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As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, there are few things that I truly completely love and enjoy as much as the celebration of baptism. And to be fair, it’s not just a minister thing; I betcha’ congregations on a whole agree that celebrating baptism is a highlight of their life together. Which is another aspect of baptism, that “life together” part, that is so central to the sacrament. At first glance it may seem opposite of what one might expect, with some Christian traditions stressing so strongly the individualistic nature of baptism. But it is not so with the Reformed. For while baptism is indeed very personal, it is just as importantly a corporate and communal act. Perhaps even more so!?
The RCA Order of Worship for the sacrament of baptism proclaims:
Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s promises to this covenant people.In baptism God promises by grace alone:to forgive our sins;to adopt us into the Body of Christ, the Church;to send the Holy Spirit daily to renew and cleanse us;and to resurrect us to eternal life.
It’s the covenantal nature and the emphasis on “the Body of Christ, the Church” that strikes me as so radical in this day and age. To imagine, that when we find our identity as being found in God—or more precisely, God the ultimate initiator first finding us—we are also bound to sisters and brothers in the faith, covenantally so, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The most beautiful line of our RCA liturgy may well be the following which is usually said during the baptism of infants and children, but I say it with adults as well because it is just as powerful and true then (and brings tears to my eyes every time it is spoken):
“For you Jesus Christ came into the world;for you he died and for you he conquered death;All this he did for you, little one,though you know nothing of it as yet.We love because God first loved us.
But there’s an earlier phrase, a question actually, asked during the profession of faith after the initial questions to the candidate or parents and before all profess the Apostles Creed. In this question the congregation is asked to stand and to be not merely “spectators” to the person being baptized but participants in the sacrament. The church is asked,
Do you promise to love, encourage, and supportthese brothers and sistersby teaching the gospel of God’s love,by being an example of Christian faith and character, andby giving the strong support of God’s familyin fellowship, prayer, and service?
And the Church is to respond:
Maybe some see this as a perfunctory act? It is not! It is deeply rooted in who we are and what we believe. And again, radical, even counter-cultural to be so committed “to love, encourage, and support” our sisters and brothers. But what does this love, encouragement, and support really look like, and I’m thinking especially as it relates to children who are baptized in the faith? Certainly it depends as it is often contextual to the particular persons, congregation, and communities involved. We share our Christian faith, and prayer, and service. But how else? Various Christian traditions and practices use the term Godparent for those persons who provide love, encouragement, and support to a specific child and their spiritual life and formation. Broadly and specifically speaking, that is precisely what the congregation becomes: Godparents. They become godparents specifically in the ways of church life and fellowship. But they also are godparents in the way that they support those children broadly, in the kind of world those children are growing up in, and the ways the larger church lives into the Reign of God.
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and one area—obviously there can be many—of application of that broad baptismal covenantal godparent role: bullying as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. Not everyone who reads the Twelve or who are connected to our Reformed churches and our different denominations are in agreement about the place and role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the full ministry and mission of the church. We may disagree in the way that we read scripture, ordination to office, and celebration of marriage. Nevertheless, our churches—the RCA, CRC, and PCUSA—have spoken out against harassment and injustice to LGBT persons. Further, it is usually understood that we in the church are against bullying of youth.
But today in particular I want to remind us of our participation in baptism and our role of being godparents to kids in our congregations and in the wider church and of the need to stand against bullying and perpetuating fear. Further, to remember that we do not view the world as an “us and them” but that, especially in and as the church, we see a common identity first as sisters and brothers in faith, of fellow baptized believers; and as such, we love, encourage, and support one another.
Today, the civil rights organization GLAAD is sponsoring what they are calling Spirit Day as a day of support as they describe it,
Millions wear purple on Spirit Day in a stand against bullying and to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Getting involved is easy: Wear purple or go purple online on October 17th and help create a world in which LGBT youth are celebrated and accepted for who they are.
I’m wearing purple and I support them.
But more importantly, I wonder about the Spirit, not the one they are speaking of but the one whom the church is given and in whom we find our being. I wonder about the role of the church on a day like today. And I wonder about the youth and where they will find love, encouragement, and support.