Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
It’s such a simple thing, in a way. A bowl of water. A small splash on the forehead. But this simple act you’ve witnessed today is actually one of the biggest things we do, as a church. For hiding just below that small bowl of water you see before you in the baptismal font is a mighty fountain of significance. And to borrow a phrase from a favorite church song I learned as a child, it’s a fountain flowing both deep and wide.
Its width may already be clear to you, for we emphasized in the words we spoke together a few moments ago that Jericho has become part of the worldwide church. The Apostle’s Creed reminds us that every baptism into any congregation is at the same time a baptism into the one church family that stretches across time and around the globe. Jericho is now part of the church-with-a-Capital-C. (When we talk about the holy catholic church, incidentally, that’s catholic with a small c, catholic literally meaning universal, so we’re talking about the universal church in that creed, not the particular Roman Catholic branch of the church.) In other words, the way in which Jericho was baptized this morning – both the water we used and the words we said – unite him with Christians around the world, and they also bind him to that great cloud of witnesses that has gone ahead of him in faith. He will never be alone as runs the race that is set before him, for he is surrounded and supported by saints of God from every nation and every generation.
The breadth and width of the baptismal waters has local significance as well. For everything we do together as a church really has its start right here at the font.
In our tradition we can baptize at any age, from the youngest infants to the oldest adults. For an adult, for instance, or for teenager who has grown up in the church and is ready to make his own decision to be a follower of Jesus, baptism reminds us that God’s gift of grace calls for a response of faithfulness. And today, as we baptize a small child, the very same sacrament reminds us that God’s love claims us before we are ever able to respond in faith. After all, Jericho has years ahead of him to decide what to do about the fact that he’s been baptized. But what a wonderful reminder for all of us, meanwhile, that we don’t actually need to do a thing to earn God’s love. We are welcomed by God and by God’s people without a single prerequisite, and assured that we belong.
And baptism in a local church is not simply about an individual child belonging to a church family. It is also about a church family’s responsibility to that child. Just as Jane and Jarrad, James and June represented Jericho’s biological family today and promised to help raise him in faith, the rest of us made promises too. We promised to love, encourage, and support Jericho, to share the good news of the gospel with him, and to help him know and follow Jesus. This invests with tremendous meaning everything we do as a local church, because everything we do helps us fulfill those promises. Not only every minute spent teaching Sunday School, but every coat of paint added to enhance a children’s classroom, every interview to staff the church nursery or hire a new youth director as we hope to do later this year, every kid friendly mission project, every opportunity for our children and youth to serve as worship leaders, every prayer offered for our church kids, every friendly conversation in coffee hour that shows we’re taking a real interest in their lives, even the care packages we send each year to our college students – all of it helps us live into the promises we’ve just made as we celebrated Jericho’s baptism today.
So again, it may seem a simple thing. A bowl and a pitcher. A splash of water on a forehead. But this simple act is one of the biggest things we do, as a church.
And when we chose to live into our baptism as individuals, we find that it has incredible depth to it too, this fountain of water, as well as width or breadth. Our congregation’s mission statement talks about the church offering a well of faith and renewal. So I invite you to imagine today that this small bowl of water sits at the top of a deep well, or pool, and that dipping hands and heads in here is an invitation to dive ever deeper into the substance of our faith.
For at its heart, baptism is not only an act of the church, both global and local. It is also an act with great meaning for individual Christians, should we choose to live into our baptisms by responding to God’s grace and seeking to live in God’s way. Once marked as a child of God in baptism, we are invited to remember always that we are God’s own. In every moment and every situation life sends our way, we can recall we have been baptized – whether sprinkled, splashed, or dunked – and claimed as God’s beloved. And who among us doesn’t need those reminders from time to time? To help us keep our bearings, when times are hard. To remind us who and whose we are, when temptation strikes. To motivate us toward greater generosity when it would be all too easy to be selfish. To bring us comfort, when we are faced with tragedy.
Both of our Scripture texts for this morning were selected by Jarrad and Jane as verses they hope will guide Jericho throughout his life. From Proverbs, the call to seek out wisdom and understanding, accompanied by the reminder that the Lord is at his side. And from the first chapter of the book of Joshua, words of encouragement originally given to Joshua himself as he assumed the mantle of leadership from his predecessor Moses: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The Lord at our side. God with us wherever we go.
In baptism we are marked – did you hear it? – marked as Christ’s own forever, and forever is quite a long time, as it turns out. Today this sweet child of God is an almost-one-year-old birthday boy. But someday he will be a 5 or 6-year-old ball of energy bounding off to his first day of kindergarten. And someday that same smile that can light up a room will be found on the face of a teenager holding his first set of car keys in his hand. And someday Jericho will be a young man eagerly heading off to college, or nervously interviewing for his first job. He will remain God’s beloved, he will remain Christ’s own in each and every one of those moments, just as we all are. And if he stands in a church like this one to be married someday, or becomes a dad himself, he may take comfort in reminders that his journey of faith had its start here, in a small act of great depth. Even when he takes his final breath, he will belong to the God who loves him in life, in death, in life beyond death. If raised to understand the importance of this simple act we have celebrated with him today, Jericho can find joy and comfort in his baptism his whole life long. Just as he can find strength and courage in these biblical promises that the Lord is by his side, that God is with him wherever he goes.
Again, it may seem a simple thing – a pitcher, a bowl of water, a little one having fun splashing around in the font. But baptism is one of the most important things we do in the church. For that fountain flows both deep and wide. Wide enough to bind us to a local community of faith, and to Christians around the world. Deep enough to offer us a well of faith and renewal our whole lives long. Amen.