Baptized by the Red Sea

When I asked my pastor for a couple of simple books to help me break down (or introduce me to) sacramental theology, the first thing she told me to purchase was the study guide to By Water and the Spirit, as written by Gayle Carlton Fenton.  It fleshes out the official UMC document on baptism, also called By Water and the Spirit, as adopted by the 1996 General Conference as a way to firmly establish, and reclaim, the Wesleyan way of baptism.

As I've pondered through this resource, I've found my mind blown over and over again.  In a blessed way.

First is to realize that there's no true way to completely understand the mysteries of the sacraments   We journey with the sacraments of baptism and communion, as they are points where the Spirit (whether we're open or not) will enter and begin a change.  Whereas there's an awful lot we can do to offer our thanks and praise up to God, Wesley viewed the sacrament as reflected in his Anglican roots "that a sacrament is 'an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."  So, God is at work in the sacraments.  And we join with God in them.

As the document and the book dive further into baptism's rich history in the Christian church, we find that it's truer roots are in our Jewish heritage, well before Christ was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Of the pictures of baptism (water as a change agent in the Word) in the Old Testament, the one that rocked my world the most has to be this:
Other biblical accounts associate water with other salvation themes present in baptism.  The Hebrew people were freed from their slavery in Egypt by God's action, which enabled them to escape through the sea (Exodus 14:19-31).  So, baptism is liberation from sin.  (page 19, By Water and the Spirit Study Guide)

On one side of the Red Sea the Hebrews are a nation of slaves.  On the other side the Hebrew nation is on their way to God's Promised Land.

On one side is their old way of life.  On the other side freedom in the Lord.

But, they have to get across first.  So what does God do?  He parts the sea, and the Hebrews run to the other side, chased by Pharoah's army - chased by their old life.

Grace was offered to the Israelites as they stepped out in faith to cross that body of water.  Can you imagine that?  The sea wasn't dried up - it surrounded them on either side as they ran.  No doubt they were afraid, but also no doubt that they pushed through with faith in the Lord.

The people of Israel needed a new start, God made that new start happen.  Crazy awesome.

Baptizing My Boy

Yesterday was an amazing day, an occasion my wife and I had been waiting for for what felt like an eternity. 

We baptized our son. 

I use the term 'we' loosely, though.  The Holy Spirit does the baptizing.  But, as parents we did answer this question from our pastor in the affirmative:
Will you nurture this child is Christ's holy church and that by your teaching and example he may be quided to accept God's grace for himself, to profess his faith openly and to lead a Christian life? 
We formed a pretty serious covenant yesterday with God, in front of our church as witness, raise our son in the church.  Which brings me to my favorite part of the UMC baptism liturgy, where the congregation covenants with us.  It goes something like this:

Pastor:  Do you as Christ's body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?

People:  We do.

Pastor:  Will you nurture one another in Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?

People:  With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according tot he example of Christ.  We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his trust of God, and be found faithful in his service to others.  We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks the way that leads to life.

So, not only have my wife, myself, and my family formed a covenant to raise my son to walk the Christian walk, but now the church body, our faith family, have joined in that covenant with us to look after our boy.

I don't know how often the people pay attention to the words we put in the bulletin, the nuance that my pastors and I weave in to get the message across on any given Sunday.  I know that some get it, and I think most people under the surface get it.  But my deepest prayer after the beautiful service we had yesterday was that the words of promise we spoke together at my son's baptism will be taken to heart by every one present. 

If the first gift that Jesus gave us is our salvation through belief, the second must be family.  Christ's body, the church, is a great big family.  And I'm glad to have my son welcomed to be part of it.