One of the disadvantages of being flexible about baptism dates is we follow the Revised Common Lectionary – assigned readings for each Sunday. Sometimes the lessons work out, but today’s lessons are a little strange when we think about what baptizing little Nelly means. We enter the book of Job today toward the end, when after almost forty chapters of lamenting to God about Job’s suffering, God finally answers Job. And God’s answer is one of indignation –anger that Job would dare question God’s sovereignty and power. Meanwhile, in the gospel lesson, we have this odd interaction, where Jesus clearly performs a miracle, but then scolds the disciples for lacking faith.
The lessons from Job and Mark can be read with the lens of shame. Often when I teach about Job, I use Job as a model for what having an authentic relationship with God means – to bear one’s hurts and pain honestly to God is part of being faithful. But the response of Yahweh today is a response of putting Job in his place, lest he think intimacy with the Lord means equality with the Lord. Meanwhile, amid a violent storm, the disciples are terrified and cry out to Jesus. And although Jesus cares for their needs, he also scolds the disciples for their lack of faith. As the ambassador of love, this version of Jesus can make us uncomfortable – Jesus seems harsh, unforgiving, and judgmental.
So are these lessons a bust for a day like today? I do not really think so. One of the things we do in the baptism service is promise to raise Nelly in the life of faith. We commit to forming her in a faith community, to teaching her about the love and life of Jesus, and to equipping her to own her faith as she matures. She cannot make these commitments for herself, and so we – her family, her godparents, and her church community – promise to help her until she can choose her faith for herself.
Given that reality, Job suddenly seems like the perfect lesson for today. When I think to the Nelly who will experience all the pressures and anxieties of adolescence, the Nelly who will face all the doubts and questions of young adulthood, and the Nelly who will walk through grief and loss in her later adulthood, I want her to know about Job and his journey with God. I want her to know she has an ancestor who lost everything, whose friends and family judged him, and who saw no hope for a long time. I also want her to know that she can be honest and real with God, and that God will be honest and real with her – even when she needs to hear things she does not want to hear. And I want her to know there is redemption promised – something we all learn later in Job’s story.
And if we are going to raise Nelly up in the life of faith, I also want her to know about the very real relationship between the disciples and Jesus. The story we read today takes place before the disciples fully know who Jesus is. Their confusion and fear are totally normal, even if Jesus is encouraging them to have more faith. I love this text for today because the story gives Nelly permission to not have all the answers, to know she will have moments of question and doubt, and to understand that even if she has moments where she has no faith or is afraid, Jesus will calm the waters around her anyway.
Today’s lessons are a blessing for Nelly and for all of us gathered here. Although we might like to think today is about perfect pictures and white dresses, what today is really about is taking the first step in helping Nelly begin her own faith journey. Our scripture lessons remind us that the journey will be full of lows and highs, of pain and joy, of doubt and faithfulness. Our scripture lessons remind us that what we initiate today is a deep, intimate relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – one that is honest and real. And our scripture lessons remind us we are not alone – we have a community of faith to support us, help us grow, and encourage us forward. I cannot think of a better gift for Nelly – but I especially cannot think of a better gift for all of us! Thanks be to God! Amen.