“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

© 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)

Ruminations on Baptism

I am not a Baptist, but I struggled with infant baptism early in my ministry, partly because of Karl Barth’s influence, and partly because of my pain at the casual way it was often regarded in the culture Protestantism of much of New England Congregationalism, where I labored.

But it was the form used by my tradition and so I followed it. Over the years of pastoring I came to embrace it and love it. Nevertheless, I exercised a kind of tough-love discipline around it, requiring parents or sponsors to have a real church connection, and for this, let me say candidly, I sometimes experienced a different kind of pain (as Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks of Christ.”) I firmly believe there must be faith for there to be a baptism, whether it is the faith of the baptized (as in believer baptism) or the faith of the parents or sponsors. But try to explain to your loyal congregant grandparents that you won’t baptize their grandchild because the parents want nothing to do with the church or its faith, when all they want is a nice “Christening” with a party to follow.
I found the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) document from the World Council of Churches to be very useful in thinking about baptism. It speaks directly to variations of form and usage around baptism and tries to find ecumenical consensus where it exists, for example on the prohibition against re-baptism, and to raise issues for conversation where consensus does not.
And some of you will not be surprised to learn that I also have found P. T. Forsyth’s writings on Baptism, chiefly in his book, The Church and Sacraments, to be very useful in my ministry over the years.
Forsyth suggests that both forms (believer and infant) have their inherent emphasis and along with them certain temptations. In the case of believer baptism a temptation is to think it is about me, my faith, my experience, and in infant baptism, the temptation is to a kind of magic. He asks rhetorically,

“Would Christianity really be reformed if it abolished infant baptism? Can that now be hoped for? Is that the only way to keep the magic out? Would it not be burning the house to roast the pig? Would it not reduce the church to the permanent condition of a missionary Church only, amid a quite pagan society?”

For Forsyth, who proposes that both forms be offered and recognized, “What makes baptism real is God’s changeless will of salvation in Christ and the Church. It testifies chiefly to this, and not to a subjective attainment of confession, which might change. Sacraments are modes of the Gospel (not of our experience), and that is what the Gospel reveals.”
Writing about infant baptism he says,

“Baptism is incorporation, not into Christ, but into the body of Christ, with its moral, spiritual, social influence on the soul. The child is not given the Spirit, but placed where the Spirit moves. It must make much difference to a young soul whether it is taught to believe it is a member of Christ’s body, and takes its disciplines as a child of the house, or whether it is taught to regard itself as an outsider, spectator, and by-product of the Church’s grace.”

Now that I am a pew-sitter and not a celebrant I have witnessed several baptisms in a variety of churches and forms and I am moved each time by the power of this gracious sacrament, however it is administered.