Today I baptized my firstborn son, Eli. He has wanted to do this for a few years now. With all of our immediate family here, it made sense to do it today. His only request was that we not do it in front of a bunch of strangers…a request that I completely understood.
I have baptized a few hundred people in my life. I have no way of really knowing how many. But obviously today was different. Baptism is very important to me. I occasionally take a little grief from some of my workmates for my Campbellite roots. My original spiritual tribe put a high emphasis on water baptism by immersion. Historically in many circles and circumstances, this emphasis became a divisive overemphasis on the form of baptism and a staunch belief that baptism itself was the salvific event. Regardless, those aren’t the reasons why I value baptism today. To me, it is valuable in large part because it is one of the few real-time events that Christians have to mark their spiritual journey. So much of life with God is a long, seemingly never-ending process. The sacrament of baptism is a rare marker in the process. It is the marker of the beginning of a relationship between disciple and guru – slave and master – son and father. I am not so sure why people get caught up in arguments as to the exact moment when life with God begins for the Christian – before, during or after baptism. The point, in my opinion, is that it is intended to be at/toward the beginning of our commitment to God. It is a symbolic act that is also a real historical event. It is like a birthday or a wedding day. Debbie would say that she somehow knew our boys before they were born. I was just as committed to Debbie the day before our wedding than the day after. But the days matter. Birthdays. Wedding Days. We look back on them and remember them because, if for no other reason, they actually happened. That moment of happening matters so much in a lifetime dominated by the normalcy of the slow process. We need something close to the beginning to call “the beginning.” And God knew this.
Eil and I have talked about Jesus through the years, but I realized that our talk before his baptism this morning was more important…or at least it would be more memorable to him. Part of the reason that I had Eli wait for a while to be baptized is that it seemed nearly impossible for him to grasp the idea of the Kingdom a few years ago. He first understood Jesus as Savior. He wanted to be baptized a few years ago because he had “messed up” and wanted forgiveness. Maybe that should have been enough. But I knew that I wouldn’t baptize an adult if that was all they knew about Jesus. So I waited. Today we talked about Eli’s relationship with Jesus in three ways:
1. Lord – Eli has been taking Judo recently and he has a Judo teacher named Frank Herzog. He has learned to call Frank, “Sensei” which means teacher or master. Judo has been a great teaching tool to help Eli learn about Jesus. Jesus was more of an eastern thinker and he calls disciples (or students) to himself. Today when Eli smiled and told me that Jesus was his Sensei, I knew he had the very beginning understandings of lordship.
2. King – Some people think I’m a little too intense on this point, but I think that to receive Jesus is to receive his present and coming Kingdom (or reign). What this means to Eli at this point in the beginning of his discipleship is that the Jews and Christians are “our people” before any other ethnic or political group. (Yes, I made my kid tell me that his primary allegiance was to Jesus and not America. Hopefully he won’t be in therapy for that someday.)
3. Savior – This brought us back to what Eli first understood about Jesus. We discussed his terminal sin addiction and how Jesus offers a cure for it. And then I told him that baptism reminds us that just as Jesus died and lived again, so we will all be resurrected after we die.
The last thing we talked about is what Jesus taught us about God – that he is our Father. I told Eli that I had tried to my best to be a good dad, but that I had failed in him in many ways. God is his perfect Father. I also stretched his mind a bit when I told him that even though I am his dad, we share a Father now. So we are also brothers.
So, God has known Eli since before he was born and Eli has been on a journey to know God since his first breath. But today was the day Eli did something about it. And fifteen of us were fortunate enough to watch it happen.
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)