“Small Beginnings” A Baptismal Sermon on Mark 4:30-34

Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” —Mark 4:30-34 Continue reading

“Epiphany: A Drama in Three Acts” (The Baptism of Jesus, Year B)

The reason for my title is there are three Biblical stories that are traditionally read in worship during Epiphany, and they all share the same purpose. Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation”, and the themes of Epiphany are about seeing and knowing Jesus as the incarnate One, the Light of the World. Continue reading

I finally got to hear my new baptismal hymn!

BaptismI wrote the baptismal hymn text “Come here by the waters” early last year, and though several pastors have told me they have used it in worship, I had never heard it sung by a congregation until this morning.

We worshipped this morning at the church in RI where my daughter, Rebecca, is pastor. She administered five baptisms, and they sang my hymn. She has chosen it before, but never when I was present.

She made a clever move with it that I hadn’t thought of. She divided the first two verses and the final two, singing the former before the baptisms and the latter right after. This makes sense because the first two are invitational (“come bring us your child) and the latter two are blessings (Bless us with your presence, your Word, and your power) and doxologies. Here are the words.

Come Here by the Waters

Come here by the waters, come bring us your child.
We’ll call on God’s Spirit, so loving and wild.
These people and parents will speak their firm vow.
This child full of blessing belongs to Christ now.

Your promise enduring will follow her* days,
And lead to a life filled with service and praise.
You’ll bless her** and keep her** and always be there,
Through life’s many changes you’ll watch her with care.

Bless us with your presence, your Word, and your power,
That we may be faithful in every new hour.
Let church be a place that is brimming with love,
And bless these dear children with grace from above.

We praise you and thank you for all you provide,
For blessings and graces that reach far and wide.
Praise Father, praise Son, and the Spirit divine,
Both now and forever, and far beyond time.

(*or his, or their) (** or him, or them)

Tune: Cradle Song 11.11.11.11.

© Richard L. Floyd, 2015

(To learn more about this hymn, and for both accompaniment and melody line reproducible music go here. Photo: R.L. Floyd, 2016)

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Jake's baptism

Come Here by the Waters

Come here by the waters, come bring us your child.
We’ll call on God’s Spirit, so loving and wild.
These people and parents will speak their firm vow.
This child full of blessing belongs to Christ now.

Your promise enduring will follow her* days,
And lead to a life filled with service and praise.
You’ll bless her** and keep her** and always be there,
Through life’s many changes you’ll watch her with care.

Bless us with your presence, your Word, and your power,
That we may be faithful in every new hour.
Let church be a place that is brimming with love,
And bless these dear children with grace from above.

We praise you and thank you for all you provide,
For blessings and graces that reach far and wide.
Praise Father, praise Son, and the Spirit divine,
Both now and forever, and far beyond time.

(*or his, or their) (** or him, or them)

Tune: Cradle Song 11.11.11.11.

© Richard L. Floyd, 2015

This hymn of mine was commissioned earlier this year by Eileen Hunt, former Minister of Music at Green’s Farms Congregational Church, UCC, in Westport, CT, who was looking for a new baptismal hymn. I chose the tune Cradle Song, which is the tune the British sing Away in A Manger to, because of its resonances with infancy, and because it is not so familiar that Americans will hear Away in a Manger in their ears when they sing it. Below you will find reproducible PDF’s for both a melody only and a harmony version. The tune was written by  William James Kirkpatrick and the harmony by the estimable Ralph Vaughn Williams. One suggestion is to sing the first two verses just before the act of baptism and the last two just after.

COME HERE BY THE WATERS melody only

COME HERE BY THE WATERS harmony

Epiphany Ruminations on the Mystery of Baptism

I have been schooled to consider baptism with a theologian’s precision, what it is and what it isn’t, what happens and how, the various forms and their respective pitfalls. Nonetheless, baptism continues to possess much the same air of unfathomable mystery for me that my marriage does, that there is more going on here than can be properly named or known.

My own infant baptism, however inadequate (as my Anabaptist friends may regard it), held a strange hold over me during my growing up years.  I have been accused of having high-church inclinations for a Reformed pastor, and surely my baptism at St. John the Divine in New York, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, got me started down that path.  My godfather, Bill Warren, was an Episcopal priest, a lovely man who served in remote parishes in Alaska and Arizona.  He was a Jungian analyst who was fascinated by Native American spirituality.  A bit of a mystic, his baptismal present to me was a red Morocco leather-bound copy of The Imitation of Christ.

It sat unused until I found it pristine in its dusty box on my bookshelf when I was about 19.  My mother had recently died, it was the late sixties, and I was something of a lost soul at the time.  I carried that little book around in my knapsack while hitchhiking across America in the summer of 1969, and it had an importance to me far beyond its content, which I found kind of creepy, to tell the truth.   It had become for me a talisman of a lost home and family, and of some connection to the boy I had once been in church, singing in the choir and loved by the congregation.  Later, when I read about Martin Luther’s “I am baptized” in the midst of his battles with the devil I resonated with that.

Now mystics, talismans and incantations to ward off evil are pretty far afield for a Reformed pastor-theologian to travel.  It’s a long journey from Thomas A Kempis to Karl Barth.   But still, six decades after I received that sacrament in the cathedral, baptism remains an inextricable (shall I say indelible) stamp on who I am, for better or worse.

I started ruminating on all this today because my daughter was baptized by my hand on this day, Epiphany, twenty-six years ago, and she is now discerning a call to serve in leadership in Christ’s Church. She is halfway through divinity school preparing for ordained ministry.  I couldn’t have imagined that when I was a child, as there were no ordained women in my church when I was growing up.  This is just one of a great many surprises that have taken place throughout my journey.  So many changes, and so much of what I once took for granted is lost or long-gone.  But baptism remains, full of promise and hope and heavy with many mysteries, connecting the journey of one generation of those who share Christ to that of another.

Some of my other posts on baptism:
Ruminations on Baptism
George Hunsinger:  Answer to a Question about Baptism

George Hunsinger: Answer to a Question About Baptism

 

Recently I was so impressed with George Hunsinger’s “Are The Gospels Reliable? A Letter to a Young Inquirer,” which I saw on Ben Myers’ site, that I asked him if he had other such helpful catechetical resources.

Dr. Hunsinger, who teaches systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, is not only a first rank academic theologian, but a faithful Christian concerned with the catechesis of the faith at every level, witnessed to by his guiding  involvement in the most recent (1998) Presbyterian Catechism.

Years ago, he was my first advisor for what became my A Course in Basic Christianity, a project subtitled “Remedial Catechesis for Adults.”  I often call it “Everything you should have learned in confirmation, but probably didn’t because you had other things on your mind.”

As always he keeps ecumenical concerns in view.  Here he addresses a thoughtful letter on Christian baptism with the same clear and careful thinking that he brought to the earlier letter on the scriptures, and also to his most recent book on The Eucharist and Ecumenism (Cambridge, 2008).

I quote both the letter and his response  in full with his permission:

“Dear Dr. Hunsinger,

I’ve recently been stymied as to how to understand baptism theologically.  As a “good” Lutheran I’ve always understood baptism as a means of grace, through which the spirit both quickens and awakens faith in the baptized, with the old Adam drowned and the New Creation raised to New Life in Christ.

However, I’m currently in a course on the Radical Reformation, in which we’ve been reading the anabaptist, Balthasar Hubmaier, who argues for a different, though biblically defensible understanding, with Baptism a human response to grace already received, a profession of one’s desire to live according to “the Rule of Christ.”

These conflicting notions of baptism demanded further reflection, and so I turned to Barth’s IV/4, with only greater confusion ensuing.

All this is to say, I’m unsure of how to locate baptism in terms of justification. If Christ is the one in whom we are elected, if he is our justification, and the one in whom we are crucified and raised to New Creation, where do we locate baptism?

Is it simply the awakening of the believer, through faith, to our already present justification? Can we be said to play a role in this, perhaps passively, but a kind of consent to what has already been accomplished for our sake? At any rate, the issue seems to be an incredibly confusing one, and I’m unsure how to think about this. Any guidance you might provide would be appreciated.”

“Dear N,

I agree that this is a difficult and confusing question.  Furthermore, I don’t find Barth’s views in IV/4 to be entirely convincing.  In the end, his position seems more nearly Anabaptist than Reformed.

You might want to read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about baptism.  It at least takes adult baptism as the norm from which to understand infant baptism.  I think this is an advance over traditional Reformational views (e.g., Lutheran and Reformed).

Infant baptism complicates the matter enormously.  To make sense of it, I think we need a Christ-centered eschatology of participation.  On these grounds we can posit an objective participation in Christ that anticipates its fulfilment in subjective (conscious and active) participation at a later date.  We could then see the baptism of an infant as somehow being “proleptic.”  Baptism would be the means by which the infant is included, objectively, in Christ and his community by grace, but this grace would need to be fulfilled when the infant later responds to the Gospel with faith.  So there is an “already” here and a “not yet.”  In baptism the faith of the parents and the community would function vicariously for the infant until confirmation.

The grace of baptism would be the grace of participatio Christi.  This grace would precede conscious faith on the part of the baptized infant, and it would be fulfilled only when the infant affirms Christ by faith later in life.

This view would not quite amount to “baptismal regeneration.”  I don’t really know what to do with this idea.  I’d like to work something out that would not be church-dividing.  Perhaps we could use the same conceptual pattern that I have been suggesting here.  It would be a pattern of moving from precondition to fulfillment.  We could see baptism as an objective precondition for the justification and regeneration that will later be actualized, confirmed and fulfilled by faith.  What was once actual objectively becomes actual, in a new and essential form, subjectively.

Is baptism necessary for salvation?  Catholics think so.  Protestants often don’t.  I think we could probably resolve this one by asking, “necessary in what sense”?  “Absolutely” (simpliciter), or only “in a certain respect” (secundum quid)?  I think baptism could only be “necessary” in a certain respect.  It is always fitting and necessary unless certain obstacles intervene to prevent it (as sometimes happens).

I wrote an article about baptism about 10 years ago for the International Journal of Systematic Theology.  I would revise it along the above lines if I were to re-print it today.

With best regards,

Dr. Hunsinger”