Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thinking of Baptism and Words Made Flesh

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Yesterday, a disturbed adolescent shot a member of the House of Representatives and others, and that gunman killed a federal judge. What do these events have in common?

There will be voices far more eloquent than mine, minds who will consider the inflammatory words of various groups and the frightening Internet posts of the gunman, and make connections to actions. As children, we're taught that words can't really hurt us--but we know that to be a lie the minute we hear it. I can still recall many a mean remark. It's harder for me to remember the nice things people have said about me.

History shows us that words can often lead to actions, both good and bad. The Civil Rights Movement workers sang songs about overcoming and not being moved--and they embodied those songs they sang. We can trace the history of the Civil War back through many a speech, many given a hundred years before the first shots were fired.

In baptism, we make promises. I have often wondered if families really think about what the words mean. With the baptism of my nephew, I promised to keep my sister and brother-in-law on the straight and narrow--but why did I think I had that power?

Baptism is a sacrament that relies on word and water. The words mean more to me as the years go by--and they also make me deeply uncomfortable when families I've never seen before have their babies baptized with us. As a congregation, we make a commitment to help those families raise those children in the way they should go. It's hard for me to say those words if I know I'm never going to see the family again.

Much of what we promise revolves around words: promises to bring the baptized to church, promises to make sure that the baptized gets the Scripture, and promises that the important stories will continue to be told. Language shapes us in so many ways, for better and worse, and our spiritual ancestors knew that fact.

Again and again, I resolve to watch my words. May they always be an instrument of peace, not a weapon.


DentM42 said...

While parents, sponsors, and the church at large make promises at baptism - more important for the baptized is the promises God makes to the baptized child.

As Lutherans, we believe, teach and confess that Baptism "works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare." As St. Mark says in the last chapter of his Gospel, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall be damned." (Luther's Small Catechism - Baptism, part 2)

It is God's words and promises that are the important part of baptism - as part 3 of Luther's explanation of Baptism explains:

"How can water do such great things? - It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying."

Indeed, as parents, sponsors and the church at large we make promises - but these are chiefly to constantly put the baptized child in remembrance of their baptism - that precious gift through which God forgave the sins of that individual, placed His Holy Name upon the person, and received him or her into the family of God. By putting the individual in remembrance of their baptism - reminding them what God has accomplished in Christ on their behalf - liberating them from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation - the Holy Spirit works to sustain and strengthen their faith.

-- Rev. M. Dent

Kristin said...

Great comments--thanks for the important reminders and for giving us Luther's words along with the Gospel!