St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Baptism of Hazel Teresa Fleming
by The Rev. John C. Morris
(Romans 6:3-5, Mark 10:13-16)
Garrison Keillor tells the story of a small town in Minnesota in which all the inhabitants were Roman Catholic, except one. Ole was a Lutheran. The other people in town wanted Ole to convert to Roman Catholicism, partly because they wanted to whole town to be in the same denomination and partly because they were frustrated on Fridays when they were all required to eat fish and Ole was merrily cooking his steak or hamburgers or venison.
Eventually, Ole decided to become a Roman Catholic. When it was time for his baptism, the priest said, “Ole, you were born a Lutheran; you were reared a Lutheran, and now……” (water is sprinkled on Ole and the priest makes the sign of the cross over him) “……you are a Catholic.”
The following Friday, the town’s inhabitants were glad to know that they would all be eating fish, but then they smelled something suspicious in Ole’s back yard. There he was, happily grilling venison on his charcoal stove. His neighbor went to the fence between their yards and listened carefully to what Ole was saying. After a few minutes, the neighbor heard Ole say, “You were born a deer; your were raised a deer, and now……” (Ole sprinkled some water on the venison and made the sign of the cross over the venison) “….you are a walleye!”
That’s a nice piece of magic that Ole did in his backyard—turning deer meat into fish.
That story helps us to remember that indeed Baptism is NOT a magic act. I am no magician. I have nothing up my sleeve. I am not performing any tricks here today.
It’s interesting to note that there is a theory that the magician’s words “Hocus Pocus” derive from the Latin Mass in which the priest would say “Hoc est corpus” (This is my body) at a key moment. All too often, religion and magic get confused with each other. But Baptism is not magic.
Baptism is not primarily about one “magic” moment. The focus is primarily on the future. For example, note the tense in the verbs in the questions I will be asking the parents and godparents: “Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?” “Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?”
These questions are about the future. What are your intentions? What is your commitment to this child in the future? What kind of environment will you create for Hazel?
But then we go deeper. This is not just abut the parents and godparents. The whole congregation is asked, “Will you who witness there vows do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ?”
We are not spectators here. We are key participants. We are part of Hazel’s future support system. At its best, a congregation provides ongoing support for people so they can continue their baptismal living and, as we heard in the Second Reading (Romans 6:4), “walk in newness of live.”
Hazel isn’t even walking yet, but that’s a good symbol for the fact that we all are committing ourselves to helping her walk when she is ready. We might help her walk physically (her sister Evelyn took some of her first steps here at St. Martin’s two years ago!), but we will definitely help her walk spiritually. All of us need ongoing support in our spiritual walking. We hope that support will come from being part of the life of a parish like St. Martin’s.
Let’s switch metaphors for a moment—from walking to bike riding. Two of our parish children—Karina Ricker and Thomas Payton—have recently learned to ride a bike. It’s a major life transition for them. Interestingly, our recent General Convention approved the publication of a new booklet of prayers for people at all stages of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and “elderhood.” This is part of our effort to create an environment of prayer so that our whole life is lived in the prayerfulness. Whether we are young or old (and Jesus, in today’s Gospel, was very clear about the importance of including children in our faith communities—“Let the children come…..”), we are called by our Baptismal Covenant to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” That is our commitment to creating a strong and supportive parish community in which we can call walk—and ride bikes—in newness of life.
By virtue of our Baptism, we are all Ministers. That’s what our sign out on the lawn says (with some prompting by our Bishop two months ago who wondered why just my name appeared on the sign!). Our new parish welcome brochure makes the same statement, as does the “identification card” that some of us carry in our wallets. We claim our identity as ministers of Christ in the world and stewards of all that God has given us. We are a community of ministers and stewards. And it is into that community that we welcome Hazel today.
Let’s return to the bike riding metaphor. A good metaphor for the Christian community might be the Tour de France. Whom do you think of when you think of the Tour do France?
Lance Armstrong, of course. (Does anyone have on a Live Strong bracelet? At least one person.)
The surprising thing about the Tour de France is that it is a team sport. Regardless of how much of a superstar athlete Lance Armstrong is, he would never have been able to succeed as well as he did without his teammates. Some of them would ride ahead of him to allow him to “draft” behind them as they cut down on the wind resistance for him. Some of them would set the pace for him, then drop back. Some of them would ride near him to protect him from falling or collisions.
That is what happens in the church when it is at its best. We are supported and surrounded so that we can live out our Baptismal Covenant. In this “race,” everyone gets to wear not a yellow jersey (like the Tour de France winner), but “white jerseys”—our baptismal gowns (Hazel’s has been worn by four generations!), the white gowns in which we are baptized and which, according to Scripture, will be given us at the end of our lives when we move into the larger life of God.
So, let’s get on with welcoming Hazel into this new life.