It’s a full day here at United Church in Tallahassee! Baptisms, communion, AND the beginning of our month-long celebration of the liturgical season of creation. It’s a lot to weave together in one worship service! But we get a good start with today’s Season of Creation theme: Oceans. Oceans. Water. Baptism!
In the UCC, we celebrate two sacraments: communion and baptism. “Sacrament” is a church-y word for rituals that help us connect to God through the material stuff of life…like water and food. Through these elements, we encounter the one who created the elements. Today, we’ll have multiple opportunities to encounter the one who created water, wheat, grapes…and these two beautiful babies.
At UCT, we have communion the first Sunday of every month. Baptism? It’s been a while…so long, in fact, that we had to put out an APB on the baptismal font. After we found it, it took a village of us to figure out how to assemble it. Initially, when I asked Kathryn if she knew about the baptismal font, she said, “What? Like Times New Roman? Arial?” Um, yes. I think it’s time we got back into the practice of baptizing people! Many thanks to Erica, Rachel, Rose, and Caroline and Melia for getting us reacquainted with this important sacrament!
Each of today’s Scripture readings sheds light on this poly- sacramental day.
The one about children coming to Jesus.… Yes. Living our faith is a life-long thing! Just because these babies don’t yet have the capacity to choose the way of Jesus, that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of our community. Of course, they are! That’s why we have the ritual of baptism, or in some traditions, baby dedications–it’s to remind us that, as these children’s community, we’re committing ourselves to helping their mom raise them in the way of Jesus. When they’re ready to choose the faith for themselves, we’ll be off the hook. As a confirmand in another church I served told the congregation, “You’ve done your work. I’ll take it from here.”
The scripture about Jesus’ own baptism demonstrates what baptism is all about. That moment Jesus comes up out of the water, when he sees the heavens open and a dove descend and hears the words, “You are my child, my beloved. With you I am well-pleased?” Yes! Baptism is all about the one being baptized receiving the love and acceptance God’s lavishes on us.
The thing is, those precious babies aren’t able to understand what I’m saying today…. which means, it’s our job to remind them over and over again– “You are God’s precious child! God loves you. We love you. We are your village.” Y’all. I’m very serious about this. These babies…are our babies. In this ritual today, we’re dedicating ourselves to being these babies’ community, to making sure they know they are loved–by us and by God.
In contemplating my own personal commitment to Holland and Harper, I’ve wondered what it will mean to be a pastor to children who are Black. Listening to parents of Black children, I know that parenting children who are Black involves myriad layers of heavy concern. I didn’t even know about “the Talk” until a few years ago. These babies are so cute! I know y’all form a line at the nursery door after church each Sunday to see them. You can’t help yourselves.
But the covenant we’re making today with Holland, Harper, and their mom is about way more than looking at them and holding them and playing with them…as important as all that is. Our job is to let these precious children know they are loved in a world that won’t always value who they are. For me–perhaps for many of us–that learning curve is going to be steep.
Because of the way our world is structured, those of us with less melanin in our skin have the luxury of not having to think about a lot of things. But now that we are baptizing these particular precious babies, we are making a conscious decision to think about what it means to raise babies with more melanin in their skin.
As a white person, it’s overwhelming to think about everything I’m going to have to learn to help Erica raise these babies in the real world we’re living in. But, you know. I’m just going to have to get over myself on that… because if I don’t do that bit of learning, if I don’t learn better how to nurture children with Black skin in a world made for whiteness, then the commitment I make today isn’t going to mean a hill of beans. Committing ourselves to nurturing these children into the way of Jesus? It’s a commitment to do everything we can to make these particular precious people feel safe and loved in the real world we’re living in.
You might sense by now that I take baptism VERY seriously. When I made the move to the UCC from the Baptists, I had to think long and hard about infant baptism, which isn’t practiced in Baptist churches. But when I learned about infant baptism–especially its emphasis on the vows the community makes to nurture the children into the faith…I never turned back. Baptism is for the babies and their momma, but mostly it’s for us. Because if we–as a community–can mindfully commit ourselves to nurturing these children into faith? That will lay the foundation of everything else–everything else!–we do as a congregation.
Today’s passage from Psalm 104 places everything we’re doing today in the context of the entire universe. Early in the planning process, Erica sent me photographs that have just begun coming in from NASA’s new deep space telescope. Then she confessed: “I’m a Trekkie.”
Children and the universe…who didn’t dream of being an astronaut growing up? Something about children and space goes together, doesn’t it? Just look to see who will hitch a ride on the Artemis 1 rocket when it launches. (Pictures)
Yes. In each of these children’s eyes, we see glimpses of the universe. And looking at photographs from the new telescope…somehow, it brings our children to mind.
Maybe the point isn’t to figure out all the connections. Maybe the point is simply to think about these babies, to think about the universe, and when we hold these babies to know we are holding the absolute best the universe has to offer.
What say we get these babies baptized!
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022