Over the years, I’ve developed a little tradition of writing a letter to the child or children being baptized as the sermon on that Sunday. I’ll be sharing some of these letters here on the blog of the Reformed Journal in the next few Sundays. This letter to Noah dates back to 2003.
Today, you are being baptized. Today, you are becoming a part of the visible church on earth. Today, Noah, as you and your parents come forward, with the whole church, we will publicly acknowledge your identity and destiny as a child of God, as one of God’s beloved ones.
Actually all of us gathered here today will acknowledge this wonderful truth for ourselves. We belong to God. As the baptismal liturgy will say in a little while, “Noah James, it was for you that Jesus Christ came into the world; for you he died and for you he conquered death. Yes, for you, little one, you who know nothing of it as yet. We love God because God first loved us.”
Today, Noah, you will pass through the waters. I chuckle to think of it, for your biblical ancestor – the one whose name you bear – also passed through the waters. When God sent a great flood upon the earth – to rid it of evil and wickedness, to cleanse creation, Noah and his family and the animals on the ark, were spared and saved. They were kept safe and became the seed for a new community.
After Noah and his family had been in the ark through all those days of deluge and flood, the scriptures tell us “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 8:1) Your baptism Noah is a sign that God remembers you. God knows you – as God knew you from the foundation of the world.
Noah, you will find times when you think that God has forgotten you. Such is the way it is when hardships bear down on us, when we encounter the meanness of other people, when we get caught and tangled in the webs of our own sin and scheming, or when we face illness or death. At times like that, when you think that you’ve been forgotten, Noah, keep in mind that your baptism means that God always remembers you.
The story of Noah and the ark is a favorite for so many people. How many children’s books and toys, how much art has been inspired by the winsome story of all those animals in the ark. Perhaps we forget, or too easily overlook the fact that the story is also full of judgment and death. Clouds, rain, floods, drowning. All of that was followed by the ark, the dove, and the rainbow. Do you see though, how death and destruction come before redemption and new life?
Today Noah, you are joining the company of those who have pledged and been pledged to follow in the footsteps of the one who was crucified, died, yet rose again. You were bought at a price. And that price was the rejection, suffering, and death of the Son of God. That price was the cross. It is no light matter. You are being called into a costly discipleship. As Jesus said, “pick up your cross and follow me.” It will require all the faith, hope and love you have.
You may not understand it now, but someday maybe you will. In our baptisms, we confront the worst things – floods and destruction, sin and death. Scripture tells us that in our baptisms we are buried with Christ in his death, so that we may also be raised to the power of new life, like his.
That’s right little Noah – in baptism you are called to die to your sin, to your old self, to the evil in the world – so that the life you now live, Christ may live it in you.
All of this may sound harsh and difficult. And you will probably not understand this for many years. But don’t be afraid, Noah. God is gracious and will carry you even through this. God will give you the strength, the ability, and the grace to fulfill the promises that are made for you this day. One thing you discover when you’ve lived long enough is that it’s all grace.
Finally, Noah, your baptism is not about you alone. In your baptism you are entering the community of faith called the Church. The original Noah was not alone, but on the ark with his family and all the different animals.
Today your parents and sisters stand with you. Your extended family is here. And this community called Second Reformed Church will make promises on behalf of you. They will promise to nurture you, to care for you, and to teach you about this great God whom we serve.
The ark was never a solitary place for just Noah to be safe, to float peacefully above all the waves and troubles. Come to think of it, the ark must have been noisy and smelly and full of commotion, with all of those creatures finding refuge in it. Can you imagine the donkeys braying, the tigers roaring, the elephants swaying the boat, and the mice scurrying about?
Early Christians used the image of the ark as an image for the Church. The Church is the community of people who have been called together and saved by God through the waters of baptism. That doesn’t mean that our life together is always quiet and serene on board – or that it smells good! Today, we officially welcome you on board! Get ready to sail with us!
Noah James, child of the covenant, in baptism you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever. My prayer is that someday, you will come to know and own this for yourself.