Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
I ran across a post on social media the other day that asked for your greatest church fail. Not in the vein of what have you done to close a church, or what did you do that turned out to be a bad ministry. These were humorous posts. te times we did something in church we wished we hadn’t. One of my favorites involved a young lady who high-fived a man who had lifted his hand as she walked by. Not realizing he was in a moment of praise lifting his hands to the Lord. Stories like that.
As you can imagine, a good many of the stories involved children. Things children did or said, such as the little boy screaming “pray for me!” as his father removed him from the service for being disruptive. And some of them involved the baptism of a baby.
Infant baptism, if you want everything to go perfectly can be a risky thing. So anything can go wrong. babies crying and squirming. older siblings misbehaving. Spit up and well, other things, happening. And of course the fact the baby is completely oblivious to the theological ramifications of being wrapped in the mystery of the sacrament.
And yet all of these things are some of the exact reasons why we do Infant Baptism in the church. Before I go on, please know I am only speaking from my tradition as a United Methodist. And as a United Methodist I want to stress there is nothing magical about infant baptism. It’s perfectly fine to wait until one if of an age of accountability. But that being said, let me share why I am a proponent for infant baptism.
It’s at infant baptism we find ourselves being terribly Wesleyan in our theology. Wesley stressed Prevenient grace, the grace that “goes before”. Wesley asserted none of us come to Christ on our own. God moves first, wooing us, drawing us near. Often we are oblivious to the entire thing, much like the baby. At infant baptism we say in some way we can’t understand God loves you more than we ever will. Our love pales in comparison to the love God has for you.
Now lets’ think about that for a moment. The baby, other than being cute, as done nothing to earn God’s love. It doesn’t even know what’s going on. And yet even though the baby can give nothing back, God pours His love upon this child in a unmerited way. That’s grace.
At infant baptism the church takes responsibility for the child, knowing they will be a conduit for God’s love and grace into the child’s life. I’ll often remind the congregation that this baby will become the toddler who kicks the back of your pew and the youth that messes up the church van. And it’s OK. Our promise to share God’s love and grace still stands.
Imperfect, oblivious self-centered caring only for their own comfort. Yet at the same time loved. grace filled. Gifted with a purpose in life. That’s infant baptism. Yesterday we held a Baptismal remembrance service. The congregation came up and ok a clear stone from a bowl of water and remembered they were baptized as they pressed the stone to their forehead. I marveled at the people. Some not even in middle school. Some members of the church for 60 years. All coming down to remember. To remember that when they were at their most unlovable moment. When they were weak and powerless God still loved them. God had a plan for their lives. God knew them. Not because of anything they had done. Simply because of who God is.
We all need that type of reminder don’t we? As we move through this New year, my prayer it’s that you will remember. Remember a God who knew you before you were born and had a plan for you. Remember that God’s love and grace can’t be earned, and don’t need to be. Remember God’s grace that changes and shapes our lives. Remember, and be thankful.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><