1 Corinthians 12.12-14
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
1 Thessalonians 5.11
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
I have a confession to make. I have a long standing habit of writing homiletical epistles on the occasion of one’s baptism – it’s a way of cutting across time such that, one day, you can look back and find out why you were baptized. You will have no memory of this but, your life will be decisively different because of it.
And yet, before God and family, I must confess that the idea is not original to me. I stole it from one of your other uncles: Jason.
He knows that the proclamation of the Word is essential to the sacrament that is your baptism, because, as Barth put it, “Preachers dare to talk about God.”
Otherwise, there’s a temptation to make your baptism all about you. When, in fact, it’s actually all about the One in whose life and death you are being baptized.
Your uncle taught that to me.
I wonder what your life will be like, having two of the smartest pastors ever called by God as some of your uncles. Perhaps it will be a gift and a curse, for you are doomed to hear the same things over and over again.
At the very least, you’re likely to hear a lot about Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jesus.
And yet, repetition is all anyone can ever hope for.
I pray you never tire of hearing, “I love you.”
Similarly, I hope you rejoice in being told to remember your baptism and be thankful. Of course, you won’t remember any of this, but the ripples of it will impact every part of your life.
Finley, today you become a human. I know that is a strange thing to say. You might expect to hear that today you become a Christian.
And yet, if Herbert McCabe is right, we can only be fully human as we are incorporated into the fullness of humanity named Jesus Christ. Jesus, McCabe argues, “was the first true human for whom to live was simply to love – for this is what human beings are for.”
Our lives are made up of various loves. Your father, for instance, loves tractors and chainsaws. Your mother loves ceramics and plants. One set of your grandparents sit around their phones everyday waiting to see you smile on FaceTime. The other set was so excited about your arrival into the world that they bought a house in Harrisonburg, just to be close to you.
And you have a whole set of aunts, uncles, and cousins who are obsessed with you.
On and on and on.
And the claim made in your baptism is that God loves you.
You will come to find that God’s love is both wonderful and awful. It’s why we sing of the hopes and fears of all the years being met in the person of Jesus Christ. It is wonderful and awful to be loved by God because God really know us, and loves us anyway.
To be human is to love, and to be loved in return.
Another thing you will hear over and over again throughout your life, is something your uncle and I get to declare every time people gather at the Lord’s table: “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
The baptism into which you are baptized sets you on a course of being surrounded and caught up in the adventure called church, in which you will be forgiven over and over again.
Hence the first scripture passage your parents chose for this occasion: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The water of your baptism incorporates you into something seen and unseen. It connects you with others across time and space. Or, as Stanley Hauerwas is oft to quip: Whatever Christianity is, it is at least the discovery of friends you did not know you had.
This is true not only for the church, but for you in particular. Without Jesus your parents never would’ve met. The smattering of family and friends we call family who gather for your baptism would not be possible without Jesus.
I hope and pray you discover that nothing is more precious in the world than the gift of a friend. Friendship takes time and requires forgiveness. Forgiveness and patience are deeply connected. But God has given us all the time we need to become friends with one another. And, of course, learning how to become friends with others also teaches us what it means to be friends with God.
In short, we have all the time in the world to learn how to forgive and, perhaps more importantly, how to be forgiven.
Thankfully, Jesus, the one in whose baptism you share today, is in the forgiveness business.
Which leads to the second text your parents chose for the occasion of your baptism.
“Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Another thing your uncle taught me is that, whenever you encounter a therefore in scripture, you need to know what the therefore is there for.
If you look just two verses before you will encounter these all too important words: God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him… Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
In other words, the forgiveness that makes friendship possible is only possible because of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We are called to build one another up not because it makes the world a better place, though it certainly might. We are called to encourage one another because God has already made the world a better place in Jesus. We are called to forgive one another because God is the great forgiver.
In your baptism your sins are forgiven. Not just the ones committed before your baptism, which up to this point mostly amount to waking your parents up in the middle of the night over and over again, but also all of the sins yet to come.
Again, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.
The timing of your baptism is important – not only because it allowed for most of your family to be present, but also because it is Christmastide, the wonderful time between Christmas and Epiphany. A strange and wondrous witness to the infancy of the Lord, and the expansive extent of the kingdom of God.
The timing of your baptism also points to the fact that you are a baby. It is important that we baptize you as an infant. For, at this very moment, there is absolutely nothing you can do to earn, accept, or even believe in the forgiveness that your baptism imparts. In baptizing you we, the church, declare that you already have it.
We are baptizing you into a different life, a human life, a life of love and friendship that will set you at odds with the world.
It will set you at odds with the world because the world will tell you there is always more to be done, whereas your baptism says, “It is finished.” The world will tell you to be careful with your love, whereas your baptism points to the fact that God is reckless with God’s love.
Right here and right now you are beloved. Not because you have done anything or deserve anything, but because the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world, even yours.
So welcome to the strange new world that is your life. You might never have been but you are because the family called church wouldn’t have been complete without you. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to you, but you needn’t be afraid. God is with you. Nothing can ever take that away. Amen.