June 30, 2017
I love infant baptisms. The guileless little ones “steal the show.” If the candidate vocally rebels at the imposition of the water, it’s just the blockades to the Spirit being knocked down. If the candidate happily accepts it, it’s a contented child. The minister can’t lose! Our candidate on June 25 was of the second group and charmed everyone.
I also love the fact that the gathered community is invited to join in the reaffirmation of our own baptismal promises, as in doing so we are reminded of our calling to follow the way of Jesus in our adult lives.
One of the bible readings appointed for baptism comes from the prophet Ezekiel and includes this:
From all your idols, I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25b-26)
In the ancient world, the heart was understood to be the central organ which directed the rest of the body. A heart of “stone” is lacking in compassion and holds to a rigid view of how other people ought to behave. A heart of “flesh” is abounding in compassion and reveals an inclusive vision of how other people ought to be treated.
In this context, “idols” are those ways of the world which sustain hearts of stone and prevent us from engaging in transformative growth towards proclaiming the life-giving ways of a heart of flesh. In ancient times, the baptismal party would face to the west – that is, away from Jerusalem and towards the “world” – as the vows renounced sin in all its forms. Then they turned towards the east – that is, towards the “sacred” – as the vows affirmed God’s call to us in Jesus Christ. Thus, the centrality of our turning from the destructive ways of the world towards the life giving ways of God was made visible. The root word of this “turning” may also be translated as “repenting.”
Our calling is to live in the world without becoming “of” the world’s destructive ways. There is a prayer attributed to St. Augustine which I think speaks to the depth of our need for such “repentance” as we live out our spiritual journey in this world:
O God, from whom to be turned is to fall; to whom to be turned is to rise; and in whom to stand is to abide forever. Grant us in all our duties, thy help; in all our perplexities, thy guidance; in all our dangers, thy protection; and in our sorrows, thy peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, our body and our blood, our life and our nourishment. Amen.