Retired Presbyterian pastor John Buchanan tells of baptizing a two-year-old boy in a Sunday worship service. After the child had been baptized, Pastor Buchanan, following the directions of the Presbyterian prayer book, put his hand on the little boy’s head and addressed him like this, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.”
Unexpectedly, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”
The people in the congregation smiled, of course. But, writes Buchanan, the child’s response was appropriate. Buchanan called it a “stunning theological affirmation” from the mouth of a child. (1)
The child was right. Baptism should be an “uh-oh” kind of event. It should not be a mere rite of the church that we go through without some deep soul searching and prayer . . . whether it is our baptism or the baptism of someone in our care. Whether we are two years old, two months old, or even 102 years young, baptism represents a movement from a world of darkness to one of light, from the kingdom of struggle and strife to the kingdom of love, from certain death to the promise of glorious and everlasting life. Baptism should never be regarded lightly.
One reason that baptism is an “uh-oh” experience is we believe that when we confess our sins, ask forgiveness and humble ourselves to be baptized, the Holy Spirit of God begins to work in our heart and mind. This is powerful! Uh-oh! The prophet Micah tells us in Micah 6:8, “He (God) has showed you O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
When we come humbly forward for baptism, and receive the Holy Spirit’s power, our heart and mind are transformed, and mercy and justice become a desire for our everyday living. When we treat baptism as an “uh-oh” event, truly surrendering our life to God, we are inviting God to take control of our life, and turn to Him for guidance and strength.
I once had a man come to me and ask to be baptized, confessing that he had been thinking of committing suicide. I baptized him, anointed him with oil and prayed that the Holy Spirit would take away his thoughts of suicide and encourage him with thoughts of how much he is loved by God and his family. That man is now happily married and daily seeks the guidance and strength of God to deal with his recovery from alcoholism and a teen-age step-daughter who struggles with drug addiction.
Another reason that baptism is an “uh-oh” experience is that it represents responsibilities on our part. Uh-oh! We [or the child whom we are presenting for baptism] are becoming part of the body of Christ. That means we are becoming part of the church. It means that we are to love our fellow believers as well as the world for whom Christ died. It means that we are now part of the church’s ministry and mission. This is no small thing. It is a life-time commitment.
The questions we ask of teens and adults being baptized, or of the sponsors and parents of a baby or small child being baptized, are important and carry with them great responsibility. All too often we soon forget our answers and the promises we made.
“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
The words we speak, our actions or reactions to others, movies we watch, books we read, video games we play, or websites we visit; how do these reflect our answer to this question? Do we really reject evil and repent of our sin? If we do, then our life must show it!
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?’
How do we act on our responsibility to fight the evil, injustice and oppression in our community, nation, and the world? Or do we think it’s not our problem because we are not the victim?
“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”
Do we trust the amazing grace of God in our personal life and in our relationships with others, and do we serve God by being a congregation which truly has Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors?
If it is a child we have presented for baptism, “Will you nurture this child in Christ’s holy church that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”
This is one of my greatest heartaches. Parents and sponsors who answer “I will” to this question, and then seldom or never come to church with their child, do not enroll them in Christian education, and by example of their own lifestyle lead them down the wrong path. They make sure their child learns how to make a living in secular education, but they neglect that child’s learning how to live by the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:5-6, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” It is evident that when God gives us the gift of children, Jesus takes our responsibility to nurture them in the faith very seriously.
As a teen or adult who comes to be baptized, –“According to the grace given to you will you remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?” (2)
Being a ‘faithful member of Christ’s holy church,’ means we stand up for Jesus in all circumstances, and show the world what living as a follower of Jesus looks like. If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Baptism must not be taken lightly by people who come forward on their own, or by people bringing a baby or a young child to be baptized. Baptism is inviting the Holy Spirit of God to dwell within our heart, to transform us from one who walks in darkness, to one who radiates the light of Jesus into our world.
Our passage in Matthew is short and to the point. Jesus came to his cousin John the Baptizer, humbled himself and surrendered to His Father’s will, received the Holy Spirit’s power, and began His mission and ministry to God’s created in His image, sinful human beings.
Matthew 3:13-17, ‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’
God has given us everything we need to live out His plan for our beautiful world. Sin brought darkness to God’s beautiful creation, however, God sent His Son Jesus to redeem the world and to bring light into the darkness.
When we are baptized, we take on the privilege and the responsibility of being that light. Today we renew our baptismal promise to God. It is an “Uh-oh” event. You are invited to come forward, dip your fingers into the baptismal water, touch your head and your heart, and bow before God humbly in surrender to His will for your life.
My prayer for each of us is when we stand before God He will say, “This is my son/daughter, whom I love; with him/her I am well pleased.”
Resources: (1) John Buchanan, “Beginnings and Endings,” The Christian Century, Jan 25, 2012. Cited by Dr. Tom Long.
(2) United Methodist Hymnal, page 34