Untangling the Gospel 8: Baptism

Later this morning, I will be attending the baptism of my niece, Hailee, at my parent’s church here in Cisco. We came in yesterday afternoon and enjoyed a very pleasant, quiet evening sharing a meal with my parents and catching up on each others’ lives.

I also had a chance to run late yesterday afternoon. It was a tough trek – about 96 degrees and lots of hills and difficult roads to navigate – but it was also an insightful experience.

I must have run past dozens of houses that were telling me stories about my childhood and adolescence. A place where I took piano lessons. Homes where friends lived. Homes where family friends lived. Homes where people from my small church lived out their retirement years. Homes of teachers. Homes of babysitters. Homes where I played basketball.

The funny thing was, nothing seemed to be quite right. The buildings all looked the same, to be sure, but something about 20-30 years of life changes your perspective. Some houses I recalled being much larger than they appear now. A few homes seemed larger that I remembered them. One yard in particular seems today cavernous, cool, and beautiful, but I hardly noticed it years ago. In a way, everything looked the same. In a way, it was all completely different.

I think that I’m going to have that same experience this morning at Hailee’s baptism.

That small church in Cisco is where I, too was baptized. It is also where I was married. It is also where I learned most of what I know today about the story of scripture. It also a place where we said goodbye to one of my grandparents.

It is one of the holy places in my life.

Yet, as I reflect on who I was when, at about Hailee’s age, I asked to be baptized myself, I realize that I didn’t quite see the world in general – and my baptism in particular – in the same light that I see it today.

At the time, I was more concerned with making sure that baptism was done at the right place, and with the right frame of mind, and at the right age, and with all of the right words being said. Those seemed like big, important issues to me at that age. Other things, like how baptism was a way of declaring to the world that I was a disciple of Jesus, were present – but they seemed less significant.

But – with a few more years of life behind me , and as I’ve been making my way through this tumultuous, shifting culture – things have changed. The landscape is still familiar, to be sure. Some issues look about the same today as they did around thirty years ago. But some issues that seemed gigantic to me at the time are now very small ones. And some issues that I hardly paid mind to at the time are the ones that now seem deep, inviting, and beautiful.

As I have grown, so has my view of baptism. Every year, I understand more and more of what it meant to step into those waters and declare that Jesus was Lord. I am now less concerned about whether I understood all of the right issues then, and more concerned whether I understand what my baptism means to me today.

What does it mean – here, now – to be a baptized believer, a disciple of Jesus? If scripture is challenging us to think about any one issue regarding baptism, it is this one. Focus too much on issues of infants and adults, sprinklings and emersions, and the verbal formulations that are necessary to do it “right” and you’re missing the most important point.

To be a baptized beliver – regardless of when or how it happened – is to be someone new, someone different today. It is to be moving outside of yourself and reaching out in the world. It is to be observing the life of Jesus and trying to imitate that life in your own walk.

So – what about you? What does your baptism mean to you, today? How has the landscape of your view of baptism changed over the years?

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