(Here is my rough draft for this week’s sermon, enjoy and please ignore all typos)
There is a technique out there to help children learn to swim. I’m sorry, not children, little tiny babies. It is designed for families who have a pool and small children. It is a survival technique so that those who have pool can rest a little easier that if for whatever reason the child falls in without their parents knowledge that the baby can survive. There are videos up on YouTube showing this technique and it is amazing. Those infants, those babies under a year old, will be basically thrown in a pool and then they float to the top, flip over, and float with their heads above water. It is one of the scariest and unnerving videos I have ever watched. The first time I watched one Dean was about a year old and that night I couldn’t sleep because the image of this baby in the water, looking like he was almost drowning was stuck in my head. The video went on for about ten minutes and the baby simply floated and was fine. There was an adult right outside of the camera and all I could think of was pick the kid up, grab that baby and take it out of the water. Are you crazy!!!
There is a pretty famous study that came out of San Francisco about children and expectations. The study proved that you can have a smarter child, it all depends on your expectations as a parent. In this study, “All the children in one San Francisco grade school were given a standard I.Q. test at the beginning of the school year. The teachers were told the test could predict which students could be expected to have a spurt of academic and intellectual functioning. The researchers then drew names out of a hat and told the teachers that these were the children who had displayed a high potential for improvement. Naturally, the teachers thought they had been selected because of their test performance and began treating these children as special children.
And the most amazing thing happened — First graders whose teachers expected them to advance intellectually jumped 27.4 points, and the second grade spurters increased on the average 16.5 points more than their peers. One little Latin-American child who had been classified as mentally [disabled] with an I.Q. of 61, scored 106 after his selection as a late bloomer.”
“Eliza Doolittle says in My Fair Lady, “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” You see, how a child is treated has a lot to do with how that child sees herself and ultimately behaves. If a child is treated as a slow learner and you don’t expect much, the child shrugs her shoulders and says, “Why should I try, nobody thinks I can do it anyway!” And she gives up. But if you look at that child as someone who has more potential than she will ever be able to develop, you will challenge that child, work with her through discouragement, and find ways to explain concepts so the child can understand. You won’t mind investing time in the child because you know your investment is going to pay off! And the result? It does!”
There are moments in our lives as parents that we have to ‘let go’ of our children and let them do something on their own. I remember the look on my parent’s faces as they said goodbye and drove away leaving me at my first day of college. There is a great commercial out there where a three year old is sitting behind the wheel having a conversation with her father. The father is rattling off all this precautions and directions about driving. You are wondering what a three year old is doing behind the wheel until the last shot of the commercial comes and the three year old turns into a sixteen year old. You realize the three year old is the way the father sees his daughter. In reality she is sixteen and driving away for the first time. For those of you parents who have lived through that moment I am sure you can relate and know the fear and hesitation in a parent when their child takes off driving alone for the first time. I am not looking forward to that moment.
Some recent colleges are stating that parents are having a harder time letting go than in past generations. This is going to sound really funny to me as these words leave my mouth, “When I was in college,” the only way we could call home was doing so long distance from the phone in our dorm room. Way back then cell phones came in a bag and weighed the same as a brick. I had a calling card that I used to call home. If I wanted to talk to my parents or better yet if my parents wanted to talk to me they had to catch me in my dorm room. If I was out all they could do was leave me a message to call them back. Now with cell phones being attached to our ears and thumbs parents can contact their college kid and ask how they are doing, how the test went, how the date with that girl they asked out went, how they slept last night or what they ate for breakfast. We the ever present cell phone and texting parents are not letting go of their children which some people in higher education say limits the college student’s development into an independent person.
But they are our kids. These are the children we raised since birth. As my screen saver plays through all the pictures I have of Dean and Campbell throughout their lives, each one brings back distinct memories and feelings. I can see Dean as eleven months old taking his first steps in the kitchen of the parsonage. Or Campbell taking her 10:30 nap on my chest every evening in her first few months. But I also remember one of the most spiritual moments I have ever had in my life, when I placed water on both of their heads and said the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Each time I had to muster up all the strength in my soul to force those words out of my mouth.
We were reading Dean’s Bible this week and as I was flipping through it I asked him if he wanted to read the stories that we would be doing here in worship this week. He agreed and we read the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and then we read the story of Jesus’ baptism. At the end of each story in his Bible there are some questions to take the story farther. The questions he was supposed to ask were, “Are you baptized? Do you know anyone who was baptized? If you were baptized as a baby ask someone to tell you the story.” I asked him if he was baptized or not and he said no. I said, yes you were. I baptized you when you were a baby, like I do with other babies of the church. I told him about the water I placed on his head and the words that choked out of my mouth. I said “I promised God that as you grew up I would teach you to follow him in his ways.” He laid his five year old head on my shoulder and said, “Oh.”
Turn to page 35 in your hymnal. On the top of the page it says in red, the pastor addresses the congregation. I think we forget or maybe simply take for granted the role the congregation plays in the act of baptism. There is so much happening in this sacrament that sometimes this can be lost. Before the water is poured and prayed over the minister asks the parents and congregation if they are willing to nurture this child and help them grow to know Christ someday. Both the parents and congregation agree.
What struck me as I prepared this sermon was the act that follows all the prayers and the blessing over the water. It is suttle and I never thought about it until now, but what happens after the prayer over the water is said. I hold out my hands and ask for the child. Or I ask the confirmand or adult to kneel. In that moment the baby is taken away from the parents. The confirmand steps away from the parents. The adult steps away from his loved ones and stands alone. Parents have to let go. Adults have to let go. And in that moment we are reminded of the independence of that person, that person’s individuality.
Our Book of Discipline explains baptism like this, “Baptism is God’s gift of unmerited grace through the Holy Spirit. It is incorporation into Christ which marks the entrance of each person into the church and its ministry.” When we participate in this sacrament we are opening ourselves to accept “God’s unfailing grace.” No matter if we are a baby, a pre-teen or a full fledge adult we acknowledge that God’s grace has and will be in our lives. We are reminded that we are not our own but we are God’s and we are part of God’s family now. God does not have grandchildren but claims every generation, ever person as his child, his very own son or daughter. Through the sacrament of baptism he looks at each one of us and echoes his phrase he said the day his son was baptized. “This is my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In this sacrament we, the Church, promise that “we will surround these person with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God and be found faithful in their service to others.” We are let go and free to move into right relationship with God with the help of our loving family of faith. We are freed from original sin in order to move into a deep, committed live that looks like the life of our Lord and Savior. As parents we are entrusting the care, the nurturing, and ownership of our child to the greater Church. Every baby baptized in this congregation is no longer just the child of the parents but our child who we promised to raise.
Joe and Chris are starting their first semester of college tomorrow. Both kind of dragged their feet until they were pushed by people in this congregation to sign up and go to college. That is living into the promise of their baptisms. As we celebrate the life of Helen this week we surround her family and her with our love as we live into the promise that was made at her baptism. These are ways that we take our promise seriously and live into it
The joy found in the gift of baptism is knowing that at some point God looked at each one of us and let us go as we put on flesh and were birthed into the world. He looks at us, children born through water and the spirit, and calls us his own. As we let the baptismal waters drip down our heads or after we come up out of the water ourselves God looks down and smiles because another one of his children are home.
Today during communion you will have a chance to remember your own baptism. After receiving communion you are invited to make your way to the baptismal font where I will dip my thumb into the blessed water and place the sign of the cross on your forehead. It is a reminder that through these waters we are no longer our own, but through the grace of God we are called a child of God and we are loved.
And all God’s people said…Amen.