And Be Thankful!
We’ve come to remember and celebrate baptisms like birthdays, which is actually what they are. In baptism, the Bible says we die to self and are raised with Christ. Or, another way to say that—like how Jesus says it to Nicodemus in John 3—is we are “born again.”
At every baptism (at least in The UMC) the pastor declares a blessing that says, “Having been born through water and the Spirit, may you be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ who walks in the way that leads to life.”
Being born again is kind of old school evangelical language. I’m not sure how much people say that any more. When we talk about being born again, maybe we think about big tent revivals and Billy Graham. We have images of dramatic conversions, or coming down to the altar and leaving behind a life of drunkenness and self-indulgence, doing a complete 180 for Christ.
Those aren’t bad images to have. Maybe they ring true for you. Any way you slice it—whether you had a significant moment at a revival or at church camp, or you were baptized as a baby—baptism is about being born again. Let me take a moment to write about that it two ways:
When you are born again, you are born into a new family. Official United Methodist teachings on baptism talk about baptism as an “initiation and incorporation” into the Body of Christ.” Which means you are not just baptized into a specific church, but into Christ’s Church throughout space and time.
You are born again into Christ’s body, the Church, the family of faith. At baptisms, I like to look out at the congregation and think of the time Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or other or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions…” (Mt. 10:29-30).
In baptism, the person being baptized is handed over (or hands himself over) to the pastor, congregation, and God. All of the sudden, the church has a new little sister, and she all of the sudden has a new, big family. And that family is responsible to surround her with a community of love and care, and to show her by their teaching and example to lead a life faith.
Baptism is also about being born into a new way of life. A few years ago, I heard another pastor, Rev. Pete Scazarro, say, “You may have Jesus in your heart, but grandpa’s in your bones.” The point he was making is that learning to be part of what he called the new family of Jesus meant learning a new way of life. And it takes time.
The new family of Jesus is characterized by practices like forgiveness, hospitality, peace-making, sacrificial love, gratitude, care for God’s good earth. We stay connected to one another and with God through habits like prayer, reading the family stories (the Bible) and learning from them, and coming to the table together at communion. In short, the way of Jesus is defined by the way of the cross.
The ways and priorities of Jesus often conflict with the ways and priorities of everybody else—our work, communities, friends, sometimes even family members. Thankfully, we’re baptized into a family full of other people learning to leave behind their old ways in order to pick up the new ways of Jesus.
So you see, baptism is about being born again into a new family and new way of life.
Your baptism is a birthday, arguably, I would say, even more important than the day your parents signed your birth certificate.
So how do you remember it then? I don’t know that there’s one right way to do it. Maybe you bring out some of the symbols of baptism—water, a candle, a sea shell (if that was part of your baptism). You might read a Bible story related to baptism—like Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), or the healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5), or the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)—or part of the baptismal liturgy from the United Methodist hymnal. Then it would be good to tell stories about the day.
If you are a parent helping a child remember their baptism, talk to them about why it was important to you for them to be baptized. Take this as a moment to teach them about what it means to be part of God’s family and way of life. That conversation will likely evolve and deepen as your child gets older.
Let me share with you how we help Nathanael remember his baptism:
This year we’re using a book his godmother, Emily (who also happens to be a UM pastor, and who helped with his baptism), made for him. It walks through the baptismal liturgy, including a time to pour water, then light the candle that was given to him at his baptism, and then we’ll read him a letter given to him by Paul, one of the other pastors involved in his baptism.
At this point, with him being only a little over two, we’ll let the symbols and actions do most of the heavy lifting. We probably won’t do too much explaining, and will opt instead to let him experience the gifts of baptism. I’m sure we’ll also look at pictures from the day and see how many people he can recognize and name, and will talk about how much each of them loves him and how those are people he can trust, call on, and look up to.
As he grows up, we’ll probably talk some about the vows we take at baptism. Maybe we’ll ask questions like:
- What are the things that keep you from God? How do you want to ask God for help with those?
- Where do you see evil, injustice, and oppression in the world? What do you think God wants us/you to do about it?
- When has it been especially important for you to trust Jesus lately? What was that like?
- How have you grown in your faith? When have you felt most connected with God?
- How do you think God wants to be with you this year? Where? With whom? Doing what?
Remembering your baptism isn’t a solemn thing, though it may include moments of recognizing that you need to bring some aspects of your life back in line with God. Above all, though, remembering your baptism is an occasion of gratitude and joy. We say,
“Remember your baptism, and be thankful!”
What are some ways you might remember your baptism? If you don’t know the date of your baptism, you could start by finding out and putting it on your calendar.
When you remember your baptism, I hope you remember your place in God’s Church and God’s call on your life.
That’s what we’re thinking about all of July at First United Methodist Church in Murphy. We’re remembering our baptisms, being thankful.
What do you remember about your baptism?