Saturday, January 11, 2014

Renewal of Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.”

My mother had a favorite benediction she would give whenever I left the house. 

"Remember who you are!"

Sometimes it was given as, "Don't you forget who you are!"

One day I was feeling a bit full of myself and turned to her and said, "Aw Mom, how could I forget a name like Maynard Pittendreigh."

Of course, she was not concerned that I would forget my name.  She was concerned that alone on a date, or in the midst of other young boys, I might forget my values.

Remember who you are!

We need to remember our baptism.

How do we do that when so many of us were baptized as infants.

I don’t remember the day of my birth.

I don’t remember the day my parents took me home from the hospital.

I don’t remember the first time I felt love for my mother and father.

I was too young.  I was an infant!

Most of us don’t remember our baptism.  We were too young.  We were babies.

And that is not a bad thing – that we were baptized as babies.  That was the tradition of the church for 1,500 years.  Until relatively recently, no one in Christianity ever questioned baptizing babies.  No one waited until a person was a teenager to baptize.  They baptized quickly. 

Now some of us, because we do not physically remember our baptism, want to be rebaptized. 
         Can’t be done. 
         Not in the Presbyterian Church.
         In Ephesians we are taught, “there is ONE baptism, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
         But from time to time I encounter people who say they want to be rebaptized.  They have turned their life around and their faith has been renewed and they want to be rebaptized.
         Can’t do it.
         But we can remember our baptism and we can RENEW our baptism vows.

         Have you ever wondered why baptize infants?

One obvious reason is because God loves children. 

You don’t have to be an old man, a college graduate, an accomplished musician, a wise person, or good person.  You don’t have to prove your worth at all.  God loves us freely – whether we deserve it or not makes no difference. 

I remember the first time I met my son.  He was brand new in the world and I fell in love with him instantly.   This was before he uttered those famous words, “Daddy.”  This was before he created any of those artistic masterpieces that hung on our refrigerator door.  This was before his first report card, his first homerun, his graduation from high school or his enlistment in the Air Force.  It was even before his first diaper change.  I loved my son instantly and freely.  He didn’t have to earn my love, or work for my love, or deserve my love.

And that is the way God loves us. 

We don’t have to work for his love, earn his love, or wait for his love.

The baptism of infants is a powerful demonstration that God’s love is freely given.

Some people don’t believe in infant baptism because they don’t believe children need to be baptized, which is a symbolic washing away of sins.  They say children are innocent.  People who say this, and who claim that children are innocent, obviously have never had children.

There is no creature more self-centered than a baby.  They scream when they are hungry, they demand attention, they are the center of the universe.  And we love them for that.

Of course, we get tired of that when they are teenagers and we realize they are still self-centered, still scream when they are hungry, and still think they are the center of the universe.

We need to baptize infants because they need to be symbolically washed from sin as much as any of us. 

Human sinfulness is not something that comes to us between the time we learn to walk and the time we learn to drive a car.  It is with us from the beginning.  It is our nature.

         This is taught to us in the Bible.  In the Old Testament Psalm, Psalm 51 verse 5, the writer says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  (Note:  Genesis 8:21, Psalm 58, Romans 5:18)

In his New Testament letter to the Romans, Paul said, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Rom 3:23-24)

Notice that is says everyone. It doesn’t ex­clude children. It doesn't say that they're exempt until they reach an age of accountability. Everyone stands condemned.

Everyone is in need of God’s love and salvation, even children.

What some parents fear when they present an infant for baptism is that it will never mean anything to the child.  And that would be a terrible thing.

As a pastor I share that fear.  When I take a baby in my arms and baptize the baby, I want it to mean something to that child as he or she grows up.  But let me tell you this – I have the same fear when I baptize an adult.  I sometimes baptize an adult and wonder, are you doing this because your wife made you do this?  Are you doing this as a teenager because NOW your parents are putting pressure on you? 
Baptism needs to mean something to us – whether we remember it with our minds or not, we need to remember it with our souls.
Remember your baptism and be grateful!

Those of you who have children who are grown may understand what I am about to say.
When your child is a baby, you immediately love that baby and you feel that the baby loves you.
As a toddler, the child adores you.
As a growing child, the child depends on you.
As a teenager you are now tolerated – if you are lucky.  There is a drifting away.  The teenager regards you with suspicion and may even be openly hostile to you.
Then somewhere along the way, that rebellious teenager comes back around.  There is open love between the adult child and the aging parent.
At no time was it necessary for the parent and child to go to the court system so that the child could be adopted legally because somewhere along the way the adult child began to realize that being part of the family meant something.  The child was always a part of the family, even when going through those rebellious teenage years.
So it is spiritually, the child who is baptized and nurtured in the church, who drifts away and then returns, does not need to be rebaptized.  The child was always part of God’s family. 
You just need to remember the baptism and be grateful.

You don’t need to be rebaptized – that’s not necessary.  You just need to remember who you are. 

Martin Luther would sometimes feel the presence of Satan.  He would feel the tug of temptation.  And he would deal with this by saying, sometimes yelling – “I am baptized.”

My friends – you have been baptized before today.  But today you had an opportunity to renew that baptism publically.  And every day you renew your baptism by simply remembering. 
When you go out into the world – remember who you are.  You are a child of God.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.