To the Church that Baptizes that Baby
Reflecting on The Baptism of the Lord: One Day After Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 106:1-12
Old Testament: Judges 4:1-16
Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17
God, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, mark us with your image, and raise us to live our baptismal vows empowered by the Holy Spirit and the example of Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
by Jason Miceli, Senior Pastor at Annandale United Methodist Church—Virginia.
To the Church about to Baptize My Baby:
It’s all cuteness and lace now, but in no time at all, my little baby boy—after a brief sojourn in childhood—will hit adolescence. His hormones will kick in and quickly conspire to undo all the good you’ve done in him.
These will be the years that he’ll push you, Church.
He’ll suddenly wonder how Jonah could survive that dark trip in the whale’s belly. He’ll argue that David may have bested Goliath but that he’s no match for Tom Brady and, besides, David’s hardly the unblemished hero his Sunday School teachers made him out to be. Proud of himself, he’ll point out that Noah never would have had to build the ark had God not decided to flood everything and everyone in the world.
He’ll push you, and if you’re not up to the challenge he’ll be tempted conclude that everything you’ve taught him and everything you teach is, at best, a fairy tale and, at worst, a lie.
And this might be the first time someone he knows or loves dies.
When that happens, Church, you better not resort to clichés. You better be prepared to show him resurrection-of-the-body hope at work among you.
You might as well get ready now, Church, because when those years arrive you will have to struggle just to have your voice heard above all the callings that claim his attention and tempt his loyalty. Just when time seems to race by for his parents, tomorrow will seem forever away to him. Everything, from the face he sees in the morning mirror to the fickle loyalties of his friends, will change almost every day.
And whether he knows it or not, Church, what he will need from you all is a community of constancy. He will need a people who refuse to let go of him, who refuse to let go of what they know to be true and enduring, who refuse to let him slip away before he learns to describe his world with the language you speak.
And he’ll never admit it to you Church, but what he’ll need in those years is a place where he need not wear a mask, a place where vulnerability isn’t a dirty word, a place where a life of mercy and love and gratitude is a viable and even compelling alternative.
And then he’ll start high school. You’ll only have four years of Sundays left with him. Be warned: it will be harder for you to get his attention because he’ll no longer be listening to your words.
He’ll be looking at your life.
I know, scary right?
When he worships with you, he’ll wonder if you’re as friendly as you think you are. He’ll wonder if you ever experience awe and mystery or whether you’re just ticking off your weekly obligation and hoping it won’t be too boring. He’ll wonder if you’re loose and free enough to allow the Spirit to enter your worship.
And your lives.
He’ll look at your life, Church, and he’ll question whether you conform your views and values to the God of Jesus Christ or whether you’ve sketched an idol in your own unthreatening image. He probably won’t put it in those words, Church, or any words at all for that matter, but trust me he’ll be thinking it.
In these years, his BS Radar will be acute so you better not patronize him, Church. You have a tendency to do that when a young person puts you on your heels by asking questions. You better learn how to treat him as a member of the Body of the Christ.
This may be the last time you have his attention. So, for his sake, I hope you lead a life that leads to the Gospel.
And I pray that, just when he’s being pressured and pushed to get ahead, to pursue his future, to achieve success, and to grab after his dreams, by then you will have taught him that servant-hood is the only path that leads to treasure.
A place where he’ll find the Lamb of God in your flesh. A place where he’ll discover the coming Kingdom previewed in your lives. A place where he’ll learn that God is to be found among the lame and the poor and the outcast—not because you tell him but because you, Church, invite him to come and see for himself.
When my baby boy becomes an old man, when his waist is slightly thicker and his hair a little thinner—when he has a whole new set of questions, new hopes and different struggles ahead—I hope he will be able to remember his baptism and be thankful.
There’ll come a time—there always does—when my boy will look desperately for where the living God can be found. When that time does come, Church, I hope he will have a community who won’t just shrug their shoulders, who won’t refer him to the pastor, who won’t quote the Bible at him or try to prove anything to him.
Don’t you dare do that to him, Church.
Instead you better be able, because of the integrity of your life, to say to him: ‘Come and See.’
Church, that’s the sort of Church I would want to give my life so I’m willing to bet he’d give his life to it too.
In closing, Church—
Before the water hits my baby’s head, I hope the irony will have hit you upside yours: my boy will never be able to live out his baptism if you, Church, don’t live out yours.
A Concerned Parent
Jason Miceli blogs here.