Preparation for a Service of the Baptismal Covenant

A Conversation about the Meaning, Symbolism and Responsibility of Baptism

One of the great privileges that I have as a United Methodist preacher is offering the sacrament of Christian baptism to individuals and families connected with the local church. I like to meet with the individual or family in advance of the service to hear their story and to share some of the meaning, significance and logistics of the service.

Meaning of Baptism

  • Baptism is a sacrament, which is is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This means that there is a physical action or elements that represent God’s work in our lives. In the United Methodist Church, there are two sacraments — baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, the other sacrament in the United Methodist Church, the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Christ and entering into a new covenant.
  • Baptism is rooted in the Bible. We see a connection in the Old Testament ritual of cleansing and renewal. The Jewish people would undergo a ritual cleansing before participating in religious ceremonies. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus himself coming to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan river.
  • Baptism is a sign of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture we read stories of God making covenants, or promises with individuals and communities — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus offers an invitation to a new covenant at the last supper. Baptism makes this real.
  • Baptism is initiation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not particular to a local congregation or denomination. You become a part of the universal church across all time and space.
  • Baptism is a signal that God’s forgiveness that is always and repeatedly available to us when we repent of our sins. For adults who are baptized, it can be a sign that all the ways that one has strayed from God’s path in the path have been forgiven. When an infant is being baptized, it can be difficult to consider that there are things which the child has said or done that are contrary to God’s dream for people. However, sin is not jus thte things that we hav done wrong, it is also the state in which we exist — it is part of our human condition.
  • Baptism is beginning of a lifetime journey of holiness. No matter the age of the person being baptized, it is not the end of a journey of faith — it is just the beginning. It is a significant milestone in our lifetime journey grow toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a commission of ministry. We are commissioned to serve God in all areas of our life, not just when we are in a particular place or around particular people.

Symbolism in the Act of Baptism

Water is the central symbol of baptism. We experience water in a variety of ways in our lives and these can give us insight into what is happening in baptism.

  • Just as there are waters at our physical birth, the water of baptism is symbolic of a spiritual new birth.
  • In the Bible, we read of the spirit of God moving across the waters and bringing order out of chaos at the very beginning of time. In a similar way, the waters of baptism can bring order out of the chaos of our lives.
  • We use water to wash and cleanse our physical bodies and the water of baptism is symbolic of our sin being washed away.

After the use of water, laying on of hands and anointing with oil symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit. We read in the Old Testament of indiviudals and holy items being anointed with oil as a sign of being set aside for God and God’s purposes.

Responsibility of Baptism

  • In addition to the meaning and symbolism of baptism, there is responsibility. Parents or guardians who are bringing a child to be baptized have the responsibility to raise the child in the faith and model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to worship, grow, give, serve and share. Part of their role is to encourage the child to, one day, claim faith for themselves.
  • Godparents, should the family chose to name them, are also taking responsibility to help raise the child in the faith and encourage them to claim faith for themselves.
  • Adults who come to be baptized have the responsibility to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ as they worship, grow, give, serve and share and seek to move toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a community event and the congregation is responsible for be active in the life of the individual and family and help her or him grow in faith. Those that have made a commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, recommit themselves to living a faithful life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much water should be used?
    • United Methodists practice sprinkling, pouring and full immersion. The water is a symbol of God’s action and the amount does not matter. Consider rings which are often exchanged as a symbol of marriage vows — a more expensive ring does not make someone “more married.” In a similar way, more water does not make someone “more baptized.”
  • Why are infants baptized?
    • As United Methodists, we believe that God is at work in our lives before we are able to recognize it. Faith is professed by the parents or guardians and promises are made to raise the child in the faith.
  • Do I need to be re-baptized?
    • No. As United Methodists, we believe that baptism is primarily God’s action. We do not practice re-baptism as we believe that God was at work in one’s baptism — no matter the age or circumstances. However, there are times in life when it is appropriate to remember your baptism or recommit yourself to living life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can create a symbolic moments in worship for these times of life that are not being baptized again.
  • Does baptism make me a member of the church?
    • Yes. In baptism, you become part of the universal church of Jesus Christ across all time and space. Adults become a Professing Member and Children a Baptized Member of the local United Methodist Church.
  • When do children claim faith for themselves?
    • There is a variety of opinions of the “age of assent” for a child to claim faith for themselves. As a church, we offer the opportunity for persons in 8th to 12th grade to an intentional time of examining their faith and the opporutnity to confirm the promises that were made on their behalf at their baptism. At confirmation, one transitions from a Baptized Member to a Professing Member of the United Methodist Church.

Conclusion

Baptism is meaningful, significant and exciting time in the life of an individual, family and local congregation. It is an honor to be part of this milestone on the journey of faith.

The Lost Son, Older Brother and Running Father

Jesus often tells parables or stories which teach us something that is true about God, about us and how God and humanity interact. Here is one of them from Luke 15.

This is the story of a man who had two sons

“The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’” This would have been what he would have received after his father died. Essentially, the son is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”

He takes this money, travels to another state and blows it all on wild living – sex, drugs, and parties. He utterly enjoys himself, until one day he realizes that he is out of money. Completely.

“When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.”

Then, he remembers that even the slaves in his Father’s house were better off than he was right then. He sets off for home with a script in mind – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.”

“So he got up and went to his father. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.” He throws a feast and a great party for this son that has returned.
His old brother complains to his father – “‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

This story paints a picture of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. The very same love and forgiveness that is available for us today.
As United Methodist Christians, we believe that God is at work in the lives of people before they recognize it. God was working in the life of the son, even at the beginning of the story when he asks his father for his share of the estate.

God loves us even when we are sinners.

God offers us forgiveness, even though we don’t deserve it.

We can decide to live as followers of Jesus or of our own way. It is that moment of clarity for the son there with the pigs. Life doesn’t have to be like this.

We confess our sins, receive forgiveness, trust in God and seek to follow Jesus. We are set free from the slavery of sin and are free to live as slaves to God. We are made right with God and begin to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Then, we seek to follow after God all of our days. We grow to perfect love of God and neighbor with the spiritual practice to worship, grow, give, serve and share. When we use these spiritual tools, we come closer and closer to God and care more deeply for our neighbor.

By God’s grace, it is possible for us to be delivered completely from slavery to sin and death and live completely as disciples of Jesus Christ. The amazing thing is that to live in this way, it takes people who know what it is like to live as slaves to sin. The only ones qualified are the ones who have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness.

The good news is that Jesus Christ sets us free from sin to live a holy life today.

The opportunity to live a holy life and to receive God’s forgiveness is available today. It is available for you and for me. All we have to do is ask.

1 Chronicles 13:8 – Worship with All Your Might

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8, NIV

Yesterday we completed a two week series at Resurrection in which we looked at what it means to worship. I found this verse to be particularly timely and inspiring in light of this series. Doing anything with all my might is pretty intense. Yet this is what we are called to do in worship and in loving God.

Psalm 71:18 – Leaving a Legacy

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come (Psalm 71:18, NIV)

This verse clearly articulates the desire to leave a legacy of faithfulness and sharing good news to the generations that are coming ahead of us. I hope that I am declaring God’s power to the next generation today as well as years from now. This is a key task for me as a father and as a pastor. I hope to do this by raising my son in the faith and being intentional about offering mentoring and guidance to those younger than me.

In what ways do you share God’s power with the next generation?

Scripture Monday – Psalm 63:1

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1, NIV).

I love the vivid description of seeking God. Thirst is powerful in a land where there is no water. I aspire to seek God in this way, but I know that it is not true for me all the time.

This weekend I had the chance to witness the baptism of my niece, Jenna. Also, my brother asked if I would be a godparent, which I am honored to be. It was a great blessing to share in the day. The waters of baptism are a sign of God’s grace and quenching of our thirst for God.

Living Without Fear in an Age of Terror

Ressurection of Jairus' daughter
Image via Wikipedia

I am preaching this Sunday at Resurrection West. I am looking forward to the opportunity to share good news with the congregation. I am particularly looking forward to it as I did not have the opportunity to preach while serving as Pastor of Resurrection Online.

We are in the middle of a series in which we are reflecting on the events of September 11, 2011 through the lens of the Christian faith. I am preaching on Living Without Fear in an Age of Terror and will be using verses from Psalm 27 and Mark 5. If you are interested, you can follow my progress in the days ahead at the Google Doc – http://j.mp/pTdEht It is pretty rough right now and won’t be in a finished form until some time Saturday night. If you take a look at it, will you please share your thoughts feelings or opinions? I would love to hear from you.

Scripture Monday – Psalm 46:1-3

Castle Mountain, Alberta, Canada
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God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV)

These powerful verses remind me of God’s providence. Lack of fear in the face of the turmoil that is described here is amazing. It reminds me that what I face day to day may not be as dire as I sometimes imagine that it is. More importantly, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Thank you, God!