At the Baptism for Daniel Kaimalino O Hawaii Hauanio - January 11, 2015
There is a great cartoon by Cuyler Black. It shows a kid holding a dripping wet cat over a washtub. Near him is an equally wet bird and a soaked dog. A voice from the other room says “Honey! For the last time, stop doing that to the pets!” The cartoon is titled: “John the Baptist as a kid.”
Sometimes I wonder what John the Baptist was like as a kid. Or for that matter Jesus? What was he like as a kid?
So was John the kid who not only played by the rules on the playground but protested when he thought the rules weren’t being followed? I wonder if he liked structured games or inventive play? Did he go off by himself in the woods for long periods of time? Did he like dressing differently than the other kids at school? When other kids had PB&J for lunch, did he eat bugs? If he had them, would John the Baptist have worn blinky shoes? Who knows?
Every Christmas and Advent, we hear a lot about Jesus’ nativity and a very little bit about John the Baptist’s. That’s because we really don’t know very much about their childhoods. Luke’s Gospel tells us that John is Jesus’ cousin and that his parents were very old. And that’s pretty much it about John. We have only two stories from Jesus’ childhood…the visitors who came when he was an infant—some scholars think he might have been as old as two when the Magi finally showed up—and we hear that he was a precocious kid who could teach experienced rabbis a thing or two.
In any event, it is easy to imagine John’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph for that matter, asking themselves “how will this kid turn out?”
If you think about it, what we are doing in baptizing Daniel is nothing short of audacious and a little bit risky.
Have you ever noticed that the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer is mainly for grownups? The expectation in the Episcopal Church is that baptism is mostly for adult converts to the Christian faith. The paragraphs about infants and young children appear as exceptions—special cases. But in real life we do the exceptional thing most often and the normative thing only occasionally.
So why not wait? Why not wait until the child is old enough to decide for themselves? Why not make all baptisms adult baptisms? Some Christian traditions believe that and act on it. But they face the same challenge we face: can a Christian household raise Christian children? Can children be a complete part of Christ’s Church? And can children exhibit holiness and experience God in their lives?
We believe the answer to all those questions is an emphatic “yes!” Christian households can and do raise Christian children. Children can and do experience the holy. Children can and do take complete part in the life of Christian community.
Some people hold off any Christian or religious formation until, they think the children can decide for themselves. God can do anything and we have here many people who were raised in non-religious households who have an amazingly energetic faith—but here’s why I think that if you have the chance to raise your kid in the faith you should go for it with gusto.
How can children decide on something like their spiritual and religious lives if they have nothing to compare it with? Teaching them from your faith tradition gives a grounding and a baseline from which they can compare experiences.
Waiting sends the message that spirituality is not very important or that at best our faith is a secondary issue, akin maybe to a hobby.
But there’s more. Do we wait to teach our children other life skills until they need them? Imagine holding off teaching arithmetic until they are old enough to have a checkbook? Or reading until they are old enough to work? Or manners and self-care until they have to live on their own and can make up their own minds?
No, the reality is that we share our experience, teach them the joy and wonder of learning early so that it is part and parcel of their lives. Children live to learn. They vacuum of knowledge like little dust-busters. This goes for things spiritual and religious as well.
Beside, like it or not, we can’t hold back from teaching our kids ethics and values—including spirituality and what we believe about our place in the universe— because we do it all the time! Every single day! Kids watch and take in everything we do—and they take from that what we believe, how judge good from evil, and what values we bring to our relationships. They see how we make rules…and break them. They see how we treat people, about listen to how we talk about those who differ from us. They know what scares us and empowers us. Your home is the most important Sunday school they will ever know. It’s built in to what it means to be family.
Here’s the rub. Along all the other things we don’t automatically know how to do when we become parents, we do not know how to enter into a spiritual journey with our children.
If I am not so hot on prayer, how can I teach my kid to pray? If my faith is sometimes shaky—sometimes I wonder if I even have faith—how then can I teach my kids about faith? If I don’t know Bible stories, how can I teach them? Wouldn’t that make me some kind of hypocrite? Actually, no. What that makes you is a fellow-traveler.
The point is not perfect mastery of the information; the point is that you and your children are walking the life of faith together. You are entering a spiritual journey together.
By bringing Daniel for baptism, just as you did when you brought Lexi, you are entering into a spiritual journey where you are not only helping them in their formation, they are forming you. And you are bringing them into a community of fellow travelers. Places like Trinity are probably one of the last places left in our culture where people of different generations and where people with and without children all willingly come together in one place, routinely. All of us--parents and singles, grandparents and couples without kids--all of us come together to do the same thing: we discover, share, and learn God’s love. Together we live Good News and tell each other—and the world—what we have seen and heard.When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River just before Jesus came along, he was telling people that to really get the most out of their life of faith they had to get involved with their own faithfulness. He baptized because he was telling everyone that the spiritual life is not something that happens to you but something you do. God wants our participation. God wants us in the game.
As the cartoon on the back our bulletin says, Jesus was baptized so that we would know that he is taking on everything that life brings. This will eventually lead him to the wilderness for testing, into people's lives where he will meet people's suffering, to the places where he will teach and even to the cross. His baptism tells us that Jesus lived life by total immersion. Our baptisms is the beginning of life lived in total immersion!
In bringing our children before God in the community of God’s people, we are also bringing ourselves. By participating with our kids in our mutual spiritual lives-- bringing them to church and worshiping with them, by receiving communion together, by taking time to pray before meals (even in the fast-food place), by allowing questions to be asked and, when we have to, by allowing ourselves the grace to say “I don’t know, I’m still working on that one…” and by working through the hard questions and hard choice together--we will discover that God is involved in every aspect of our living …good and bad, fun and routine, hard and easy.Just like our children, we are on a spiritual journey of discovery. Our children invite us to take the time to play and pray so that we may discover how to follow Jesus in all that life brings.