Psalm 29 (3)
The first baptism in which I was involved – other than my own was that of my friend Piet. I was 17 and worship assistant during the Easter Vigil when Piet was baptized.
The next baptism in which I participated was that of the daughter of friends of ours in Saskatoon. I was a seminarian and Jackie and I were expecting our first child. I remember the baptismal liturgy but what I remember best was when the pastor wanted to comfort the crying infant after the baptism and put her against his shoulder where she discovered his lapel microphone …
I have not performed many private baptisms, because baptism is a public act, it is when God incorporates us into the Body of Christ, into the church, and so you need to be baptized in the presence of the community.Last year, however, there was a private baptism, except that it was not really private.
Mike had been part of our church probably for as long as he and his wife had been married, which was many years since they were now grandparents and two of their grandchildren had been baptized in our congregation.
Mike was not raised in a family that attended church. And yet he had always believed that he had been baptized. When he was little, there was an Anglican church nearby that ran Vacation Bible Schools and the week ended with an altar call (not your average Anglican church) where the kids where asked to come forward to be baptized. Mike was four and was there without a parent. He was not sure what to make of it. He wanted to be part of it, he was encouraged to go forward, but in the end he did not. He was four years old and was there all by himself.
At the end of the day all the children received baptismal certificates to take home, which is why Mike had always thought he had been baptized.
However, as Mike thought about it so many years later, he remembered his age, he remembered being scared, and he noticed that the certificate he had received did not bear a signature. Could he really have been baptized if the certificate bore no signature? The answer was that the church had probably not wanted to send a child home empty-handed and therefore even those who had not been baptized were given a certificate, albeit unsigned.
(The church no longer exists, which ended his attempts to check old church records).
And so Mike called me up, he told me the story, and he was baptized in his home, in the presence of his wife and family.
Mike was baptized at home because he is not well. The year after he retired, he was diagnosed with cancer, has had surgery and treatments, but he will not get well. His cancer is being managed and Mike who was always part of our summer hikes and bike hikes finds all outings challenging.
Mike deeply cares about people. Politically, he would describe himself as a social conservative. When the church was talking about the inclusion of LGBT people, Mike was not happy and he began to attend church less. Part of his concern was that the church would become indistinguishable from the surrounding culture. Of all the people in the congregation, Mike may have been the most adamant opponent, even though technically he had never become a member.
Well, the church voted and I don’t think Mike changed his mind. But Mike was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and into the church with which he disagreed on important issues. His baptism took place in his home but it was not private as it was announced at church and together we gave thanks.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus comes to John at the river Jordan, into the wilderness where Israel had wandered for 40 years, and to the place where the people finally crossed over into the promised land. Here Jesus lines up with everyone else in order to be baptized by John.
John objects but in the end consents to baptize Jesus.
Jesus insists on being baptized by John because his baptism is his anointing, the confirmation of his mission, the Father speaks, the Holy Spirit appears.
Jesus insists because his mission is to bear the sin of the world, to stand with the people, to be counted among them. Jesus is not ashamed of people, Jesus is not ashamed of us.
We see in Jesus’ own baptism that the body of Christ is bigger than our differences. We will have differences, we will not always agree, but amidst of our differences and our desire to understand things that sometimes are hard to understand, it is important that we are not ashamed of each other, for God is not ashamed of us.
In our reading from Acts we hear Peter’s speech to Cornelius and his household. At first glance the reading seems chosen because Peter makes reference to Jesus’ baptism by John. But as Peter continues, we hear him declare that God knows no partiality, which he says in the context of a gentile remaining a gentile and yet joining the fledgling church that was still trying to figure out whether gentiles would first need to become Jews before they could join the church. Peter says that God shows no partiality.
The theologian James Alison says about this passage, “Well, what Peter is saying when he affirms that God has revealed to him not to call anyone profane or impure is that the heavenly counter-history, the subversion from within of the story of this world, has an indispensable grammatical rule: that no discrimination against any sort of repugnant person can resist the crucible of learning not to call them profane or impure. The story of heaven is the story of how we learn not to call anyone profane or impure, so that a story is created in which there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, but rather where we have learned to disbelieve, and to help them to disbelieve, in their own repugnancy.”1
The Reformation has taught us that the God we worship does not require us to jump through hoops. That for God to love us we don’t have to impress God first. Our culture has impressed on us that people are valued based on performance, which makes it difficult to accept others and difficult to accept ourselves.
But in his baptism Jesus demonstrates God’s love for us by standing with us and assuming our place.
For the church who knows God’s impartiality and who gathers each week remembering that our ways are not God’s ways, we too learn that we cannot be ashamed of each other, or ourselves, for God is not ashamed of us.
1James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 100-105, 128, cited at http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/epiphany1a/