I was nine years old when my parents finally relented and arranged for me to be baptized. I wanted to be baptized because I yearned to belong to a community of faith that I knew and loved. I wanted to be part of my ancestry and heritage.
My uncle baptized me with full immersion in a font the size of a swimming pool, dunking me three times into the deep water.
Years later my family and I left that church and I found myself without a faith community. That was okay for a while – I was a teenager and then a college student and it was after all the 1970’s – a lot of cultural change was happening and I was trying to find my way through it.
By the time I was 31 I was married with a new born baby. My husband was raised Roman Catholic, and it was important to him that we have our precious baby baptized immediately. So we entered baptism prep classes at the local Roman Church and had her baptized at six weeks of age.
By the time our son was born four years later we were active members of a neighborhood Episcopal Church, a church very different in practice than the church of my childhood. During communion, for about six months I just watched, feeling too uncertain and suspicious of the Eucharist to participate.
Finally, on Easter Day I went up for communion. The priest looked at me, hesitated a moment, and then placed the wafer in my palm with these words, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Afterward the priest approached me at coffee hour and asked me about my baptism. I responded, “My uncle immersed me into a pool of water three times and said ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” That was enough to assure the priest that, despite the fact that I was raised in the Mormon Church, my baptism was official and counted.
Baptism and Holy Communion are profoundly connected to one another in Christian faith. Baptism is the ritual that identifies us as Christian. We are baptized into the Christian family of God and Jesus. We are not baptized Episcopal or Roman Catholic or Lutheran. We are baptized Christian – that’s why my baptism, even in the Mormon Church counted. There was a big discussion by the World Council of Churches in Lima, Peru in 1982,[i] which affirmed the bond and unity of baptism for all Christians.
Each week, as we receive the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, we are reminded of our baptism and our desire to live as Jesus teaches. The Episcopal Church defines how we are to live as Christians through the baptismal covenant, which we will say shortly. Essentially living as Jesus teaches means that - with God’s help - we will care for all people, treat everyone with dignity and respect, work for justice and peace, share our resources with others and continue to learn and grow in our own faith.
What drew me to baptism and what called me back to Church after a sixteen year absence, was a desire for community. I yearned to be part of a community of people who were wrestling with the issues of life and making meaning out of the various ups and downs of life through a common set of teachings. I needed the teachings to be broad enough and expansive enough to accept my questioning heart and mind and yet anchored enough in the tradition of the church universal to give me a solid foundation from which to question and seek understanding.
My yearnings may mirror some of your own desires. Certainly my desire for community, belonging and meaning making, find cohesion in the story of Ruth and her mother in law, Naomi. Naomi’s husband has died, leaving her a widow. Her two sons have also died, leaving her daughter’s in law abandoned as well. Previously Naomi encouraged her daughter’s in law to return to their families. But in a famous passage used in many wedding ceremonies, Ruth states that Naomi is now her family and she will stay with Naomi, where ever she goes. So Naomi and Ruth return to Naomi’s homeland. There they are befriended by Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. Under the guidance of Naomi, Ruth follows the custom of the land, and is soon married to Boaz. This union affords both women a place to belong, safety and security. It further helps that Ruth has a baby boy, ensuring them both a lifetime of security. The story concludes by reminding us that Ruth’s son is the grandfather of David, who becomes the famous king of Israel. David is known in the Christian story as the ancestor of Jesus.[ii]
The story reflects the reality of women in the ancient world, unable to survive without a male family member’s protection. But more to the point the story is about family, belonging, and community – of tragedy and new life. And that is what we are doing today – baptizing two babies into the family, so that they will have a community of faith to journey with them through the ups and downs of life.
Today, in addition to baptism, we will commission a group of parishioners who, on behalf of the Vestry, are going to travel to Liberia to work out the details of how we can partner with a church in Monrovia to build an Episcopal school. This is a project of our "Undesignated Gifts Fund" grant process. These parishioners will live out their baptismal ministry in a very particular way through this journey, reminding us, that through baptism we are each, in our own way, called to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world.
[ii] Process and Faith Lectionary Commentary: http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yearb/2012-11-11/proper-27