As a minister, I have had the privilege to perform a number of baptisms over the years. I once heard the story of a minister who belong to a denomination that baptizes in the older language of “the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.” Once Sunday they had a baptism with the kids, present – and the baby was baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Later that afternoon his children went outside to play. He found them in the backyard quietly playing "church."
This minister’s 4-year-old daughter was conducting the baptismal service. She had the family’s small dog in the wading pool. Trying to be as solemn as her father, she repeated the phrase she had heard many times: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and in the hole ye go!" I’ve never heard of the Holy Ghost described as “in the hole ye’go.” Perhaps that little girl got it right after all. For in Baptism we are claimed and buried in and we live in the mystery of God’s love. It reminds us of what Paul proclaims in Romans: “Or aren’t you aware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.… (Romans 6:3)”
Baptism is a powerful sacrament, a ritual of cleansing, of new beginnings, a seal of and recognition of God’s promises of love and salvation to all humankind. It is our seal into to the family of Christ and a reminder that we belong to him. It is a promise that our lives will be a continually given over to love, faith and grace. No wonder Jesus claimed it as a sacrament of grace for his movement. Jesus began his earthly ministry with his baptism by John in the Jordan River. At the end of his earthly life, right before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus gave the Great Commission, declaring to his disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt. 28:19). Baptism signals the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry and it signals the beginning of the spreading of the Good News of the gospel around the world, down through the ages, to this very day when we celebrated the baptism of Sophia.
Baptism signals not the end, but the beginning of a journey. This journey will take us through our entire lives. Baptism is too great, too powerful to be taken in one moment. The work of baptism must continue every moment of every day. We are reminded in that God declares he is “well pleased,” and names us as “beloved.” In our baptism, in Sophia’s baptism, we boldly claim her as dearly beloved, we take god-like pleasure as we remember that baptism affirms us as God’s precious, chosen people.
Michelle and Roy, all members of this church who have made their promise to raise Sophia in the faith; our work is cut out for us. We are all considered “sponsors, or godparents” by our church. This means we have the privilege to love Sophia. We have the honor and the obligation not just to provide her with the tenants of faith, but with a living faith that is only conveyed through love. We must love Sophia and make sure her first memories of Christ’s church are of love.
So, this is the task ahead of us. Sophia’s baptism reminds us of the fundamental mandate that belongs to us as followers of Jesus. We are baptized into the body of Christ. That means we are baptized and called into a life of loving service. Every day we are to expect to be baptized by love, in love and through love. Every day we are to be sealed in love, washed clean by love, made new by love. If there is anything we must model for Sophia it is the life of love. In doing this, we live out the promises of baptism. This promise means we treat each other with the love of God, no slave, no free, no male or female, no Jew or Gentile. All of us, one, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There once was a contest to find the most loving child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."
There are many ways to love – most of them simple. Like the “most loving child” winner, the greatest gift is being truly present to each other. If we are truly present, we discover there are many opportunities to love – most of them right in front of us. To listen deeply. To smile. To care. To take care of. To withhold judgment or gossip. To be merciful and forgiving. Our task is to open our hearts as wide as possible and embrace the opportunities that are in front of us. This is to live out our baptismal promises and choose to live as Christ did.
In Sophia’s baptism, we are remind of our privilege to love. To expand the circle of love to all peoples. To create a new heavens and new earth, where love is a priority and prime motivator. Where we spend most of our time loving and upbuilding each other. Love is our task. Love is our duty. Or perhaps we can say it a different way: we spend our day going to love, wherever we go.
“There’s another beautiful picture of baptism given here: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Baptism clothes us with Christ. We’re wrapped up in Jesus and all his goodness. We’re clothed with his work and his righteousness. Armani, Gucci, Prada – none of those designer labels can compare with the garments we have in Jesus’ name. God tailors us with clothes. Clothed with grace. Clothed with love. Clothed with forgiveness and salvation. Clothed with peace and righteousness. What a wardrobe we have in Christ!
More than anything, this is what Jesus wants for us. To love one another. That our love would identify us, make us stand out, name us and claim us. Love-bearers in the world. That is our true identity, in baptism.”
So, let us love one another, pure and simple, as Jesus wanted, as our baptism encourages us. Let us love today, in the name of the Father, the son and in the hole we go, buried in Christ, risen in Christ, clothed in Christ…loved and loving, the same as Christ. Amen.