As the Scriptures move away from the stories of the birth of Jesus and head toward Epiphany, one of the passages we’ll be looking at tells of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. This, of course, was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has been understood to be sinless, and the writers show this by quoting John telling Jesus, “It is you who should be baptizing me.” However, many others came to John. There is no indication that he required classes or orientation or anything of the kind. He baptized those who came for baptism, period. Except for those he seemed to see as the worst sinners of all – the clergy who came down from the Temple. Rather than offer them baptism for the forgiveness of their sins, John went straight to name-calling. “You vipers – you snakes. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Were they beyond forgiveness? Maybe not. But, clearly, John doubted the sincerity of their commitment to what he was offering.
If you come to us today as a stranger for baptism, you will not be called names. On the other hand, you will not be baptized without at least a bit of preparation. It’s not complicated. We talk about what you believe baptism means, and then we explain what baptism means to us, which goes like this. By requesting and accepting baptism, we understand that you are committing to the Christian faith. By committing to the Christian faith, we understand that to mean you wish to join the Body of Christ – the Church. Joining the Church means becoming a part of the fellowship – taking part regularly in worship, supporting the congregation with gifts of time and talent and treasure, and accepting each other as God has accepted you – just the way you are. You’ll learn as you go, but, as in any relationship, the reality of your commitment shows in the reality of your ongoing participation in the life of the Church.
By extension, if you are asking people to be godparents or sponsors, the assumption is that they have demonstrated the reality of their commitment by their own regular participation in the life of their own congregations. In other words, godparents are chosen because they already live a Christian life, which includes regular attendance at worship. To seal your commitment, you make promises before God to the members of the congregation, just as they make promises before God to you. The hope is that we will all be as good as our word. Over time, if we keep our promises, both our relationship with God and with each other and the depth of our knowledge and understanding will grow. But it all has to start somewhere. That somewhere is the commitment you make when you decide the Christian faith is for you. The above, by the way, is the same message we have been giving to those who come to us for baptism for as long as I have been pastor here.
Baptism – it’s the start of a beautiful thing. See you in church?