

Occasionally as a pastor I am asked to do a baptism outside of Sunday worship. I generally decline because one of the central themes of baptism is that the baptized person becomes part of the Christian community. Baptism is not an isolated event between God and the baptized.  Baptism is a community event in which the family of God, the church, welcomes and receives the newest member of the family.

In the book of Acts we see a clear expression of this. After Peter preached his first sermon about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Acts 2, the people who heard it were cut to the heart and said to Peter, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit (see last post). For the promise is for you, for your children and for all who are far away”. . . . Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added (Acts 2:38-40).

(Side note: I often wonder how they did 3000 baptisms that day. Did they use a fire hose, a supersoaker or the Jerusalem municipal swimming pool?)

The key verse comes next. The newly baptized did not wander back to their old communities and ways. Instead they formed a worshipping community. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). The apostle teaching became what we know as the New Testament of the Bible. The fellowship they shared involved more that drinking coffee, but actually sharing their possessions with one another. The breaking of bread is a reference to the bread of Holy Communion or Eucharist. And prayer is prayer.  All are elements of a worshipping community.

The expectation is that the newly baptized needs the community to grow in his or her understanding of God’s grace and love. We do not live our faith in isolation; the community brings us strength, support, correction and comfort.   Jesus modeled this by living in a community of at least twelve disciples.

A wonderful moment for me at Jack’s baptism was when the pastor asked the entire congregation if they promised to support and encourage Jack as he grew in faith. The congregation joyously responded, “Yes, we do!” Jack’s home and family has just grown by a factor of ten.

How does baptism help you stay connected to God’s people?

 

Lord Jesus, Thank you for providing me with your fantastic family.

Baptism ABC: A is for Adoption

Last evening my grandson, Jack Keller, was baptized. My son and daughter-in-law come from different faith traditions regarding baptism and my son wrote about this on their blog. I plan this week to write on the various perspectives of baptism and how it can be a vital touchstone of faith.  Baptism is a beautiful collage of images and promises that revolve around this gift of God. Each image has value, worthy of reflection.

In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings – victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts. In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true.” (Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, BOC 461)

In the Lutheran tradition, the focus is on God’s promise and God’s initiative in creating the covenant relationship. I cannot come to God on my own, but the Holy Spirit calls me through the Gospel. Baptism is a tangible expression of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. One baptismal image that expresses God’s initiative is adoption with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was baptized by John prior to beginning his ministry.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Though Jesus was God incarnate, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit as a sign affirming Jesus’ authority as God’s Son. God did this prior to Jesus starting his ministry, before he preached or healed.  The same Holy Spirit is given in our baptism and we are “adopted” as God’s children.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:14-16).

One of the ways this is enacted with an infant baptism is that the infant is normally held by the Christian sponsors or the pastor during the baptism. The pastor or sponsor represents God’s claim and blessing upon the child. After the baptism the child is given back to the parents as a gift from God with the understanding that the child will be raised in faith.

Baptism is a powerful reminder of who I am: I am a child of God. I am God’s child, not because of my actions or inactions, but because of God’s tangible grace given to me in baptism.

Next post: B is for Belonging.

Lord Jesus, Thank you for claiming me as your child.

“I am” and Green Algae

Last week-end I participated in our ninth grade confirmation retreat at Camp Wapo.  The sixteen youth will be confirmed in October, affirming their baptismal covenant. This group had a few “energetic” boys who could be distracting at times so we had to find creative ways to teach.

The retreat focused on the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. At Friday’s campfire we introduced God’s name “I AM WHO I AM;” God gave this name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The name in Hebrew became so sacred that later generations of Jews would not pronounce it. Yet Jesus utilized the “I am” name to describe himself. For example in John 9 when he healed a man born blind, he said, “I am the light of the world.”

The next morning we explored the other “I am” statements of Jesus. To keep their attention, we walked about the camp as we discussed, thinking about “I am the way” (John 14:6). We walked through the gate of the “Gaga Pit,” for a discussion of “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).

I am the vine, you are the branches.

As we stopped in a grove of trees, we listen to Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:1) and prayed as we grasped the trunk/vine in our hands. For the most part, the students seem to be connecting to Jesus’ words.

As we approached the swimming beach, I had planned to have the student remember their baptism and Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26). We were to walk down to the lake shore, dip our hands in the water and make the sign of the cross on our forehead. We would say the words, “I am alive in Christ.” The water would connect us to our baptism and our life in Christ.

However I had neglected to scout the beach prior to our approach. It had not been used for a few weeks, since summer camp ended. As I walked to the shore, I discovered that there was at least a half-foot of thick mud at the water’s edge and that the water had become a sickly green. Instead of life, the water reminded me of death. Uncertain what to do, I looked up to see one of the “energetic” boys walking out onto the dock. It stretched beyond the mud and green algae.

So there on the dock, we reached over into the lake water and renewed our baptism, water dripping from our heads and hands.

I hope someday that I can incorporate an actual immersion under the water as a way of remembering our baptism. I am still Lutheran in my embrace of infant baptism as God’s means of grace. God starts the covenant relationship. But I think many of us need experiential rites along the way to affirm and remember this covenant. Being dunked in a lake could help us remember that we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ in the waters of our baptism (Roman 6:3-4).

I will first need to find a lake without green algae.

Lord Jesus, I am alive in you. Thank you

Baptized in the BWCA

Earlier this spring I wrote about  Andrew Rogness’ book, Crossing Boundary Waters: A Spiritual Journey in Canoe Country. You can read that post here.  I am rereading it in preparation for a canoe trip in the Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) later this summer with men from Resurrection.

Through out the book Rogness is wrestling with his own restless soul, seeking to restore a sense of emotional and spiritual balance in his life.  He describes a dream in which he see himself as a broken Superman who needs repair.  His self-mage has become twisted and distorted, trying to stay in control.  As he canoes alone through the wilderness, he senses a storm brewing inside himself.

In one dramatic scene, a thunderstorm rushes towards his campsite and he decides to keep his clothing and gear dry by stripping everything off and meeting the storm naked.

Now where to stand?  Near the trees isn’t a good spot, with lightning searing the sky. I walk down to the water’s edge, face west, and greet the oncoming rain with arms outstretched.

The rain pelts my skin and streams down my face.  I am surprised not to feel cold.  It is as though the water is cleansing, purifying more than the outer me, and drawing me away from the center of what is happening.  I am in this storm, not just watching it. I am in the world, not apart from it.

Across the bay, I see mist rising from the forest. Even while the rain descends, it also rises to renew itself.   I am whipped by the storm, brought to the ground of my being, and I sense this same kind of transformation rising from within.  I think of what has happened to me in three days, what has been poured out of myself to be cleansed by the wilderness and like the mist now rises to new birth (p. 92).

Rogness takes time to reflect and describe how a wilderness journey can be a spiritual experience in the Christian tradition.  He senses the power of God in storm and within himself.  His canoe trip give him the opportunity to reorient himself as a child of God.  The rainstorm is a kind of baptism in which death and new life become possible.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with Jesus by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)

Have you ever experience a moment of new birth?

Has time in the wilderness helped you reorient your self-image?

Lord Jesus, create a new center within me.

Ashes and Water

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the 40 days of Lent. In several Christian traditions, the placement of ashes upon one’s forehead is a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent. As Abraham spoke to Almighty God, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” Adam was made from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). We each return to the dust and ash when our bodies die and decompose. We may not like to face that fact, but the truth keeps coming back.

Ashes are also a sign of repentance, our need to turn back to God. The book of Jonah describes how the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message to turn back to God.

And Jonah cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:4-6).

The imposition of ashes also connects us to our baptism. Many Lutherans and others were baptized with water on their forehead. It was a sign of washing and renewal, of dying with Jesus and rising again to new life. Paul writes how baptism is connected to Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11):

The ashes are thus a reminder that we have already died in our baptism. We died to sin and corruption, and have begun to live the new life in Christ. The ashes we place on our head will eventually wash away; the promise of our baptism is not so easily removed. The Holy Spirit holds us in Christ Jesus.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and death that I might live with you now and forever.