Rev. Dianne O’Connell
First Congregational Church

November 14, 2010

 

BAPTISM:  Accepting God’s Rite

Mark Twain once said,

"Children are God's way of saying
He wants the world to go on."

 

 

In every culture, in every corner of the world, the birth of a child is a holy happening. In every culture, there is a welcoming ceremony, a cleansing ceremony, a protective ceremony, in which the family and the community together promise to claim the child as their own, to provide for its physical and emotional well-being, and to provide instruction in the ways and beliefs of the community.

In today's culture, our "community,” our “village,” is often one based not so much on geography, but rather on friendship and mutual support. Such a community has gathered here today to participate in the baptism of Rachel Meyers.  Rachel is nine years old. Just a few weeks ago, she asked her parents why it was that only babies were “christened,” and could she be christened. They had to stop and think.  Their other children had been baptized, why hadn’t Rachel been baptized yet? There was no particular reason, they told me, so if there was no particular reason, I figure I get to make one up.

I’d like to think that Rachel’s baptism was delayed until just the right community, including all these wonderful family members, could be gathered to welcome Rachel and pledge, with her, to care for and guide each other on their Christian journey as a family, and as members of the Family of God.

Her baptism comes at a good time for us as a congregation, too, a time when we are can re-think the promises that were made on our behalf at the time of our own baptisms, and the promises and commitments we have made ourselves since that time, both to God and to this church community.

As each one of you already know, baptism is one of the two sacraments of the Congregational Church, the other is Holy Communion.  Jesus Christ very specifically directed us to observe these rites, “Go Forth and Baptize!” he told his disciples, and later, “Eat! Drink! Do this in Remembrance of Me.”

Over the intervening 2,000 years, our interpretations of these Christian observances have changed and developed.  Some Christians believe that a person’s soul can not be “saved,” if you will, unless that individual has been baptized. Water first, God’s saving love second.  Other Christians believe quite differently.  God’s love for us has and always will exist. God’s love comes first. Baptism, for us, is the sign and symbol of our accepting that love, believing that it does, indeed, mean “Even me!”  Rachel’s membership card in the Family of God has always been there, but now she claims it for her own.  As she does this, may we each re-commit ourselves to the on-going spiritual journey that a life in Christ represents.

Communion, our second sacrament, is a gift from God given to feed us on that spiritual journey, to reassure us that we are not alone, that we have a spiritual family to travel with, and that God, as head of that family, will always be with us and part of us on that trip.  Communion provides periodic checkpoints where spiritual strength and encouragement is served up to the hungry and thirsty traveler.

Again, interpretations have varied over the centuries about the particulars of exactly what happens during the sacrament of Communion, but for me, the miracle is that all over the world, through generation after generation, we continue to gather together, to eat together, to remember our God together, and to ask the Lord’s blessing for our lives.

The Latin word sacramentum means "a sign of the sacred." So sacraments are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, significant and important for Christians. They are special occasions for experiencing God's saving presence. God’s grace in our lives.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about Congregationalists it is that you – we – believe strongly in each person’s right to interpret spiritual matters, spiritual truths, in our own way, based in our own reflection and experience.  This is quite true for our individual understandings of baptism and communion.   But the gift from God is that while we have the right to go it alone, we don’t have to, not always anyway. 

My remarks today will be short. Sometimes we absorb understanding, even a sense of holiness and grace from listening to the spoken word. Other times, more happens by engaging in the experience together.

Would the Meyers Family like to come forward?  And the chair of our Board of Deacons, Verona Gentry?

Rachel Meyers, her family, and Deacon Verona Gentry

THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

The Words of Institution

And Jesus taught them saying: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord alone. You shall love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your might. These words which I command you shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall speak of them when you are in your home, when you are walking, when you are resting, and when you are rising in the morning.”

And, in the gospel according to Mark we read: “In that hour they came to Jesus and asked, “Who is in the kingdom of God.”  And Jesus called to him a child and said, “I say to you unless you turn and become little children you shall in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. And whosoever shall receive a child in my name, receives me.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them.

The Meaning of Baptism

In this service of baptism we declare our faith in the universal care of God.  We recognize this child as God’s own. We publicly name her as belonging to the great family of God and we receive her into the care of this Church.

Rachel is nine-years-old, somewhere between childhood and the age of discretion.  She, herself, has requested baptism, so she is affirming her wishes here today, as well.

To the Parents

Michael and Donna, do you sincerely desire Rachel to be baptized? (We do)

Do you promise to teach Rachel the way of righteousness, goodness, and truth; to set before Rachel a good example; to pray with her and for her; nurturing her in the love of God and the care of her neighbor? (We do)

To Rachel

Rachel, do you desire to be baptized?  (Yes)

And do you know that you are a Child of God and do you wish to learn more about God’s love and his will for your life?  (Yes)

To the God Parents/Deacon

Sonia D. Meyers, sister and godmother;

Lucas P. Meyers, brother and godfather, (unable to be present)

Verona Gentry, Chair, Board of Deacons.

Do you who represent this Congregation and you who stand as sponsors of this child promise to provide Rachel with a godly example, to pray for this family as well as for Rachel, and to exemplify the Christian life?  (We do)

God grant to all of you the grace to act upon the promises you have made.

The Act of Baptism

By what names shall this child be called?

RACHEL MARIE MEYERS

Rachel Marie, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Prayer of Consecration

Almighty God, we thank you for receiving this child into the company of your Son’s people. We commend Rachel to your loving care. Help those who have promised to love, care for, and guide Rachel, to keep the vows that they have made and faithfully teach the lessons of our faith. Strengthen this family in the bonds of love; guide them in the way of trust and responsibility and let their counsel to their child be wise.

Members’ Commitment

Deacon Verona Gentry:

Dearly beloved, this family needs our prayers and our support. Every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, it gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ. If you are a member of this congregation or any Christian communion, please rise.

Rev. O’Connell:

It takes the entire Christian Church to raise a Christian child in this world. Would you promise, on behalf of this Congregational Christian Church, and the Church universal, to do all you can to live a Christian life so that this child and any child you might have the privilege to influence, might see Christ in you?  (We do)

The Giving of Gifts

Deacon Verona Gentry:

This Bible is given to you Rachel in the hope that you read it, discuss its meaning with your family and others whom you trust, and that it will be a guide and a blessing to you throughout your life.

This certificate is a record of your baptism.

Rev. O’Connell:

On behalf of our congregation, Miss Verona and I offer you both the Right Hand of Fellowship as well as a hug.

The Blessing

Rachel Marie Meyers, by this act of baptism we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life. This is the beginning of God’s experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we do not know. Where God will take you, or how God will surprise you, we cannot be sure. This we do know. And this is my blessing to you – God loves you and is always with you. Amen.

Let us welcome Rachel with the singing of the Baptismal song.  The words are on the insert in your bulletin, sung to the tune of Morning Has Broken.

Family Members

Michael and Donna Meyers, father and mother

Nicole L. Meyers, sister

Sonia D. Meyers, sister and godmother

India Ellison, Sonia's daughter

Lucas R. Meyers, brother and godfather

Kailee Meyers, Lucas' wife

Aubrey Meyers, Lucas and Kailee's daughter

Wyatt Meyers, Lucas and Kailee's son

 

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

The Invitation

In the baptism of Rachel, we have asked the Holy Spirit to use water to make visible the grace, forgiveness, and presence of God in Christ.  In the sacrament of communion we are asking the Holy Spirit to use bread, and wine to make God’s grace, forgiveness and presence more visible and real to us.

The table is ready. All are welcome, saints and sinners, seekers and believers.  This table is set for all those who seek the presence of God in their lives. Again, all are welcome.

The communion meal recalls the fellowship Jesus shared with his disciples, in particular the Last Supper on the night before his death, but also his appearances to the disciples during meals following his resurrection. The re-enactment of these Biblical events has been central to our Church's worship life through our history. And we celebrate them again today.

As we distribute the bread, please hold it until all are served.  We will then eat together as a symbol of our community. You may drink the wine when you receive it, as a symbol of our individual relationships with God.

Let us remember the life and promises of our Lord with these words:

Words of Institution

The Lord Jesus, on the night before he died, took bread,
and after giving thanks to God,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying
:

Take, eat.
This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.

In the same way he took the cup, saying:
This is the cup of the new covenant,

a contract between you and me,
your sins are forgiven, I will be with you always
When you drink of this cup,

remember my promises, and
do this in remembrance of me.

Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the saving grace of the risen Lord,
until he comes again.

The gifts of God for the people of God.

Closing Prayer

We give thanks, O God, that you have reached out to us in love.  You have refreshed us at your table, touched our deepest needs, and called us to a life shared in memory and hope.  Send us forth with courage and joy in the name of Jesus Christ, that we, too, may become bread and peace – and More Light -- for one another and the world.  Amen.

Closing Hymn“I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”                                            

Benediction                                                                                       

May the Lord bless us and keep us; Make his face to shine upon us;

Be gracious unto us; and bring us peace, understanding,

and a renewed commitment  to our journey together.  Amen.

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