What we celebrate today . . . is the mystery of God’s grace.
Dear Rebecca Lee,
Today, my little one, you are to be baptized. You won’t remember it, and you certainly won’t understand my words or the significance of this event for a long time. And that’s OK, because what we celebrate today is a mystery beyond the full comprehension of you or me or even the greatest theologian—it is the mystery of God’s grace. No one can fully understand why God extends his love to us, except that God is love. And no one can fully comprehend the paradox of God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility. It is hard to understand the how and why of God choosing us and us responding to his gift of himself. Maybe that’s why the sacrament of baptism itself has divided even believers.
But let me tell you something about mysteries. They’re not all bad. First, they sometimes help people, like your dad, work a little harder to know God and his ways. Second, and more importantly, they help us understand that we have a God who is too big for us to contain in our minds. If we are humble enough to admit this, we may realize that we don’t even want a god we can fully comprehend. That kind of god would be too small to do us very much good at all. Finally, even though God doesn’t give us all the answers we might want, he does give us the answers that we need—the truths that we can trust in and base every decision of our lives on.
So, dear child, let me tell you what I do know is true. First, I know that baptism is about grace, and because it’s about grace, it’s not about what we do, but about what God does. That’s why all we can do is use a symbol, water, to show what God does unseen in us—He washes away our sin and unites us with Christ, both in his death and resurrection.
The fact that you, as an infant, obviously don’t understand this and can’t do anything about it for yourself only further illustrates that it’s God’s work and not ours.
Your baptism today signifies God’s claim on you as his own—a child of his covenant of grace. The apostle Paul even says you are holy. This means you are separate and special, but what does this mean for you on a practical level? It means that whether you want it or not, you will be involved in a dynamic relationship with God. If you obey and submit to God’s rule in your life, you will experience the blessings that come from that obedience, but if you rebel and seek your own way, you will experience the discipline and even pain that comes from struggling with God. Whatever happens, you can be sure that God will be persistent in calling you to confirm and claim for yourself the promises he makes to you. Not that this is anything new. God’s chosen people have struggled with him from ancient times until the present.
And that brings me to the second thing I know to be true. Again, whether you want it or not, you are part of a family of believers—a spiritual family that extends all the way back to those first men and women of faith we read about in the Old Testament, and that comes to you in the form of this church community and in particular your biological family. You come from a family that can’t even remember our first ancestor who came to saving faith in Jesus. This doesn’t have much significance in itself, except that it shows that past generations have been faithful in passing down a living faith that has survived every trouble and hardship that has come our way.
For whatever reason, God chooses to allow and even desires believers to participate in his work in this world. So, if we are faithful, we, your living family, will love you, teach you, discipline you, and most of all pray for you, so that we can show you not just a tradition or a nice way to live, but a life of active faith that fully follows the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
And so, precious baby, this morning we dedicate you and our best efforts to raise you to our God, but these promises are only a response—a response to what God has already done in the past, is doing now, and promises to do in the future. Your mother and I, of course, have hopes and dreams of a long and happy life for you, but it’s more important that God himself has hopes and dreams for you of a life that is abundant and fruitful, no matter how long or short it may be.
When Jesus was on earth, he blessed the little children. This morning I ask that this same Jesus will bless you and keep you, that he will make his face shine upon you, and that he will give you his peace—forever and ever, Amen.
With love and affection,