Photo credit: John Rothnie (permission to reuse required)
I have been looking forward to this baptism for months. Olive is one of four babies born at Hickory Neck within a month of each other, and one of five within a five-month period. Not only did I enjoy watching Olive grow in her mom’s belly, I knew how fun welcoming her to the community would be, and especially how special her baptism would be. So when the Bauer Family finally settled on Pentecost, I was thrilled – baptizing a baby on feast day adds excitement to an already festive day.
But as the liturgy planning staff met about a month ago, I realized we may have made a huge mistake. We were talking about the needs for today, and remembered we needed to recruit all our foreign language speakers because Pentecost is the one feast of the year where we really try to simulate the experience of the historically significant day in the life of the faith. And as we were talking about rotas, translations, and participants, a sudden sense of dread hit me. “Um, Charlie?” I said. “Are you sure you want to baptize Olive on Pentecost? I mean, I love Pentecost, but, especially for strangers to our community, Pentecost is a little weird. Do you want us to just skip the whole languages part?” To his credit, Charlie didn’t hesitate. “What better day to baptize?!?” he said, as though my question were silly.
I have been encouraged by Charlie’s enthusiasm, but the more I thought about his response, the more I questioned his logic. Don’t get me wrong – I love what we do at Pentecost. Pentecost is one of the few days of the liturgical year that our scripture really comes to life. Hearing the cacophony of languages helps you to really imagine yourself there. But this is the kind of service that I would also say to first-time visitor, “Just so you know, we don’t always do this!” Because, although I love the cacophony, I wouldn’t want anyone to think today is the norm – that we always break into tongues in the service or that we always like to shock your senses. Surely if we were going to baptize Olive, we should find a tamer way to welcome her to the community, and not freak out her family and friends from all the ends of the country.
We do this all the time with Church. If we get the nerve up to ask a friend to Church, and they take us up on the offer, we want them to experience the best of Hickory Neck: a welcoming environment, beautiful liturgy, a sense of belonging, and a deep connection to the immanent and transcendent God. But just like when you introduce a new romantic interest to your family, you don’t have them meet everyone in the family at the beginning. You save crazy Uncle Joe until at least the second or third Christmas, when you know your boy or girlfriend is already in love with you enough to make allowances for the crazy in your family. The same is true for church – we would much rather you see the beauty of Hickory Neck on a regular Sunday or even on a day like Easter. There is no need for us to show you some of the really weird parts of our faith, like Pentecost, until you have at least been here for a while.
So why was Charlie so enthusiastic about bringing his extended family to celebrate baptism on this one, crazy, bizarre day in the life of the church? Was he not thinking this through? Or was he secretly hoping to ensure his family never comes back? I started working through why this might be the perfect day for a baptism, thinking through what we learn about the church and membership within. First, we learn the power of the gospel, of the good news of God in Christ, to reach all peoples, no matter who they are. Although practically speaking, today’s multilingual reading sounds jarring, what we know about this piece of scripture is that despite the din of noise, everyone heard the good news in their own language. The gospel is not limited to one group of people or to one tribe or nation; the gospel speak truth to all. Second, we learn that Jesus’ story is not just for us – Jesus’ story is for all. Up until this point in our story, Jesus has been keeping his resurrection and ascension to a limited group of people. But today, that norm implodes. Jesus’ story is no longer for those nearest and dearest to Jesus – Jesus’ story is for everyone. Third, we are reminded of our commission from Jesus – to go out into all the world, sharing the good news of God in Christ. Not just the English-speaking places, not just the places where people look and act like us, not just the places that make us comfortable. And finally, Pentecost affirms the ways in which God loves us, no matter what. No matter how loud, crazy, or chaotic our lives become, God is with us, breaking through the din of noise we create and making that noise holy.
Perhaps instead of finding the most proper, polished day to baptize a child of God, today may be the perfect day to teach us all what the life of faith is about. We all know that when our romantic interest or dear friend finally meets Crazy Uncle Joe, or finally sees us when we are sick or not looking our best, or finally realizes we have some pretty awful flaws, and LOVES US ANYWAY – those are the people we want to keep around. The same is true for those new to the church or those being initiated into the community of faith – we want you to see us on our craziest days so that you know, no matter what God loves you anyway. God sees your craziness, your chaos, those parts of yourself that you hide from others, and God not only loves you, God commissions you and makes a way you share that love to the ends of the earth.
That is what we affirm today in our baptismal covenant. Given the promise of unconditional love from God, we promise in return to live a life in accordance with that unconditional love. To seek and serve all persons, to strive for justice, to respect the dignity of every human being, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ, to resist evil and repent, and to keep coming back to the community, breaking bread and joining in the prayers. The chaos of today, the beauty of baptism today, the reminder of God’s love today are all meant to build us up so that we can get back out into the world. What better day than today to baptize?!? Amen.