Rev. Megan L. Castellan
June 16, 2019
Trinity Sunday, Year C
So, one of the classics, in the genre of Arguments Protestants Have, is who should get baptized?
Protestantism has lots of classic arguments like this: things like how much water should you use for a baptism, and whether wine is allowable at communion, and how often you should have communion?
For the most part, Episcopalians, because we are really neither partisan Catholics nor partisan Protestants, sit these debates out, but from time to time, we do enter in the debate over Who Should Be Baptized?
The argument goes as follows: there are some, mostly of a Protestant-y bent, who argue that only those who can adequately profess faith in Jesus Christ should be baptized—the doctrine called Believer’s Baptism. So, children should wait until they hit the age of being able to decide for themselves before they get baptized.
It’s not a half-bad idea—it’s good for people to choose for themselves something this important. That adds weight to it.
And, this also moves baptism towards being an affirmative choice. Baptism, when its chosen by the person themselves, becomes something they want to do, a sort of life they want to lead, and less about fire insurance.
So, believer’s baptism is great! Fine idea.
Though, it is worth saying that confining baptism to JUST people who can make that choice for themselves leads you to some odd places. For one thing, it’s not always as easy as you would think to figure out who can make a profession of faith that “counts.” My best friend, growing up, was Southern Baptist, and her little sister has Down’s Syndrome. The church they went to had a hard time figuring out if Kara, the sister, could be baptized—even though Kara was a dedicated Sunday School attendee, and proficient in every Bible song they taught.
And what counts as an adequate confession? There are parts of the faith that I, after years of dedicated study, cannot explain to you with full confidence. I don’t have the 39 Articles memorized, nor the Athenasian Creed. And while I do delight in explicating the conflicts of the Nicene Councils, it is quite possible that I get it wrong. So does that invalidate my baptism?
All of which is to say, infant baptism remains in vogue (and a good thing as we’re going to be baptizing a baby here in a few hours/moments.)
The thing about infant baptism is that it has nothing to do with the baby. The baby, delightful as they are, are not expected to do or say anything, and is not even expected to even refrain from crying. There is absolutely nothing the baby can do to either encourage or discourage the process. The baby just has to be.
Meanwhile, the community of faith comes together and does this immense thing on the child’s behalf—the parents and godparents make huge promises, the gathered Body of Christ promises to help too, and all of us know that these are promises we can’t possibly keep all the time, so we ask God to help us, and the newly-baptized to do our best. And somehow, the mystery of new birth is given to another human being.
Baptizing a new baby, especially a tiny infant, is a good reminder that after all that, there’s really nothing we can do to make God love us. There’s nothing we can do to make God think we’re important. We receive baptism, and the miracle of our life of faith, just because God does love us, but that gift comes just because we are. And not through anything we had to accomplish on our own. God already loves us. God already thinks we’re incredibly important; each one of us. Just because we are. And nothing we do, say, think, or try, will ever change that.
Trinity Sunday is when we remember anew the central mystery of our faith—that the God we worship is Three-in-One and One-In-Three. The central diversity-in-unity in the midst of what we proclaim is vital for any number of reasons: the complexity that reveals God to us affects a lot of what we profess.
The Trinity gives us an example of complexity in the heart of our faith, it grounds us in the multiple ways God has acted in the world, and the unifying ways that action points back to God.
But it’s also important to remember that even in our struggles to get it right, we won’t get it perfectly correct. And God still loves us. Because God has come to us before we could even say the words, and God has proclaimed us as God’s own forever. And when we fumble our way along, and feel lost and confused, God is already with us. Because there is nothing we have to figure out, or get right to win God’s approval. Not even the doctrine of the Trinity. (It HELPS if we get it mildly correct, but God still loves us no matter what.)
God has come to us before we could shape words, or raise our heads. When we were still afar off, God ran to us to welcome us home.
And now, we get to welcome another child of God into our midst, as Christ has already welcomed us.