My first grandchild was born recently. His name is Benjamin, making him the fifth living Benjamin on my side of the family and also the fifth-generation Benjamin on my side of the family. For this child to hear himself called “Benjamin” is to know he is being called by name and that he belongs to something long-lasting and larger than himself.
Naming gains even more significance when family and friends gather at the water. “What name is given this child?” punctuates a litany of promises and assurances that will bracket his life. We promise to live faithfully so that he will know what faithful living looks like. We promise to work toward God’s justice so that he will know what justice looks like. We promise to love all our neighbors so he will know what neighbors look like. We promise to teach him that God said, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
This is not normal. Normal is to groom our children for self-sufficiency and independence. Normal is to impress upon them their uniqueness and excellence. Normal is to equip them with survival skills and educational advantages. Normal is to give them control. Baptism upsets all of this normalcy by taking away control and uniting us with a body of believers who are every bit as exceptional and worthy as we are. Not better, not worse, just called by name.
“Will you nurture this child in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example he may be guided to accept God’s grace for himself?” (Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Book of Worship).
Water is an important theme throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture use water as an image of transition and sometimes challenge, and they tie it back to God’s renewing work. Isaiah records the divine promise that God will not abandon Israel, even if they pass through trying waters—a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The psalmist declares that God’s voice covers all the waters, so nothing can come against us that is beyond God’s reach. In Acts we see the connection between baptism—passing through the water—and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is on the inclusion of the Samaritans, a group considered unclean by many but not by God. We see clearly the connection between water baptism and the Spirit in the baptism of Jesus himself.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. Isaiah presents an image of God’s favor that is at once particular and universal. How do you experience God’s love for you and for all persons as part of the body of Christ?
Read Psalm 29. God’s creation, in its wildness, incorporates destruction. In the face of disaster, how do you find a way to say, “Glory”?
Read Acts 8:14-17. Our baptism is in the name of Jesus and the name of the Spirit. To what wildness does the Spirit prompt you?
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Remember your baptism and listen for God’s call out into the wildness of the world.
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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