What Happens at Baptism?
June 09, 2008 Length: 12:34
When we are baptized, we are made a child of God, a member of the body of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It does not happen as often as it did back when I was an Episcopalian, my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I do get that odd telephone call from some total stranger asking me to baptize the baby. My usual response runs along the following lines: “You have no idea what you are asking for, you have no idea. If you did, you wouldn’t to be asking for it. I’m signing the child up for martyrdom. This is what you want?” “No, I just want the baby named.” What we did this morning, you know, is a rather elaborate way of naming a baby.
What did we do this morning? What did we do to this poor little defenseless child? He’s wondering. We baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We made him a child of God, a child of the Father, a member of the Body of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Now let’s talk about those three things together and in succession.
He became a child of God. Now it is politically correct these days to speak of all human beings as children of God, and there’s an extremely thin line of biblical thought that may justify that. At least Paul in Acts 17:26-28 cites the poet Aratus that we are all His offspring. I wouldn’t say that’s a dominant motif in the Bible, however. The dominant motif in the Bible is that we become children of God in Christ. We pass from darkness into light. If one is running for president, one must run for president, it’s politically correct to say: “You know we’re all God’s children.”
But in fact that’s not really what Holy Scripture teaches. Holy Scripture says that God has only one child, His eternal Son, and that we become His children, not by creation, but by grace, by being incorporated into the Body of Christ. God looks down upon us and upon this little child this morning, and what He sees is Christ and He loves him as He loves Christ. Now that’s an immense amount of love, an incredible amount of love.
Does every one of us here believe that? That when He looks upon you, He looks upon me, does He love us as He loves His Son? You see if we believed that, I don’t think we would fret or worry so much as we do. Jim and I were listening to Father †Richard John Neuhaus from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, saying, you know, the conditions for eternal life are scandalously low, scandalously low. It’s all gift. It’s all gift. There’s so precious little we have to do, very little. It mainly consists in accepting the love of God, believing ourselves to be His children, and putting our trust in this Father who is described throughout the Sermon on the Mount.
If you think about the Sermon on the Mount in terms of law, and a lot of people do, then it’s a much tougher law than the Torah. But it seems to me that the dominant motif in the Sermon on the Mount is that we have a Father in heaven. Look how often the Father in heaven is spoken of. We fast, we pray, we give alms to be seen by our Father, who sees in secret. We address Him as Father. We forgive one another so that we will be forgiven by Father. Make no mistake. The Christian faith, like reality itself, is patriarchal. The arché, the principle of all things, is the Father. The fatherhood of God is not only the principle within the Divinity, it’s also the principle within Creation, and we affirm that. We affirm that as we did this morning in the Baptism and again in a little while at the Communion:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
All things pour forth from His infinite, eternal and abundant fatherhood. If you have a culture that does not even like the word father, that rebels against the notion of patriarchy, you’re not going to end up with the right God. We live in a culture in which the word patriarchy is considered bad, it’s considered an insult. I said that in an article in Touchstone sometime back, that the source of all reality is the fatherhood of God, and therefore reality itself is patriarchal.
Somebody wrote in to us, I remember reading the letter. I don’t know if we published the letter. We read the letter. This person was very, very upset. It was something along the lines of “My daddy wasn’t very nice to me. Therefore, the structure of my reality has to exclude the Father.” And for somebody like that one can feel absolutely nothing but pity, just pity that’s all you can feel. I mean genuine Christian compassion when somebody is that far, that sick, has so deep a pathology that even God has become impossible for this person.
Secondly, we are incorporated into Christ. Now first of all we joined this congregation, this congregation. We joined this parish, but we really joined the Holy Catholic Church, that’s the Church that’s described in the Nicene Creed:
And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We joined the whole Church. You know back before I did join the Orthodox Church, our family did, I really had to think in terms of congregation, the local congregation. I really had to, because conditions outside the parish were so bad. Honestly, I did not trust my bishop. I certainly did not trust the House of Bishops when they met. The faith was certainly not going to thrive while they were in session. But in the Orthodox Church it’s much clearer to me. When we joined the All Saints parish, we joined the Holy Catholic Church.
I think the Lord had it in mind to teach us that in a special way here in this parish. I was calculating the other day, you know, of the people that I have baptized and Chrismated into this parish, only between a quarter and a third are still here. Somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of all the people who have joined this parish in the last ten years are members someplace else. I can sit down and go across the map and see a president of a parish council here, a choir director there, a family here. We think beyond the borders of our own parish. It’s imperative that we do. A parish that just thinks about its own internal life and taking care of its own problems, that parish is going to die.
This is why we have sent three families to Albania, and I hope to send more in the future. To join Christ, to be united to Christ is to be united to His Body, the whole Christ, head and members. That’s why the commitment to Baptism is a commitment to one another. It’s a commitment to the social life. It’s a commitment to love and to support one another. I hate to sound like John F. Kennedy, but don’t ask what the church can do for you. Yes, do ask what the church can do for you. You’re supposed to ask what the church can do for you, but we join the Christian Church for service, for ministry, for evangelism, for the propagation of the faith and the service of our neighbor.
Thirdly, a little child this morning became the temple of the Holy Spirit. His body is a temple. How often do we think of our bodies as temples? I sometimes have to tell people this in the confessional. Your body is a temple, it’s not an amusement park. It’s not something for you to have fun with. It’s the temple of God. Do not desecrate the temple. We’d be fairly incensed if somebody came here this morning and unloaded a truckload of manure in the middle of our church. Yet I’ve seen kids in our parish put on earphones and unload a truckload of manure right into their brains. I’ve seen them do that, or they’ve told me. They sit down and watch a truckload of manure come right through their eyes on the computer or on television. Most of what can be watched on television is downright scandalous and sinful, these so-called sitcoms in which most of the humor is off-color and degrades the spirit.
See, we’re temples of the Holy Spirit, my brothers and sisters. Our bodies themselves are sacred places. Let’s treat them as sacred places. We are members of Christ. St. Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6: “Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” Your bodies do not belong to you. Your bodies belong to Christ. That’s the commitment of our baptism, to keep our very flesh pure and undefiled, to keep our minds clean and our hearts unblemished as the temple of God. Each of us is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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