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Hello, friends. I should be writing about Earth Day today, but instead I’m going to share with you this beautiful sermon by Pastor Andrew Mead, preached on April 14 at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The texts for the day were Genesis 1:26-28, Psalm 139, and 1 John 3:1-7. Also on this day, we baptized Nolan Remelts, son of Nick and Stephanie Remelts. Pastor Andrew, fitting to the 1 John text, chose to offer a sermon in the form of a letter addressed directly to little Nolan.

At a time when we wonder what the future holds for our children, this sermon offers a beautiful reflection the meaning of baptism and the transforming power of God in the life of faith. Andrew invites us all, through the texts of the day as well as numerous other scriptural texts (marked here in parentheses), to hope always in God. I hope you will receive deep encouragement from this sermon, as the congregation did on Sunday. Try replacing Nolan’s name with your own and see what happens in your spirit.

I share this with the generous permission of Pastor Andrew and the Remelts family.
— Debra Rienstra

Dear Nolan,

I’m not sure how old you’ll be when you read this. Or if you’ll ever read this. But I hope you will. And I hope it finds you when you need it most.

Today, you were baptized. Or as my three-year-old daughter Cora says, “baptatized.”

Christians are called to remember their baptism. You might wonder, “How can I remember something I don’t remember?” That’s a fair question.

I think it’s less about remembering details of this day. And more about the fact of your baptism. You have been baptized. It is now a given in your life. It’s part of the story of who Nolan is and is becoming.

That’s so much of what baptism is about: who you truly are in the light of God’s love.

Today COS listened to the First Letter of John, which is also about who we truly are in the light of God’s love.

The first word in chapter 3 is “see” or “behold” (v. 1). John shines a spotlight on the Father’s lavish love, and invites us to gaze upon it. But John uses an unusual Greek word to describe this love. John says, “See, of what country this love the Father has given us!” Of what country.

Which suggests the Father’s love is foreign to us. It’s so beyond our borders and boundaries that it belongs in another world. And yet it’s this same Love which speaks this world into being. It’s this same Love which beholds all creation and sees that it’s very good (Gen. 1:31).

There is power in seeing beyond the surface into the deep-down reality of things.

And there is power in being seen. Just as you are.

Nolan, God is the only One who sees the fullness of who you are. Who sees your goodness. Who sees your brokenness. And loves you perfectly.

In verse 2, John addresses believers as “beloved.”

As I sprinkled water over your head just minutes ago, I wasn’t simply drawing from a shallow font. I was dipping my hand into an ocean. An ocean so deep no one can plumb its depths.

This ocean of divine love is deep and wide. So wide that no one in this life has reached their farthest shore. These waters are broad enough to buoy you up wherever you go.

Even if you try to “settle as the farthest limits of the sea, even there [the Lord’s] hand will lead you and hold you fast” (Ps. 139:9-10).

Nolan, however deeply you comprehend the Father’s love, you will not reach the bottom of it. You cannot reach its farthest limits (Eph. 3:18-19).

John says we’re beloved because we’re born of God. The waters of baptism are the waters of rebirth. In baptism, the Holy Spirit births you into an eternal belonging. Baptism is your adoption ceremony. So mark this day as your second birthday. Put it in your calendar. Because as much as your family and friends sing over you on your birthday, God rejoices over you with greater gladness and louder singing in your baptism (Zeph. 3:17).

Nolan, no matter your age, you are a child of God. You belong to God and God’s covenant family.

But by the time you read this, I suspect there have been days when you feel like you don’t belong. To God. To yourself. To anyone.

If you ever feel like you don’t fit in, if you ever feel misunderstood or rejected, know that Jesus lived this, too. And Jesus lived this for you: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (v. 2).

When the fullness of God’s love arrived in Jesus Christ, most people didn’t receive him (Jn. 1:10-11). And you’ve been baptized into Christ. So when you feel alone, you’re never alone.

God’s love, God’s only Son, aren’t fully at home in this world. So neither are his children.

But baptism is also your citizenship ceremony. From this day forward, you are a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20).

Many of us wonder what it will mean to be a believer in America in the years ahead. I wonder what it will mean for you. But I hope you remember that your primary political allegiance is to Christ’s Kingdom.

John opens chapter 3 with these beautiful lines about being born of God, being beloved of God, and beholding God’s love. And then John begins to talk about sin. Which feels disjointed. But it’s fitting. Because we can’t believe our way around brokenness.

In chapter 1, John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (v. 8). But then in chapter 3 he writes, “No one who abides in [Christ] sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him” (3:6).

We have sin. And we can’t sin.
Either John is completely mixed up. Or sin itself is an impossible possibility.
It cannot be. And yet we can’t deny its effects.

Paul reminds us that the lenses of our perception dim (1 Cor. 13:12). Which is why you need Christ daily “to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). In the waters of baptism, Christ purifies us, just as he is pure (v. 3).

Nolan, I’m not sure how sin will manifest in your life, or in your lifetime. It’s something we’ve all inherited. But just because sin is inherited doesn’t mean it’s inherent.

Nolan, brokenness is not the deepest truth of your identity.
Because sin itself is rooted in deception and distortion.
Along with Adam and Eve, lies cast us off into exile.
Away from your true home with God.
Away from your true self in God.

When you sin, you act from your false self, what the Apostle Paul calls, “your old self” (Eph. 4:22). But in baptism, that old self is buried. And your new self – your true self – is raised to life with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

The waters of baptism flow from the pierced side of the crucified Christ. Nolan, your baptism is your burial. You’ve already had your funeral. Which means that your final funeral will truly be your final birth into eternal life.

John says, “what we will be has not yet been revealed” (v. 2). Which means we are still in the process of becoming.

Nolan, life in Christ is about becoming who you already are.

From your beginning, you bear the image and likeness of God. And through the love of God revealed in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, you are called to transformation, from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).

I hope your parents have read you a book entitled The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse. If you’ve never read it, you should. There’s a moment in the story when the horse says to the boy, “There’s something I haven’t told you. … I can fly. But I stopped because it made other horses jealous.” And the boy says, “Well, we love you whether you can fly or not.” And then, for the first time in the story, the horse unfurls its wings and begins to soar.

Nolan, there’s a unique glory that only you can bear into the world. You reflect God’s likeness in a way no other person before or after you can. So many voices within and without will try to conceal the purity and beauty of Christ in you. I pray that you let this light shine before others so they may see your good life and give glory to your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).

When John invites us to do “what is right” (v. 7), I think he’s inviting us into the good life. Because when our life is immersed in divine love, its currents moves us to act in ways that are true and good and beautiful.

Nolan, because you’re beheld and beloved, because you belong and are becoming, you’re free to behave in the ways of God’s kingdom.

Your baptism is also your ordination. It doesn’t mean your mom has to sew you little priestly robes as Hannah did for young Samuel.

But it does mean that in baptism, you’ve been ordained into the priestly people of God, into a priesthood of all believers, so that you will walk your pilgrim way at the intersection of heaven and earth, living between God and this world–this world God loves to the point of death on a cross (Jn. 3:16).

Nolan, you’ve inherited an earth groaning for wholeness. We have spoiled it. But God will not give up on His creation. You have the same calling as Adam and Eve: to cultivate the inherent goodness of creation. Uncovering its glory, seeking its flourishing, living in the path of peace and justice.

Nolan, in whatever work you do and wherever you go, I pray you will remember your baptism. Remember that you’ve been loved before you knew it. Remember that the Father’s love is calling you home.

Where one day, you will see God fully as you’ve been fully seen (v. 2).
One day, you will know God fully even as you’ve been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).

In God’s foreign and fantastic love,
the pastor who was blessed to baptize you,


Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.


  • Dale Wyngarden says:

    Or as our twin granddaughters called it a couple of decades ago, “Bathtized”

  • Laura de Jong says:

    This is truly beautiful.

  • Mary VanderVennen says:

    A glorious and profound meditation. Thanks to Andrew, the Remelts and Nolan, who I hope will some day post it where he can see it daily. And thank you, Debra. for sharing it with all of us.

  • Steve Wykstra says:

    Yes, there is much to be appreciated here!
    … speaking now as a struggling “half-believer”
    (like that father. who cried “help Thou my unbelief,”
    I do find part of me wanting register several points where I find myself balking,
    wondering if I am the only RJ reader who wants to dig in his heels.
    I am not, I stress, saying that a baptism homily should address these things. I am just identifying them as locations of difficulties for me, that make the troubled side of me wonder if “the Big Story” we want our youth to inhabit is a more than a story.
    1 One is this, about John: “either he’s confused or sin is an impossible possibility.”
    Impossible possibility? Impossible and possible, both? (Worse, I guess impossible and actual.)
    Is affirming a contradiction really the only way (or best way)
    to avoid dismissing John as just plain confused?
    Instead of affirming contradictions, can’t some sensible (Reformed) distinctions allow us to make sense of him?
    2. Another is the sentences about how when I sin it is my false self, not my true self. I know Paul sort of talks this way too: “no longer I , but sin that dwells in me,” and so on. I can see that way of speaking as having a place. Still, I am wary of seeing sins as coming from a false self, not my true self. I mean, the publican didn’t pray “Lord, forgive me, …it was not my true self that sinned, it was my false self.” Nor do we. Well, okay, perhaps we might put the prayer thus: “Lord, forgive me for sinning (one more damn time), and, more deeply, for failing to remember and live out my true self, which has been raised to new life in you.”
    3. I also have a hard time hearing pastors refer to Adam and Eve, again and again, without ever (so far as I am hearing) taking trouble to explain to us (and to our college students) –in the pulpit– how, if it all, they propose we put that together with evolutionary science, Back in the mid-70’s, our CRC Synod made it a confessional (or *almost* confessional?) matter to believe that the first humans did not have any biological forbears. Much later, the two Calvin religion professors tried to work hard on .coming to grips with how to re-read Genesis (taking seriously what genetics was showing about the “evolutionary bottleneck”) were severely disciplined: they had to stop publishing on the question, and one of them was basically fired. Do we have a Big Story that really makes sense here? Or are we using symbolic images that somehow feed our souls but leave our brains just sort of ….reeling.

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