As pastors it takes us awhile to realize not all traditions or practices will work at every church. What is done in a suburban congregation in Kalamazoo may not necessarily work in a suburban church in Lansing. What is done even in St. Joe’s may not work in Baroda. But something I experienced in Dallas, Texas, even though it was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of size, wealth, modern architecture, I was still, perhaps stubbornly so, determined to make sure it would work here.
My internship supervisor had started a tradition of praying for those whose anniversary of their baptism would happen that coming week. He wrote a special prayer that would be spoken aloud with the other prayers of the church during the worship service; a special prayer for those who may have absolutely no idea what day they were baptized years, sometimes decades before, but nevertheless they would still be prayed for that Sunday morning.
It may not seem like that big of a deal: it’s just a random prayer we speak like many others that we often just read through the words and we’ll let God take care of actually fulfilling the need. But there’s something to be said for lifting up the names of our sisters and brothers in Christ, putting them at the forefront of our heart; thanking God that they are part of our incredibly unique and amazingly special family in Christ. We give thanks to God that we actually know them, extending our heartfelt appreciation for their gifts and talents that they bring to this community of faith. We pray for their own faith, their relationship with God, whether they are the ones who show up every single Sunday or ones who hardly show up at all; because in this house of God, in this family in Christ, that baptism can never be taken away by any pastor, any congregation: that precious child of God, regardless of age, is God’s forever. They are always part of this family in Christ no matter what! So we will most certainly pray not only for the sake of those baptized we remember each week, but also for us to be reminded that they will always be our sisters and brothers in Christ. They will always be welcomed back. They will always be loved.
Now today is supposed to be the Sunday we remember when our Lord was actually baptized, as if He needed to be anyway. It’s not like it was essential for a baptism to happen before he became the Son of God, before God would claim Him for eternity; that was taken care of long before. Nevertheless, Jesus had to show the crowds; He had to show us what this whole baptism thing was going to be about for the rest of time: that the Holy Spirit would emerge into our life and take us on a journey that we most certainly couldn’t do on our own. But there’s also the part of Jesus’ baptism story that may not have happened quite the same way when any of us were baptized: when God boldly said throughout the heavens, “You are my son; with you I am well pleased!”
Except, God still finds a way to speak such love at our own baptism in just as powerful connections: when the water is poured over our head in the precious life-saving name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when the sign of the hope-fulfilling cross is made on our forehead with oil, when love-nourishing parents and godparents make the promise to raise the child in the faith that will guide them throughout their life, when, as their new joy-sustaining sisters and brothers in Christ, we offer our warmest welcome with our thunderous applause. God works through all of us to make sure that child, regardless of age, is cared for their entire life.
So, yes, we certainly pray for them, especially as the anniversary of that day comes again year-after-year. We take time to remember that day when we made a promise to God as well: to help enrich that child’s faith journey, to lift them up when they feel down (when they feel they have somehow lost their faith). We pray for them so that they will be reminded in no uncertain terms that, no matter what, God will always love them!
Because, let’s face it, this journey this Holy Spirit takes us on in this life is not always easy to say the least. There are days when many wonder if there’s a God at all with all this violence near and far away. There are evenings when we sit for dinner wondering if we made any difference at all in other’s lives. There are nights when we keep ourselves up wondering if anyone truly appreciates us, including God.
This journey we call life is not easy for anyone, so we pray for all our sisters and brothers in Christ. Every time the anniversary of their baptism comes along, we make sure they hear their name aloud, that they hear our resounding “Amen” for God to continue to bless them, to watch over them, to remind us of the precious relationship we share with them as sisters and brothers in Christ. That, in the end, we always hear the most cherished words from God regardless of what stage we are on this faith journey, no matter how much we doubt, no matter how awful we feel some days. We hear the most cherished words from God through the most precious gift of our baptism: “You are mine [forever]!” And for that, we most certainly give thanks to this God of everlasting love indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon