O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy pride and strife, Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children nor straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom. AMEN
Bishop Thomas Ken, 1637 – 1711 inscribed on the door of St. Stephen’s Wallbrook, London
-From the Oxford Book of Prayer
In just a few minutes Miles Duncan Heyward and Michael William Washo will each be “sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” While the norm for the church is adult baptism, I love baptizing infants who have done nothing to harm anyone and nothing to earn God’s love or our love. Yet this is all about the affirmation of what is — God’s preexisting, never failing love and care for each of them.
Their baptism will not cut on a switch that makes God start to love them at that instance but affirms to all the world that God already loves Miles and that already God loves Michael. It is not fire insurance and it will not guarantee their acceptance into any of the church schools in the diocese of Virginia or the Country Club or UVA or any other institution and it will not get them a job on Wall Street.
However, in their baptism they will become fully vested members of the Body of Christ – they will not have to serve for 12 or 13 years before they can take part or prove that they are good enough to be members of the Church. They not have to prove that they understand what Holy Communion is all about to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Today at their baptism they are full members. You see, baptism is the sacrament – the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that is full inclusion into the Body of Christ with all its privileges and all it responsibilities.
The symbols we use in baptism are water, oil, candle bread and wine. I am going to tell Miles and Michael about these symbols and invite you to listen in.
With every baptism around the world whether in parish church, in tiny house church, in great cathedral, or by grandmothers in secret – water is used. By water we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Water that reminds us of the power of God at creation and the River Jordan which God’s people crossed to enter the promised land, water that Jesus was baptized in, water that Jesus calmed.
Water is the source of life – we cannot live without it.
Water links us with all others who have been baptized with Christ. Water marks our connection with the past and with Christians around the world. The waters of baptism are the source of life of community which is changed by your inclusion into it.
By the water of baptism you share the sacred stories of Christians down through the ages, becoming part of their story and allowing others to be part of yours. Miles and Michael, water is the symbol that there is love before any hurt you will ever experience and long after you are dead, there will be love.
Oil is a symbol of empowerment by which kings and prophets of Israel anointed. Even kings and queens today.
Oil is extravagant, luxurious — oil in bath water, on hands your hands and body – enriching and nourishing.
We remember the anointing of Jesus and the concern that the oil was so extravagant it could have been sold to buy food for the poor. Oil is the symbol of God’s extravagant love. Oil links us with the wider church — blessed by the bishop to use as the priest says “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit & marked as Christ’s own forever.” Whenever I go to the hospital and visit the sick or dying, I anoint them with oil and remind them that they are sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever and nothing in all creation can separate them from God’s love. They are beloved of God and nothing they can do and no place they can go will change that. Miles and Michael, there will always a place at the Lord’s table with your name on it. They will never be alone.
The Candle is of the Light of Christ – the Pascal Candle lit at the Great Vigil of Easter which transforms the darkness of the tomb. It always burns at baptisms & funerals bringing light into the darkest corners of our lives, a symbol of God’s victory over death; of God’s power to bring new life. The candle is also a reminder that we are to take the light of Christ out into the world.
Christianity is at its heart a story. It is a story with two major characters — God and humankind. It is God’s story because it is the story of God’s love. It is our story because it is a story of our response. The theme is God’s deep desire for relationship with humankind and our desperate need for relationship with God. It is a story that is filled with imagery. It is a sacred story. It is a story that is not finished for God continues to act today, in the constant unfolding of new life. God is at work in Dallas, in Orlando, in Nice, in Istanbul and in every city and town where there is strife and fear and violence.
God continues to provide us opportunities to experience God’s grace which challenges us to be God’s spirit alive in the world; commissioning us, empowering us and strengthening us to see the face of God in every face we encounter.
It is a profound privilege and an equally profound responsibility to be a community that takes baptism seriously. As we choose to welcome these children into the Body of Christ that gathers here at St. James’s, we choose to share their stories and our lives are changed.
It is our responsibility to be the voice that challenges all the voices of the world that would say to them that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not rich, pretty or strong enough, that their beliefs or family or race or gender or orientation is not good enough. Our responsibility is to pray for them and to tell them the story of Jesus and his love.
Our responsibility is to welcome them every time they enter the doors of the church and every time they come to the altar rail to share the loaf of bread and the cup of wine. Our responsibility is to challenge them and to teach them how to live the life of God’s beloved. Our responsibility to show them with our words and actions that they belong to this Body of Christ where ever they are in the world. Our responsibility is to walk with them on their journey of faith as they become the people God created them to be and to remind them that there will always be a place at the Lord’s table for them.
Our responsibility is to remind them that they are sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever and not anything in all creation can take that away from them.
Our responsibility is to offer them a space where they can grow in strength and courage to be instruments of God’s peace in this fractured world.
In the midst of the divisions, the hatred, the violence, the loss of life and the terror of these past days and weeks, I am especially grateful for the sacrament that binds us together as God’s beloved children. As my own beloved children, grandchildren, God children, the children I have baptized, those I have taught and those who I love in this parish have grown and travel beyond my ability to care for them, I am profoundly grateful for their belonging to the Body of Christ where ever they are, held in the palm of God’s hand forever.
Today as you go to the altar rail for communion, I invite you to dip your fingers into the baptismal waters and remind yourself that you too are a beloved child of God, sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever and ever.