Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.
Normally when I preach on this day I deal with theological issues revolving around this event. If we are baptized to cleanse us from sin, why did Jesus, who was sinless, need to be baptized? What does, or did, it mean for the Incarnate God to submit to a man at a river in the desert? Scripture says that the heavens were opened to Jesus, he saw the Spirit descending, and he heard the voice – was he the only one who had this experience or were there other witnesses? Or something else along those lines.
But today is different, because today we have an actual baptism to perform and celebrate. Which means that instead of any number of theological issues being the focus of the sermon, the focus is the actual baptism happening here. But even so, there are still theological issues to consider with a baptism.
The first, and biggest, and what I want to concentrate on is, “Why?” Why do we bother with baptism at all. In this age of welcoming all, or seeing God's grace given to all, why do we still participate in the rite of baptism?
The primary reason as I see it, and the first explanation for it in the Catechism is this: Holy Baptism is the Sacrament by which God adopts us and makes us members of Christ's body. Baptism gives us our official adoption paperwork. Through our baptism we become members of the family. Through our baptismal adoption we are bestowed with certain rights and responsibilities.
Through our baptism, we have the right to be educated about this thing we call Christianity. We have the right to be loved as we are and as we change and grow. We have the right to be treated equally, with the same dignity and respect we treat others. And through our baptism we have the right to a place at the table, to be fed with that spiritual nourishment that is the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we welcome Dean, and Leonie & Lila into our family, into this part of the body of Christ, and we are witnesses as those rights are bestowed upon him.
But through our baptism we also incur a set of responsibilities. We have a responsibility to seek out Christian education to further grow in our faith. We have a responsibility to turn away from sin, wickedness, and evil powers. We have a responsibility to follow Christ, first and foremost in our lives. We have a responsibility to love God, neighbor, and enemy, treating all with dignity and respect. We have a responsibility to pray, worship, and give on a regular basis for the spread of the kingdom of God.
Obviously Dean is too young to grasp or understand all this, and Leonie & Lila are on the cusp of understanding, which is why they have godparents to help them on that path. It is also why they have all of us, because we also have a responsibility to support them in their life in Christ.
Which brings me to a second issue, and that is this: Why do we baptize infants who are unable to make this decision themselves? This is the very reason many denominations will not recognize or validate infant baptisms – a person needs to be able to make their own mature commitment to follow Christ and not have it forced upon them as infants or small children.
But remember this: Baptism is that act by which we are adopted into the household of God and the body of Christ. We are adopted.
Over my life I have known several people who were adopted children. They belong to families not by blood or of the will of the flesh but by the will of the family. For which of us would say about a child in need of adoption, “Wait until they are old enough to make a mature decision as to which family they want to belong?” None of us would make that statement.
And it is by virtue of their adoption that they are bestowed with certain rights and responsibilities. They have the right to be loved as they are and as they change and grow. They have the right to be treated equally with the same dignity and respect as other family members. They have the right to be fed.
They also have responsibilities given to them as part of the family. They have chores to do. They need to work for the support of the family. They need to pull their own weight. They need to behave in certain ways.
So just like children adopted into earthly families have rights and responsibilities, children adopted into this heavenly family also have rights and responsibilities. And today we are bestowing those rights and responsibilities upon these children, Dean, Leonie, and Lila. Today we are standing with them, offering our love and support as we promise to help guide them through this thing we call Christianity.
Today we adopt these three children into this part of the family tree. Today we welcome them into the household of God. Today we give them their first taste of the heavenly banquet.
May the Lord bless them and keep them.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon them and be gracious to them.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon them and grant them peace.