7/31/16 – Acts 8:26-39 – Why do we baptize infants
Posted on August 1, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
We’re doing a sermon series at Ascension called “Ask a Pastor.” Today’s question was: Why do we baptize infants. Fittingly, it was also the day my daughter, Zora, was to be baptized, so I wrote her a letter for the sermon, which was on Acts 8:26-39. – Pastor Daniel
Also, here’s our first attempt at audio of a sermon:
You don’t know this about me, yet, but I’m betting you will soon: I’m a worrier. I’m good at it. It’s one of my strengths. Of course, you won’t see it that way. You’ll see it as something that limits you. Something that gets in the way. And while I won’t admit it all that often – you’ll probably be right. My worrying might get in the way of you living your life. Maybe. Possibly. Sometimes.
And I don’t want to blame you or anything, but this worrying has gotten a lot worse since you’ve been born. Old worries have taken on heightened importance, and there are new worries I had never thought of.
See, there is just so much to be afraid of in this world. So much to be anxious about. Violence, for example. There are terrorist attacks which are so unlikely to hit any of us, but cause fear anyway. That is their point, after all. There are wars. Wars which kill so many and wars which compromise who we are and wars which send people fleeing for their lives. There is violence on our own streets and in our own homes. Violence makes me afraid. Violence makes me worry.
But, there’s more. There are floods and fires and earthquakes and droughts. The world is burning up before our eyes. That’s got me worried. There are people without work and people without homes. That’s got me worried. There are schools shutting down and food shelves going bare and disease running rampant and cancer without a cure and the dog’s getting old and there is this damn election. Ahhh! And killer bees! What do we do if the killer bees return?! It’s just too much!
And then there is you. You, who make the world burning up more frightening, the killer bees more killer. You who could fall ill at any time. You, who must grow up in this dangerous and uncertain world. You who could be lured by its temptations. You who could reject us and rebel against us. You will, someday. You who might break our hearts. You’ll do that too, someday. I just don’t know how yet.
It feels sometimes that to love you and be your dad is to be on alert. Alert for potential dangers which might be lurking nearby, hidden in the shadows. It’s kind of tiring – this alertness, this worry. It can be exhausting, this ubiquitous fear.
See, fear can become not just a feeling or an experience, but a way. A starting point for how to look at the world and at life. Fear can be a way of life. A very convincing way of life, for fear persuades you that you ignore it at your own peril.
Which is what brings us here today. Fear as a way of life. It’s why we dressed you up in your great-great-great grandmother’s dress and a bonnet freshly made by a friend. It’s why we pour water over your head and draw a cross in oil on your brow and give you a candle. We’re here because of fear. Not to give into it, but to seize an alternative to it.
Today, Zora, you are baptized. That fact alone is not without controversy, because you are only four months old. I was seven years old when I was baptized, and your mom was a teenager. So why are you being baptized so young?
For many, including those from your mother’s Mennonite faith, baptism is an expression of faith. It’s an opportunity to confess what you believe and what God has done and does for you. Of course, to them, today might seem absurd, because unless you’re hiding an Apostle’s Creed in that dress, I don’t think you’ll be confessing your faith this morning.
But here we see baptism as something else. Not as something you do or we do, but something God does. Pastor Dan will be asking some questions. John, Kathy, mom and I will be answering them. And I’ll pour the water on your head. But the real work is being done by God. In baptism God is bathing you, showering you in grace. In baptism God is giving you a new life. In baptism God is promising to love you now and forever.
So that’s why we think baptism is good for people of all ages, including four-month olds. Because we can’t imagine limiting God’s work, God’s love, or God’s grace based on age. God loves you, Zora. In this water, God is promising to love you forever. We don’t restrict that.
So, that’s why we can come here today. But that’s not the whole reason we do come here today. We’re also here because of fear. Fear which could seize even our sense of baptism, if we let it. Or, fear which can be transcended in baptism, if we let it.
See, there is this idea out there that baptism is almost a sort of life insurance. With baptism, we don’t have to worry about death because here God grants us eternal life. Which is great! But so quickly that sense of reassurance becomes a fear. So quickly we move from rejoicing in God’s grace in baptism to being afraid of what might happen if we don’t have it. Then baptizing infants becomes this thing that must be done, and then “Whew! Glad that’s covered.” Suddenly our faith in God has been replaced by a faith in baptism as a box to check, which is sort of like having faith in our ability to check it, which isn’t really faith at all. Fear has won.
And I totally get why this happens. After all, we’re the fortunate ones. For many in our world, and even in our midst, death looms large, tragically sometimes even for babies. And in those few short days of life, you want baptism. You want God’s promise of life for one who will never really experience life. You want God’s love for one who will never know how loved they are, at least not on this side of eternity. And so we baptize.
But even then, fear need not rule us. Even then baptism is God’s promise of love, not our quick acquisition of mercy before time runs out.
See, Zora, we’re here today not for when you die. We’re here because you live. And baptism is an alternative way of life to the way which stems from fear. Baptism is a place of grace from which we live.
There are only a few stories in the Bible about baptism, but I think my favorite is the one about Philip and the Ethiopian. An angel told Philip to go out into the middle of the desert. There, he saw an entourage travelling along the road. The angel instructed Philip to go join the chariot. In it, he met the Ethiopian – a powerful man, who at the same time was restricted from the temple. The Ethiopian was a curious man, a man searching for something.
So Philip and he started a conversation. And as the Ethiopian was understanding more and more, he saw some water by the side of the road. Water in the desert – how fitting. And then the Ethiopian man asked such a wonderful question: What is to prevent me from being baptized?
Philip had no answer. Nothing. Nothing is to prevent you from being baptized. Nothing is to prevent you from receiving God’s promise of life and love. Nothing is to prevent you from this place of grace.
And so they stopped the chariot, hopped out, and Philip baptized the Ethiopian man. Just like that. He didn’t even wear his great-great-great grandmother’s dress.
And then there’s the best part, and the reason we bring you here today. After the baptism, the Ethiopian man goes on his way rejoicing. He left that place, that little water hole on the side of the road in the middle of the desert, and he goes on his way rejoicing. From that point on, no matter where he went, he came from that watering hole. From that point on, no matter what restrictions he might come across, he knew God’s love for him would not be restricted, and so he went on his way rejoicing. From that point on, he came from a place of grace.
And, Zora, so do you.
Throughout your life, you will be tempted to come from a place of fear. And for good reason. There is a lot to be afraid of in this world. And I’m sure that despite all of my worries, I haven’t even considered the true dangers that will come your way. These fears – these real and legitimate fears – they can capture our imaginations. They can keep us from reaching out to one another. They can give us an eye of suspicion and a mindset of distrust. They can move us to turn inward and build walls which eventually will become a cage.
Fear can become the kernel from which we start. The origin of our values and vision and dreams. Fear can become a way of life. The place from which we live.
Or. Or, we could remember that we too have been to that small watering hole in the desert. We could remember that we have been bathed in grace. We could remember that God’s love is for us, and always will be, because God promised so, right here. And when we forget that, we could dip our fingers in this same water, a reminder of the life we’ve been given. Starting from a place of grace, we might value compassion instead of distrust, courage instead self-interest, love instead of fear. Starting from a place of grace, we could, like that Ethiopian man, go on our way rejoicing.
That’s my hope for you, Zora. That this font becomes a place from which you go, a place that offers an alternative to living in and living from fear. A place where God’s grace sends you on your way rejoicing.
When you grow older and ask me “why did I get baptized so young?” I’ll say: “Because I couldn’t wait! I couldn’t wait for you to hear this promise from God, this promise of wondrous love. I couldn’t wait for you to be bathed in God’s mercy. I couldn’t wait for you to have this new place from which to live, a place of grace.” That’s what I’ll say.
Look, here is water. What is to prevent us? Nothing. Let’s bathe in this place of grace, and then let’s be on our way from here, rejoicing.