Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Ps. 50:1-8,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40
16. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17. learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
18. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Let us pray…
Two weeks ago I met my fellow climbers in Seattle before we set off to climb Mt. Rainier. Four of our team were women & as we introduced ourselves I learned that they were friends who had decided to do the Climb together. These women are all educators, either teachers or administrators.
On the way to Mt. Rainier, they spoke in the van about the challenges of being teachers. One story in particular I remember: One day in class one little boy dropped his pants in the middle of the classroom & proceeded to poop on the floor. And it wasn’t as if the he didn’t know any better. He knew what he was doing. As he squatted, he looked his teacher in the eye with a look that said, What are you gonna do about it?
In preparation for this day, I met with the family of Samantha, who will be baptized here this morning, a couple of weeks ago. As we looked over the order for baptism they expressed concern about the language we use that implies that this baby—or any baby—has sin. Well, unlike that little boy who defiantly did what he wanted, knowing it was wrong, babies have no concept of right or wrong. When they poop or cry or eat or sleep—which is pretty much all they do—they’re just being babies, doing what’s necessary to grow. There’s no sin in that!
On the other hand, even in their innocence the seeds of sin are there. When we’re born, not knowing any better, each of us believes that we are the center of the universe. When little Samantha came into the world, eventually she opened her eyes & saw Mom & Dad. But she didn’t know who they are or what they are. She thought they’re part of her. Only gradually do babies learn that, Oh! Mom & Dad are separate from me.
All of us follow a long & painful process of learning that we are not the center of the universe. In fact, the persistent belief that the world revolves around “me” never completely disappears.
It’s only been less than 600 years since science showed us that the earth is not the center of the universe. But over the years we’ve discovered that not even our solar system is at the center. Our sun is only one of billions of stars in our galaxy. And our galaxy is only one of billions in the universe. And yet, for all that, even in the 21st century we still tend to believe that we human beings are the only intelligent life in the universe.
We are born into this world believing that the world revolves around us. That belief is tough to shake, even for adults.
“Hands off my loot; it’s my money!” Or, it’s my race, my country, my religion that’s most important. Sounds a little like “MINE!”–the cry of a two year-old, don’t you think? And out of these attitudes arise racism, nationalism, homophobia, & just plain old greed. We put ourselves & our self-interest at the center of the universe, without regard to the value of others, & even without asking what God might have to say about it.
We don’t see this ugliness in the beauty of a newborn child. But all of these adult problems have their deepest roots in our earliest belief that we are the center of the universe. The seeds of these things—even in baby Samantha—are already there.
Which brings us to baptism.
In Holy Baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin & death by joining us to the death & resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are born children of a fallen humanity; in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God & inheritors of eternal life.
As our scriptures teach, we were created in the image of God, & God is love: complete, sacrificial, self-giving love. We remember our true identity at baptism when we say that we are reborn children of God. For those who are baptized, God’s expansive love for all people sets the standard & not the conviction that our beliefs or our group or our values are the center of the universe.
In today’s first reading we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:
16. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17. learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Baptism is not magic. And it’s not a free pass through the “pearly gates.” To be washed—to be baptized—is to make a statement about who we are. The goal of baptism is to remember where the center of the universe is. It’s God, & surprisingly, God is revealed in scripture & in life not so much among the rich, or the powerful—sometimes, not even the religious. No, God is revealed again & again among the weak & the powerless, among those at the bottom rungs of the social ladder—which is a great reason to baptize infants! If God is revealed most powerfully among the powerless & vulnerable, they will have our attention & be the focus of our energy. They will be our teachers.
David & Teresa, Steve & Victoria, Don & Janet, Angie & Nina–& all the rest of us—we’re on the hook! The ball is in our court. As she grows, Samantha will have moments when she is selfish & defiant. God forbid, but she may have moments when she’s as naughty as that little boy pooping on the classroom floor. But we have the power & responsibility to set an alternative example for her. It is we who will shape her attitudes & worldview. It is we who largely will determine whether she continues to believe that she is the center of the universe, or, that she is created in the image of a gracious God–for whom she will give her life away in service– for the sake of the world .