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She struggles to hold him still in her arms, bouncing him up and down, but he’s wiggly. He leans over and reaches for the water in the font. Muffled laughter ripples through the congregation. I smile. His parents do too. It’s a tender moment.
Pastoral ministry is hard. There are seasons when the burden is so heavy. But this vocation is also a gift, an incredible privilege where time and again you find yourself, as Eugene Peterson once said, “whipsawed between the miraculous and the messy.”
This is one of the miraculous moments. It always is, standing at the baptismal font, with parents who hand over their child to be marked as God’s own in the waters of grace. But this morning is especially a gift to me. The boy’s name is Judah, and he’s thick, solid already. Like his dad. And like his grandfather.
As I take Judah in my arms, I look out and see his grandfather sitting there in the congregation. His wife is next to him. They’ve traveled from a few hours away to be here. When I see them, when I see him, I get present to the holiness of this moment and find myself choked up.
Thirty years ago, the man sitting out in the congregation, Judah’s grandpa, introduced me to Jesus.
I remember the night so vividly. A blustery January evening in northwest Iowa. In the basement of a bank downtown Spencer. Where we met during the long winter months for a bi-weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) gathering, when it was too cold to meet outdoors in the log cabin at Oneota Park.
I didn’t grow up in the church but started attending FCA when I was a high school freshman. I loved it. The energy, the warmth, the sense of community. For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere.
Then one January evening, after our time of worship, Judah’s grandpa, Kent Prescott, stood up to share the gospel. Kent is a towering six-foot-something, with a large frame. He was in his late twenties at the time. An English teacher and varsity volleyball coach. A kind and humble man. A man deeply devoted to Christ and his kingdom.
When he stood up and shared the simple gospel message (without being simplistic), something happened within me. Something came alive. Through Kent’s kind eyes and gentle voice, through words uttered from his lips…I encountered the living Jesus. And my life was changed.
Kent was adamant that FCA was not the church, and that discipleship happens best in a local expression of the body of Christ. So I got connected with the church Kent was a part of, the only Reformed church in my town. This congregation was my entry into the RCA family, and this beloved community of people embraced me. Not only was my faith nurtured in this congregation, but God’s call to be a pastor came through them as well. All of that was then, so long ago.
Now here we are, thirty years later.
My eye catches Kent’s, as he sits there in the congregation with his wife Diane for their grandson’s baptism. Words unspoken seem to pass between us. Both of our eyes are moist.
I look at Judah’s parents, smiling nervously but also with pride. I move towards the font, with Judah in my arms. His bright face is staring up at me—that sweet, dimpled grin–and it takes everything within me to get the words out:
“It is for you, Judah, that 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.”
Yes, yes. I know it to be true. We love…because God first loved us.
Then I dip my hand in the font, and I pour water generously over Judah’s head, tufts of blond hair now matted down. His eyes open wide, shocked by the water. And I speak holy words, words of promise, over his life:
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
I don’t think I can articulate fully what this moment meant to me. I’m trying. But words fall short. So is the wild, unfathomable mystery of God’s grace. All I know is that I was caught up in a moment of such wondrous joy, a flourish of such profound gratitude, to be here at the font on this day, holding and baptizing the grandson of the man who, all those years ago, shared with me words of life. To now speak gospel words over the grandson of the man who spoke gospel words to me.
Jesus, the living Word, present in it all. Then and there. Here and now.
It is grace full circle.
And all I can do is whisper, “Thank you.”