Today is our birthday. We say that in the Church, though perhaps this of all days it might feel incongruous with the reality of where we all are, but today is the day the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, is born into the world. In my family, when our boys are celebrating their birthdays, we like to tell the story of their birth over again. It is a good thing for them, we believe, to hear the story over and over, to be reminded of their beginning. And, just like our birth stories, which none of us could remember unless they were told to us by those who were there, the birthday of the church is a story we learn in the retelling. So too, for most of us, there is another birthing that we struggle to recall, either because we were so young when it happened, or, just as likely, we have so relegated it in its lesser importance to the recesses of memory that it just doesn’t spring to mind. I speak of course of our baptisms.
Do you remember your baptism? I certainly don’t remember mine, though as a priest I have baptism stories galore. Like the baptism of a young baby at the Anglican church near the clinic in Kayoro, Uganda, where members of our church were conscripted into service as godparents. I remember that baptism in part because we tried to sneak in unnoticed, a group of white people in rural Uganda, and sit quietly in the back row. When we did, I unceremoniously bumped the baptismal font and nearly spilled all of the water out! I remember the first baptism I ever assisted in as a soon to be seminarian, and the palpable sense of God’s power rushing into the room as the priest spoke the words of the Thanksgiving over the Water as Craig will in a moment, saying “Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior” and whoosh it was like a window opened and the wind blew in, and God was there. Or, some of you may remember Marilyn Conklin’s baptism, the first we ever did in the Mississippi River, when as we were standing there in the water and as she was being baptized, an eagle swooped down over the river like the Holy Spirit giving us a flyby. Do you remember your baptism?
Today is the baptism day for young Isadora Ruby Corrow. A little over a week ago, Izzy’s mom Sherryse shared a story on Facebook about Izzy’s older sister Ellie. I asked them if I could tell it. Ellie, it would seem, was wondering about today. So, she asked her mom, “When is Izzy’s baby shower?” Sherryse reminded her that the “shower” had already happened, of course as they do, in anticipation of Izzy’s birth. Ellie quickly responded “Oh, I mean bath-tism.” Shower, bath – birth, rebirth – it is easy to see the confusion. And part of our job as a faith community is to remember this day, when under the strangest of circumstances, in the late stages of a pandemic, we gathered via the internet and in a church building most of you haven’t entered in well over a year, to welcome baby Izzy into the household of God saying prayers that the church has spoken for thousands of years, in good times and bad, in seasons of plenty and scarcity, amid wars and plagues and pestilence, we have affirmed the claim God holds on us and now on her. Izzy, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever!” Today is your bath-tism day!
Do you remember your baptism?
Baptisms like births may not be easy to recall in our own lives, but they bear some similar markers – there is water and there is breath, and there is a power in those moments that we cannot fully explain or understand. But, struggle to understand them, we must. And, so we gather on days like today and we retell our origin stories, our beginning stories, our baptism stories. The evangelist, Luke, tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, the memorable story of the day of Pentecost, when the Church was born with an outpouring of the power of the Spirit. He writes that the disciples were all gathered in one place when a violent wind filled the house they were in, propelling them out into the street where they began to speak in languages not their own. And, remarkably, gathered in the city were Jews and others from the farthest flung regions of the known world, and they began to understand the words being spoken in their mother tongues. This is our origin story, our birth story, when the power of God moved on the followers of Jesus and made them able to proclaim a liberating word to a disparate people.
The apostle Peter is on hand, this key figure to the future of the Jesus movement, and he preaches a short sermon based on the prophet Joel. Peter is there already retelling the birth story in a way that others will understand what it means.
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
Peter reminds those who are witnessing this moment that this is about the power of God to speak through and be comprehended by all people – no matter their culture, race, language, or nation. God will pour out, he says, like the water of baptism, on all genders, young and old, slave and free. There is no boundary that can hold back the breath and wind of God, no wall that can restrain the flood of his outpouring Spirit.
And, that Spirit drives the Church, propels us who profess to follow Jesus, into the world, as agents and conduits of God’s abundant love. Next week we will gather for the first time in over a year, in the parking lot for worship. Like the disciples on Pentecost, our words about the love of God and our worship empowered by the same, will be public and on the street. That is what baptism does, by the power of the Spirit, it pushes us outward into a world that needs to see and hear of God’s abundant, immersive, outpouring of love, and how that love heals the divides in our lives. And, that is what baptism means – to be reborn by water and the Spirit, to be united in our differences, not in spite of them, not obliterating them, but in them, to be brought into unity with one another, and with God, beautiful, whole, and proclaiming in words and actions that can be heard by others who, like us, are different and yet yearning to be one, the power of God’s healing love.
Do you remember your baptism? Today, as we baptize baby Izzy, as we affirm God’s never failing, never ceasing, always and forever love, and the hold it has on her, and the power it has to work through her in a world so much in need of it, I hope you will remember your baptism, what it means. Today is our birthday, our beginning day, our baptism day.