Dear Isaac — on the day of your baptism

A sermon preached for  the Baptism of Isaac, whose family is moving across the country tomorrow. (Year A: Epiphany VII. February 23, 2014) 

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

Dear Isaac,

Today you are being baptized!

Your parents have brought you here,

willingly and happily,

desiring that you be given this sacrament in all its many dimensions.

 

We will pour water on your head.

Water that has been blessed

and that, by our prayers,

has become water that washes you like no bath you’ve ever had.

 

We will also pour oil on your head.

Oil that has been blessed by the bishop,

and that,

by our prayers,

will be the sign that you belong to God in Jesus forever.

 

And we will pray that God will give you

an inquiring and discerning heart.

Which means we pray that you will never stop asking questions,

ever.

We pray that you will listen for answers and consider them.

And we hope you will ask God to guide you in that consideration.

 

In the baptismal rite we will also pray that God will give you

the courage to will and to persevere.

Which means we pray that you will have the courage to do what you know is good and right and true.

Hopefully after you have asked for God’s guidance.

 

And we will pray that God will give you

a sense of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

This includes that natural world, for sure.

Fortunately,

where you are going and with the parents you have been given,

we rest assured that you will have ample opportunities to be given a sense of joy and wonder in the natural world.

 

But God’s works include,

significantly,

all us human beings too.

And sometimes it can be a whole lot harder to maintain a sense of joy and wonder about us.

We hope you will remember to ask God for that kind of maintenance!

 

Isaac,

your parents have brought you here,

willingly and happily,

desiring that you be given this sacrament of baptism in all its many dimensions.

One of those dimensions is that by your baptism

you become a member of Christ’s Body,

the Church.

In fact, after you have been baptized we will “receive you into the household of God”.

 

We feel this part of your baptism palpably.

Because we baptize you here at the Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill,

knowing that in the days ahead you will be far from us,

and in the years ahead you will be given to the care and environment of another community of the Church.

Yet we have promised that we will do all in our power to support you.

So we will pray for you.

We will pray for you in the weeks ahead.

We will pray for your parents that they will find a church home for you over there in Colorado.

We will pray for your godparents that they will care for you and be present to you as best they can.

We will pray that you grow up knowing that it was important to your parents that you be baptized here

even though you are about to move there.

This means you have been given a special experience of being baptized into the whole church, not just one particular community.

I hope you can know that as you grow to adulthood

and begin to experience the love and the grace,

even the joy;

the vagaries and imperfections,

even the hypocrisy;

of the whole Church and of particular church communities.

 

This Jesus, whom we follow,

has set a very high standard for us.

It is plain in the lessons we read on this day of your Baptism.

We heard from Leviticus, the ancient book of laws in which Jesus himself was fully immersed.

(the only reading of this ancient book of laws, by the way,

that we Episcopalians are given on a Sunday.)

 

Check it out: Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

If describes what life is like for those who know God as their God.

If you know God as your God, then you shall see all human beings as beloved of God,

and you will ever be mindful of others.

and will give of what you have been given.

It says two times that you shall not steal.

So that must be an important result of knowing God.

 

We also heard from the Gospel of Matthew,

5th chapter, verses 38-48,

in which Jesus takes the Levitical laws and notches them up a bit,

notches them up to what seems to be either impossible or intolerable.

But again,

he is describing what will happen if you know and love God:

You will have that courage to will and to persevere.

You will stand for what you know is right.

And you will see all human beings as beloved of God.

 

(If you ever want a further explanation of some of these difficult teachings about turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile, though,

when you are old enough,

take in the movie Ghandi, or read some of his writings.

Learn about civil disobedience in our own country’s Civil Rights movement.

It seems the human conscience was created to withstand only so much oppression and injustice.

When that oppression and injustice is brought to light,

that is when things begin to change,

eventually.

We hope you will work to bring oppression and injustice to light.)

 

Isaac,

your parents have brought you here,

willingly and happily,

desiring that you be given this sacrament of baptism in all its many dimensions.

And importantly,

one of those dimensions is that in baptism

not only do you become a member of the Church, the Body of Christ,

but in baptism you also become one with Jesus himself.

 

It is a mystery of faith,

It is cosmic and illogical and hard to explain.

But it is also wonderful and life-changing

and it gives us hope.

 

It gives us hope for the long run,

allowing us to live with a sense that all will long be well.

And it also gives us hope for the short run,

for the day to day and the season to season.

 

Because otherwise,

this life would be mighty hard to live.

And these laws in Leviticus

and these teachings of Jesus

Would be nigh on impossible to follow.

 

Did you catch the last line of the Gospel reading?

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This perfection is not something we can put on ourselves.

It is not something we can will ourselves to have

or discipline ourselves to accomplish.

Rather it is something borne of our oneness with God.

It’s true.

 

The closer we are to God,

the more we truly knit our wills to God’s will

our spirits to God’s spirit,

the more all the “shalls” of the Leviticus reading

and all the  directives of Jesus in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew,

gradually become a way of being.

They become a matter of “we can do no other.”

It. just. happens.

And it is good.

Holy even!

 

We don’t stay there of course.

Irritatingly enough.

We slip slide all over the place.

All of us do.

Which is why we need to accept each other,

forgive each other,

love each other.

You may slip today, and require the forgiveness of the one who will slide tomorrow.

 

That is why,

as we return to the Eucharistic prayer out of New Zealand later in this liturgy,

we will pray that we who receive Christ’s Body

may indeed be the Body of Christ.

 

Isaac,

your parents have brought you here,

willingly and happily,

desiring that you be given this sacrament of baptism in all its many dimensions.

And we are mighty glad you will be with us and we with you all along the way.

Maybe not in the same congregation or the same state,

but united in the Spirit,

united in Baptism,

united in love.

 

Let all God’s people say,

Amen.