April 15, 2018

3rd Sunday of Easter Year B
Children of God

According to the tag in the gown that my older daughter wore for her baptism three years ago, it will fit babies between 12.5 and 16 pounds. That means that when my second daughter, Tamsin, was born two months ago, I had to schedule her baptism for whatever window of time when the gown would fit. (Obviously they have to have been baptized in the same gown!)

In the Episcopal Church, there are a handful of Sundays when we typically baptize people—on All Saints’ Day, at the Easter Vigil, on Pentecost, and on the Sunday after the Epiphany, when we celebrate Jesus’s own baptism. We also baptize people on the Sunday each year when the bishop visits. This year, Pentecost falls on May 20th, which seemed like a safe bet for the gown to fit Tamsin perfectly.

I was thrilled at her six-week check-up when she was already 11.5 pounds. We were definitely on track. But now, at almost ten weeks, she’s over 13 pounds. If she keeps growing at her current rate, I’m worried now that she’ll outgrow the gown in the next five weeks. Maybe I should have scheduled her baptism for May 6th, when the bishop will be visiting St. Paul’s in Fayetteville. That would have been perfect.

But my mother has already bought her plane ticket for the 20th, and it’s already on Tamsin’s godmother’s calendar, so we probably shouldn’t change the date now. We’ll just hope for the best.

Now, of course I realize that worrying about what to wear is the most superficial way to prepare for my child’s baptism. In fact, the whole reason that the Episcopal Church started a few decades ago to celebrate baptisms on specific feast days was to resist a tendency to make baptisms private, family affairs.

Another change that the Episcopal Church made around the same time was to include in the baptismal service not only a confession of trust in Jesus’s grace and love; not only a statement of belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but also a set of promises to seek and serve Christ in all people, and to strive for justice and peace.

So, as a faithful Christian and Episcopalian, I know on some level that baptism is about a lot more than taking pictures of my daughter in her flowing white gown. It’s about her incorporation into a community of faith beyond her immedite family. It’s about our shared confidence in the grace and love of Jesus. And it’s about our shared commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love others as he loved us.

But it’s remarkable how often we as individuals, and as whole churches, need these reminders about baptism.

Our second reading today comes from the First Letter of John, which is full of these reminders that baptismal life involves incorporation into a fellowship and a commitment to love others in tangible ways. We’ll hear portions from this letter every Sunday between Easter and Pentecost.

The snippets from this letter that we hear today express these reminders beautifully. First, there is the statement that we belong not just to family units, but to a wider community of God’s children. As we heard this morning, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”

And as God’s children, we aren’t just people who grow up to fulfill the hopes and dreams that our human parents have for us. We are people who will become, by some mystery, like the risen Christ. As we heard in the reading, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

(I’d be hard pressed to find more exquisite words than these in all of Scripture.)

The second reminder about baptismal life in today’s reading is that it doesn’t just make us appear righteous through Christ in God’s sight, but that it leads us to do what is right. Our reading today ended with the words, “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”

In our readings from this letter over the next few Sundays, we’ll hear more about active righteousness as a response to God’s love. A few verses later in this chapter, the writer says that righteousness isn’t just a gift that we receive from Christ laying down his life. Righteousness is something we do, following Christ’s example and command to love one another as he loved us.

The author puts it this way: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:16-18).

I think that the genius of this ancient Christian letter is the way it binds together what we know as the two greatest commandments—to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This letter makes it clear that we can’t really do the one without the other. Here’s a preview of what we’ll hear two Sundays from today: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21).

The First Letter of John calls us to an identity in which we’re all little children of God, all wearing clean and flowing gowns that mark us as precious and beloved brothers and sisters, full of the possibility that we will become something good through Christ’s righteousness, and something unimaginable through Christ’s resurrection. But as beautiful as our special occasion garments may be, none fit us so beautifully as these words we heard today and must never forget: “Beloved, we are God’s children now.”