Grace Notes By Nancy Kennedy
It was a good day for a baptism, a warm Wednesday evening about two years ago.
Her name was Minnie and she lived by a lake. She had invited her Methodist pastor and all her friends to come to her baptism, right there at the lake where she lived.
She joked that she had a pile of rocks at the water’s edge to throw at the alligators in case they got too curious or hungry.
Thankfully, she didn’t need them.
Normally, Methodists baptize by sprinkling — so do Presbyterians — but Minnie wanted her baptism to be like the ones she remembered as a girl growing up in a small town in West Virginia where people were dunked in the river.
She couldn’t remember being baptized and couldn’t find a record of it, although she found records of everything else. Just in case she hadn’t been baptized, at 67 she wanted to make sure.
So, on that warm Wednesday evening, Minnie went under the water and came up smiling. Jesus had washed her sins away.
I remember another baptism, also about two years ago, at my church. Among those being baptized was a blond-haired little boy who looked to be about 3.
Before it was his turn, he sat next to me in the pew, “sat” being a relative, optimistic word. It’s more like he bounced and kicked and pounded on the pew. He obviously did not want to be there, waiting his turn.
The more his mom whispered frustrated threats to behave himself just a little while longer, the more he didn’t want to behave and kicked harder.
I felt for the kid. It’s not easy when you’re 3 and you would rather do anything other than sit in church and behave, even for just a little bit.
I felt for the mom. It’s not easy raising a sinner when you’re a sinner yourself.
She looked at me, embarrassed, and I whispered to her, “This is a good day for a baptism.” She smiled.
Some churches view baptism as a profession of faith, a public sign that a person vows to follow Jesus. Children can be baptized, but only if they’ve come to their own knowledge of faith.
At my church, we baptize adults and kids and babies. We believe baptism isn’t about us making a promise to follow Jesus, but God making a promise to us. Adult believers are baptized, but also kids and babies before they believe. Parents bring their children for baptism, saying, in essence, “As parents we are foul and dirty and in desperate need of the cleansing power of Jesus — and so are our children.”
That’s our promise to God — we promise to come dirty and needy.
God’s promise is to wash us and never leave us, despite our sin and weakness, to provide for us, to be faithful when we’re not and to bring us safely through life and death and unto life again.
In our catechism — a fancy word for questions and answers about biblical principles — we ask: What is baptism?
The answer: Baptism is a sacrament whereby “washing with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” is to be a “sign and seal” that we belong to Jesus, wholly and forever.
It’s no guarantee that our babies and children will want to follow Jesus; they have to make that decision on their own. But God promises to set them apart for his special favor throughout their lives.
This week we’re having a baptism at my church. It’s one of my favorite things. I like watching little boys who misbehave and then wince as the pastor pours a handful of water on top of their heads. I like watching babies who coo — or howl — shy little girls who hold onto a mother’s leg, grown men who kneel and wipe away tears because it’s so good to be washed clean.
Life gets grimy and sometimes I think the dirt and sin are winning, but then we have a baptism and I’m reminded once again that I’ve been washed. Not washed when I was baptized, but washed at the moment I first believed.
I’ve been washed and God has promised to never leave me nor forsake me no matter what, whether I’m lollygagging around, stalled in my faith or whether I’m doing well; whether I’m prayerful or prayerless, full of faith or filled with doubt.
For those whom God has washed, God accepts.
It’s a good day for a baptism.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.