Gospel: Mark 10:35-45
1st Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12
Today we welcome several new members and receive Everly Shae Brown in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We call it a “Holy Spirit Moment” when the baptism date chosen for when the godparents could be present includes long-ago-chosen Bible readings about baptism.
On this day, Everly takes her place next to Jesus, in his family. She has nothing to offer him. She is a helpless little baby. She has no idea where she's come from. We have no idea what her life will be like. She is not able to agree to be baptized or to accept Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. It will be many years before she is able to understand God's promises to her, today, and maybe not even then. Thankfully it is not up to her or our understanding or acceptance. Jesus accepts Everly on this day, as helpless as she is, tiny as she is. In fact, she is an example for us. For the past several weeks, Jesus has been lifting up children as the ones who inherit the Kingdom of God. They are the ones we must emulate. They are the ones we look up to. The rich man wanted to be assured of eternal life—become like this child, who owns nothing in this world. The Disciples were arguing over which of them is the greatest—Jesus says, look at this child. She doesn't care if you're rich or powerful or drive the right kind of car or talk fancy or how you dress or if you have a college degree. Become like a little child, is his advice to us. Sometimes we think it is because of Original Sin that we baptize babies in our church. It is because of Original Blessing. We are acknowledging the blessing that we are participating in, in the life of this child. We are giving thanks for her life and what she teaches us, and surrounding her in a loving community at the earliest possible moment.
When her parents came to me a few weeks ago, I was ready to ask them what Baptism means to them, and how they planned to raise their child in the faith. Before I ever said a word, they shared about their son's journey of faith, from baptism in this congregation eight years ago, to finding that he had autism, like his brother, and that he also suffered hearing loss. The Browns shared with me that it was such an uncertain time in their lives, raising two young children with such challenges, and what hope baptism offered. They said it was a bright spot on their journey of parenthood. They moved away to Alaska for a few years and when they returned to the area, Hayden started attending the Roman Catholic Church with his grandparents. He benefits from the structure and friendships in his classes. He is growing in faith and closer to Christ and is warmly loved in his faith community. He knows that Jesus is his friend.
Now this child comes to us at the beginning of her journey of faith and God blesses her in our midst, and we bless her by our promises, she blesses us by teaching us how to be vulnerable and helpless, we share a little of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this life of faith. If we are following Jesus, we don't always find that an easy path. The reading from Isaiah makes that clear. It is the last of the four “Songs of the Suffering Servant” sometimes thought to refer to the nation of Israel and sometimes to a particular king. Later, Christians considered it a prophecy for the coming Messiah—for Jesus. This is more Good Friday than baptism. Still, I think it is appropriate, no matter how much it makes us squirm. Yes, it is about suffering, but it helps us realize that we are not alone in our suffering. When we find ourselves suffering from diseases and infirmities, when we are bruised, when life isn't fair, when justice is perverted, when we are a helpless child, God is there with us. God knows what it is like to suffer. We are not alone. That's the reason we include baptism as part of our Sunday worship service. When we are surrounded by the people and servants of God, we are surrounded by people who have known suffering and still known the presence and peace of God. And we are surrounded by people who have seen joy and light despite their struggles.
At baptism we are recognizing our place in the priesthood of all believers. The reading from Hebrews shares a little bit about expectations of priests. It isn't just me that is a priest, but all of you become priests at your baptism. We all have responsibility for passing on the faith, and for living faithful lives and for guiding each other. And we are all subject to weaknesses. Thankfully, we have Jesus as high priest, because none of us can be perfect. But he is the one gave his life that we would have eternal life, and in this age share life with those around us.
Finally, in the Gospel we also learn what Jesus is not here to do, and that is to grant our every wish. It is human nature to think that we are entitled to an easy life or a good life or a front-row seat. But we're not here to glorify ourselves or to win trophies or to get our wishes granted and Jesus wasn't here for that either. He came to serve. More specifically, he came to serve God. Without knowing that, you might ask if Jesus came to serve, why doesn't he do what the Disciples ask of him and place them on either side? But he's not there to serve our whims. He is there to serve God. God, like this baby doesn't care about your power or wealth or education, but only the love and kindness that you share with others.
When we are baptized we are acknowledging that we are Jesus' Disciples. The Disciples in this Gospel story want to follow Jesus in his glory, but Jesus lets them know that they don't just pick the parts of the journey they like. Living is a risk. Living the life of a Disciple is a risk. And it isn't just the likelihood that they will suffer, but the assurance of it. The way they phrase their request, “to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left,” brings to mind those crucified next to him, on the cross. The Disciples don't know what they are asking, yet they claim to, and as it turns out, eventually they are able and they do make the ultimate sacrifice. Whatever they suffer, they also know the presence and blessing of God.
Everly, too, as much as we'd like to protect her, will know pain and challenge. But she will always have the story of this day to strengthen her and give her hope. Her grandparents and parents will tell her of God's love for her. They will tell her about the water of life. They will tell her about the Holy Spirit. They will tell her that her's is a baptism like Jesus' in which God called her a beloved daughter. They will tell her about the promise of the community to love and support her and teach her. And Everly will have much joy in her life, too, so she'll know who to thank. She won't take it for granted or take all the credit for it.
To be baptized into Christ's baptism, is to acknowledge that we receive the Holy Spirit, God's presence with us. And it is to hear the words that Jesus heard at his baptism, “This is my beloved Child. I am well pleased.” Everly, today is claimed as God's beloved child just as she is. God is pleased. And God gives her new life, from the first breath she ever took, through all of her life in God's service, and into eternal life when she is joined in unity with all creation. And we recognize again the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of this brother and these sisters who join our congregation, today.
Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit and all God's gifts we live a life of thankfulness. It is because of God's love for each of us that we gather together to sing God's praises, and we serve the poor and hungry during the week, and we simplify our lives so that our possessions are not our focus, and we join in prayer as we make an estimate for the coming year of our giving. We don't earn God's love by giving, but we give because we have been claimed in baptism, because we are grateful for all God has given us—everything, and because we want to respond to God's love by trying to make this world a little bit better, which is what our offerings are intended to do.
Today is Everly's baptism day, but it is also a day in which we celebrate our own baptism. You were each created by God and called by God into the priesthood of all believers. God called you by name and blessed you and claimed. God has walked with you in times of joy and sorrow. God has shown you what it means to be a servant of God. I invite you, today, as you go to communion or return, or as you leave this place, to dip your finger into the baptismal font and make the mark of the cross on your forehead like the pastor did the day you were baptized. Picture your friends and family surrounding you, Jesus at your side, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and picture God's presence coming to all in need, allowing them to sit on his left and right, comforting the sick, visiting the lonely, spending time with the imprisoned, and giving the water of life to all who are thirsty. Envision our world healed through small but powerful acts of love. Envision the body of Christ, all who have gone before and those yet unborn, all of God's creation, linked together in his love, working together peacefully. This is what God sees and what God plans for our world. Let this vision give us hope and motivate and mobilize us to make the Kingdom real for all who suffer and are vulnerable. May God bless Everly, may God bless Tony, Rita, and Elaine, may God bless each of you, and may each of you be a blessing to others until all know God's peace.