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Wednesday
Jan232019

Baptism of Our Savior - January 13, 2019 - The Rev. Matthew Stewart

(On this Sunday, Wells William Hardie-Futrell was baptized. The sermon is a letter for Wells.)


Dear Wells William,


You were baptized at St. James Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 13, 2019. You were nine months old and looked quite sharp in your white shirt and striped dress pants. And you were your typical charming, smiling, engaging self, and your parents and family were there looking on adoringly.


In the church service, your parents and godparent made promises to put you in situations and communities that would encourage you to grow spiritually as well as emotionally and physically. And then the moment came for your baptism. We all marched over to the large baptismal font and there you were baptized. I got to hold you in my arms and pour water on your forehead saying, “Wells William, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” After that, I was given a special type of holy oil called chrism, and I anointed you, putting the oil on your forehead in the shape of a cross saying, “Wells William, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever.”


You might wonder, Wells, as you get older, what was the point of it? Why get baptized? Very good questions.


For starters, baptism is about joining a faith community, the church. So, it makes sense to talk about just what your parents got you into; what church really is.

       

Now, God's church is full of people and we're not any better than anyone else. We make mistakes. We don't have all the answers. We try to be hospitable to each other and to our neighbors but sometimes we do fail. And sometimes we even hurt each other by accident or on purpose. None of us are perfect. Wells, you didn’t join the perfect community.

       

And, on top of that, there are sacrifices that need to be made as a baptized member of the church. Being part of the church means being at worship on Sundays. Worshipping together is an important part of how Christians grow in faith. This might mean you miss out on other opportunities, like sleeping in or playing sports that meet on Sunday mornings. And, furthermore, baptized Christians need to make sacrifices all throughout the week, not just on Sundays. Jesus calls us to follow him at all times. In the Episcopal church, we articulate these responsibilities in the Baptismal Covenant. That set of promises says we need to make time during the week for prayer and for studying the Bible. That we need to admit when we make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. That we need to proclaim to other people God's goodness even if we feel embarrassed about it. That we need to put others before ourselves as if we were their servant. That we need to work in our world to make it a place of justice and peace for all people. That we need to make choices that put the protection of Mother Earth over our own wants and needs. It’s quite a high calling. Jesus asks quite a bit of his baptized people. All of us, at one time or another, will wonder if it's worth the cost. All of us, at times, think about giving it up.

       

But, Wells, what we Christians find is that, ultimately, it is worth it. That the benefits of the baptized life far outweigh the costs. First of all, when you're part of the church, you find you have a whole additional family-- your church family. Now, like any other family, there will be difficult and awkward moments. But, overall, like most families, the church is a place where we do love each other. A place where we care for one another. A place where we support each other in hard times and laugh together in good times. Wells, in the church, you gained a family to love and support you, and help you grow closer to God and to mature into the person God wants you to be.


And further, baptism is more than just about the community of God you joined. It’s also about your own relationship with God. On the day you were baptized, the church heard the story of when Jesus was baptized. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’" (Luke 3:21-22) A lot happens in those two verses. First of all, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit is many things but it is, in part, the power of God. What gave Jesus the ability to do amazing things. Then this voice of God from heaven says that Jesus is beloved and that God is pleased with him.

In Jesus’s baptism, he got power to do whatever he needed to do, and the encouragement of knowing that God loved him and was pleased with him.


Wells, baptism is the same exact thing for you. In it, we know that God gives you the ability to do anything you need to do. And, in it, God tells you how much God loves you and how much God is pleased with you. Sometimes in life we don’t think we can do it. Sometimes in life we feel alone or unloved. Sometimes we get down on ourselves. But God never gets down on us. God never leaves us alone. God never gives us things to do that we can’t do. Wells, God gives you the power to do more than you think you can. Wells, God loves you more than you can imagine no matter what mistakes you might make. Wells, God is absolutely well-pleased with you. God thinks you are amazing. Never forget that.


With delight and excitement at the amazing person you are now and the amazing person you will grow up to be,

(The Rev'd) Matthew Stewart and the whole community of St. James’s Episcopal Church