We baptized my second daughter last Saturday.
Baptism is kind of a funny thing, huh? We dip ourselves into tap water, say a few words invoking an invisible God and with water streaming from our eyes proclaim ourselves clean. We just want to be clean. Clean of what? Clean of sin is usually the answer.
Sin, that three letter word.
Sin, that thing some think must have been created by God. If it’s part of the programming, is sin a feature or a bug? And if it’s the former, why God, why? And if it’s the latter, is baptism the patch and God the frantic developer?
Sin, that thing some people think is simply inherent in Creation. And so, a God who creates must deal in oppositions and where there is life, there must be death, where there is joy, there must be sorrow, where there is purity, there must be also be pollution. I used to think this, I used to see the world in binary oppositions. But it’s not quite the whole picture, is it?
Life leads to death, but death also yields life - on forest floors and in our hearts. And not to get all Inside Out on us, but Joy is held together by threads of sorrow. Sorrow doesn’t compete with joy, it completes it. Joy without sorrow is just happiness. Happiness is the stuff of Disney, Joy is the stuff of eternity. And purity? Well, nothing is really pure is it? Everything is made of something else. Each little and big object appearing solid while really composed of millions just barely touching, bouncing atoms and then topped as many reaching, breaching microbes. A table is like this, we are too.
So what then of sin? If it is not merely utilitarian opposition, then what does it complete? Where does it lead us? I think there are many answers to that question, but today we’re talking of baptism and I think baptism is one of those many answers. The baptism waters require sin. Sin leads us to baptism. And once there does baptism clean us of sin? Maybe. But only if sin is so much less than we’ve made it out to be. Something that can be wiped off our surfaces, rather than something embedded in mortality. Despite our obsession with cleanliness, it’s not a scouring we’re after here, it’s liberation. Does baptism liberate us from sin? I think so. But only if sin is so much more than we’ve made it out to be. Something that co-exists with us and God and Christ and requires intervention from us all.
Is sin as a burden the thing I want my daughter, or any of us, to know when our, eyes are still dripping with the baptism water? No. Not really.
So what do I want my daughter to know when she looks back to her father pressing her under the baptism waters?
I want her to know that creation is made of a thousand million trillion different bouncing parts barely touching, topped with microbes and only giving a sense of solidity. I want her to know she is part of this Creation and God is too. I want her to know that when she dips every part of her under that water, that God accepts every part of her. I want her to know that every part of her is made to accept every part of God. I want her to know that Christ died for her, not so her sins could be scrubbed from her skin till she’s raw, but so that sin - that thing which is so much more than doing wrong, that thing that is not Spirit - can be transmuted and transformed into something holy. I want her to know that she hasn’t joined a church, she’s joined the Body of Christ. And that the Body of Christ is not meant to just transform her, it’s meant to help her remember to transform the lives of others. That she is obligated to feed the hungry, mourn with those that mourn, keep families together, seek God and spread hope.
And what of this church, this imperfect institution that housed the waters we covered her in? What do I want her to know about it? I want her to know that it, like her, like God, like a table, is made of a hundred million different buzzing parts, barely touching, topped with microbes and only offering a sense of solidity. And as long as she can find Christ in the better portion of those bouncing bits? As long as they are stable enough to bear her as she presses her hands and feet and heart against them as she scrambles to eternity? This can be the place she seeks Him.
And if ever she feels herself falling through our church, if the atoms that compose this place no longer work together to hold her up? I want her to know that while these walls of our faith can contain Christ, they do not restrain Him. That He is anywhere her faith can carry Him. That her baptism belongs - not to me, but to her, not to a church, but to Christ, not to this world, but the next.
And I want her to know that if someday these living waters don’t give her life? If Christ and God and eternity don’t have a place in her head or heart? That my love for her is as powerful as the God I’ve given her. That I am the kind of parent I’ve taught her God is. And that I will always walk with her even if she chooses to walk apart from Them. (Of course, I’m quite sure God will do the same for all of us...and that we’ll all...every faith, every people, walk together when the day is done. But I’ll not bother her with my certainty, I’ll only rejoice in it. Sometimes I wonder if this is like God too.)