St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
Trinity Sunday (May 22, 2016)
Galatians 3:26-29 – “The Truest Thing about You”
You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
Today we are going to baptize 3 young people. And it might not look like much. A ritual. Some promises made. A splash of water. A few paragraphs of liturgy. It’s deceivingly small and simple.
I’ve gotten to do some really interesting baptisms. Right before I announced to my last church in that I was leaving for Tucson, I was on a mission trip to some mountain villages in Haiti. The parish priest (this was an Episcopal church) said I could preach and “help with the baptisms.” That’s baptisms, with an “s.” “Oh good,” I thought, “I’ll get to hold a couple of really cute Haitian babies!” Try over dozens and dozens of people coming forward, less than half of them infants, and me having to say the baptismal formula in French! My friend Rob counted 63 people!
My first baptism was of a man named Rod Bittner. Rod was 95 when he decided to make the commitment. 95 years old, a survivor of Pearl Harbor and the beaches of Normandy, and a lifelong churchgoer. So, I asked him, “Why were you never baptized?” To which he replied, “I guess I just never thought about it.” I kept going, “Why would you want to do it now, after all these years?” I’ll never forget what he said. “Anything that’ll help me be a better person.” At 95!
What else could unite the Owen family, 63 Haitians, or a 95 year old veteran? What else could tie together billions of people across different beliefs and times and cultures? It’s deceivingly small and simple, yet Baptism makes a profound claim: this is the truest thing about you. You are a child of God. You belong to Christ. You are of infinite worth to the Creator. Your dignity is God-given. In Paul’s words, in the imagery of the Old Testament, “you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” You. Me. Them. Everybody.
It’s our joy and responsibility to remind these children of that, in big ways and smalls ways. We’ll promise to remind them that their children of God. We’ll tell them Sunday after Sunday in that refrain, “God loves you… and so do we!” We’ll volunteer in their Sunday School classes from time to time. We’ll reassure them of that truth when they make mistakes. We will remind them of that when they celebrate milestones. Even in intangible ways, as a church , as a community, we will be a vessel through which God shapes them into the people they are called to be.
When the world tries to box them by certain labels–you know the ones–you are what you do for a living; you are your past; you are defined by what you cannot do; you are less than,” we’ll remind them what the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female… you belong to Christ.”
Baptism is deceivingly small and simple. There’s a church in Detroit that surrounds their baptismal font with stacks of water bottles. Stacks and stacks of water bottles. You may have heard in the news about all the problems in Detroit. The city skirts around the edges of financial oblivion. Things are getting worse for Detroit’s poorer citizens. A state-appointed emergency manager: “mandated that the city’s water department raise rates and embark on a shutoff campaign for all residents who were two months behind on their bills. An estimated 26,500 homes were disconnected last year. City records show that a third of all residential water accounts in Detroit—68,000 out of 200,000—are at least 60 days past due.” You can probably guess which demographics are disproportionately affected by this… And then there’s the water crisis in Flint, just northwest of Detroit. Entire communities drinking dirty water, and children even getting lead poisoning because of gross mismanagement of water supply. People across the world have been shipping water to people in Flint just so they can survive.
So these water bottles in the church in Detroit represent what the “powers and principalities” say about who people are. They symbolize a claim that the world makes: “You are expendable. You are less worthy than those with privilege and resources.”
The font, however, stakes a different claim. Baptism is deceivingly small and simple, but expresses a radical truth that can define your life and the lives of others. Believe it or not, it’s the truest thing about you.