(The followed was shared in a sermon by Rev. David Persons, January 9, 2011, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, NY)
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:17
Today several traditional churches have it designated as “Baptism of Jesus Sunday.” It has been this Sunday that the church historically recognizes the baptism of Jesus. It was also on this Sunday that many years ago, we had our four children baptized. We had recently moved to the Hamburg area, and none of our children had been baptized. Living in a mostly Roman Catholic area, our oldest daughter, eight years old, came home from school upset that she had not been baptized. Some Roman Catholic classmates had told her that unless baptized, she would die and go to hell! So to alleviate her fears, we baptized her and our other three children on this Sunday. Neither my wife nor I had grown up in a tradition which baptized babies. My wife’s father was a fundamentalist Baptist preacher and it was hard enough for our families to see us become “liberal” Presbyterians! So at least we had held off on infant baptisms!
So why do we baptized babies, or anybody for that matter? I certainly don’t believe it’s to keep us from going to hell, or anybody. I also don’t believe it’s done to wash away original sins either. Many people in the Reformed Presbyterian tradition believe that our original state is total depravity, or I guess we could say “total sin.” And I don’t believe that either.
The word “baptism” simply means to wash, or to dip, or to immerse. The symbolic meaning of baptism is simply “the beginning of awareness.” It is the beginning of the process to become aware of who we are. It is also a reminder to the parents, and to the witnesses, and ultimately to the one being baptized as an infant or even as an adult. It is the beginning of the awareness that we are loved by God, and that God is very pleased in who we are. For God looks beyond our sins or errors, and seeing only, I believe, that which is Spirit within us. He overlooks what we call sins. He certainly doesn’t require, as the traditional churches have said, the sacrifice of blood! Especially that of a human being. What a horrible and gross teaching that has been over the centuries!
The ceremony of Baptism is also a very old rite. It can be traced back 12,000 years to Egypt with the baptism of the ancient god-man Horus by Anap the Baptizer. There are many other similar baptism stories in the surrounding countries and many believe the idea came to Judaism and later to Christianity from Persia. It certainly did not originate with the early church. And in the centuries of baptismal rites prior to our story, the rituals were very similarly told with doves descending to announce blessings and the baptizers, like John, later being decapitated. But that is another discussion.
The ritual of baptism therefore is like a sacramental reminder. It is like wearing a wedding ring or a necklace. It is a reminder that God loves us, and as Jesus heard in his baptism, God is very pleased with us. It is a reminder that God sees beyond the body and all of our mental limitations. God sees us as Eternal Spirit, One with Him forever. So Baptism reminds us that God overlooks our sins which are our errors and mistakes and only sees the loving child, the Son or Daughter He made.
This concept is so important for parents, for ourselves, and especially for the one being baptized. It’s very important that children to be raised with the understanding that God loves them, and is very pleased with them. It’s part of the important training of our self image, our self-esteem, if you please. It’s an important part of our living lives of happiness, peace, and love.
This is very easy to forget as parents. Bearing a child is such an egocentric thing to do. “Look what we have done? We created this! We own them! We control them!” It is easy for us to forget that we were made in the image of God long before the worlds were ever made. Our coming to this world in a body is just part of the journey back to our eternal home. Our parents and our bodies are time bound and the short-lived. Our Spirits are eternal.
Our role as parents and as sponsors of those being baptized is to teach them, as well as ourselves, that they are loved regardless of the form that they may have. They are loved regardless of the many errors and mistakes they will make. A few days ago I saw a woman on television with her son who dresses like a woman. His is about seven or eight years old and loves to dress up in pink dresses and girls’ clothing. At first she and her husband were very dismayed; they tried to force him to wear “normal boys’ clothing.” Finally, after talking with her husband and doctors and psychiatrists (and hopefully her clergy), she decided to support him for what he was and is. She has since discovered many other parents with boys or girls with similar desires. As a parent, she wants most of all that her son to grow up to be a loving and kind person, respectful for who he is and for who others are.
Yes, we are Spirit, One with God, and with each other. And we emphasize the highest aspect of who we are, by remembering that we are love, as God, and this is our true, Higher Self. In 1987, I was on a train ride from Glasgow to Oban, Scotland. Riding along in a small train on narrow gauge rails, a mother with her little girl sat behind me. The little girl would look around the corner in my seat and stare at me. I would stop reading or looking out the windows and smile at her. She was such a cute little girl. But the mother would snatch her back into the seat and tell her not to bother me; that was a “bad little girl!” This occurred several times and finally the mother was so upset, even though I said it was quite okay. Finally the mother called her “a bad little girl who should have been a boy!” I thought to myself, “what a terrible thing to say!”
Yes, God is very pleased with us as Her creation as Spirit. And the symbol of water can be a very important one of this Spirit or some would say Soul. In ancient lore, the dove was portrayed as a star constellation in the heavens. The dove was the sign of the spirit of God pouring life into our bodies as water. After all, our bodies are composed of around 80% water. And one of the important parts of water is that it adapts to whatever form it finds itself within. It adapts to things big or small, rough or smooth, cold or hot, light or darkness. Whatever form the Spirit is within, whatever the body or wherever the place or whatever the condition, the Spirit can adapt. It adapts to health or sickness, youth or old age, being a man or a woman, a pastor or a plumber.
In the ancient Bhagavad-Gita, we read “Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. You must learn to endure fleeting things – they come and they go.” And so it is with the spirit, it goes with the flow and adapts itself to form. And it does not take the form seriously because it knows forms are short-lived.
Our goal then is to go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, wherever the Light will take us. Like a stream connected to the Great Sea of God, we keep flowing as a stream back to our Source. And the people around us, the environment around us, have a deep effect on how our flow goes.
You may have heard how water quality is deeply affected by its surroundings. A Japanese researcher named Masaru Emoto has done research on the effect of the environment to water. He came to Buffalo a few years ago to share his work. He shows how cells of water are affected by pollution, by soft classical music, and by hard rock ‘n roll music. Pictures of these water cells were amazing; the water is strongly affected by their environmental surroundings. The study of water changed. Emoto was so overwhelmed by these studies that his life is now devoted to giving lectures and workshops on living lives of peace and how important it is for our world.
Yes, peace is found in remembering who we are as One with God. There is nothing to fear, nothing to chase but to accept and remember Who we are! To live with this awareness means that we live in the Eternally Now! We learn to observe our judgments and to let them go. We learn to let the past be what it is; over and gone. We allow the future be what it is; a dream or fantasy beyond the present. By living in awareness that we are love, we learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others and to be liked clear spring water, flowing back to the Sea. Amen.