Joshua 24:1-2a; 14-18 & Eph. 1:3-6 Baptism of Andy Thornton
Elizabeth M. Deibert 30 August 2015
One of the great dividers of the Church through the ages has been our understanding of Baptism. Some churches emphasize the fact that God chooses us, and some churches emphasize the fact that we choose God. Both are true. Both are significant. Churches that want to emphasize God’s choosing as most important are willing to baptize infants. Churches that want to emphasize our choosing to love God, our putting our faith in Jesus, tend to insist on waiting for a believer’s baptism, waiting for the child-teen-adult to profess faith in Jesus Christ as a requirement for baptism.
We offer confirmation of baptism at ages 14 and up, because we believe that is the season of life when teens develop their own identity – more independent of parents. So we see that moment as the time to emphasize the believer’s choice. There are some of you in high school who will have the opportunity to consider your own personal faith this year and to prepare for confirmation, if you are ready to claim your baptism.
But whether you were baptized at six months, six years, sixteen years or sixty years of age, baptism means the same thing. It means you belong to God. It does not magically make that the case, but it celebrates the mystery of this truth. It was always the case – as Ephesians tells us – from the foundation of the world, God chose you! But to celebrate this truth is to make it more true – to mark it sacramentally – is to initiate and seal the truth of it by our faith and action.
So we have been chosen by God, but the natural follow-up question is this: Are we responding to God’s choice of us? Are we choosing God? In our daily life, do we live into our baptism, or defy the truth of our baptism. Of course it is a mixed bag – but if you can say, “I intend to live into my baptism, then you have made huge leap of faith. Christ went from his baptism “You are my beloved” to the wilderness, a season of testing, and we certainly have our times of testing, where we choose to hold onto our faith or let go of faith. The Book of Joshua was written at a time of testing for God’s people. Written long after the events that are recorded, Joshua challenges the people to remember to be loyal to their Holy God when surrounded by people who worship other gods.
Hear now the story of God’s people led by Joshua:
Joshua 24:1-2a; 14-18
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: 14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." 16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God." (NRSV)
“No way!” they say. We’re not turning our back on the Lord. God brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. God protected us for those forty years in the wilderness. God showed us the way when we thought there would be no way. God took care of us when we felt threatened and insecure.” In Joshua as in many Old Testament narratives, the story is told in such a way that the others (in this case the Amorites) are not valued at all. Does God care about the Amorites and the Egyptian army, which got thrown into the sea? Yes, but the story is written exclusively and unabashedly from the perspective of the Israelites. They were a small group of nomads. They felt threatened. They were probably exiled in a foreign land when this story of Joshua was recorded. So the point of the story is this: God will take care of you even when you feel threatened.
Part of holding on to an identity is distinguishing yourself from other people. As we left our last child at college, Richard said to her what he has often said to our kids: “We love you, Rebecca, but remember Who loves you the most!” Choose this day Whom you will serve, Joshua said, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Times of transition, like this moment in the narrative when the Israelites were settling in the new land of promise, require a firmer resolve to remember who you are and whose you are. Our children and youth made the transition into a new school year. Choose this day – choose this year – to serve the Lord.
Children see what we value by the way we live – more than what we say. Giving them an opportunity to build trust in the God who loves them even more than their parents love them is the best gift that we can give them. And we all bear that responsibility – to help them choose faith, to help them know they have been chosen as God’s beloved. Parents cannot do it alone. Youth pastors and directors cannot do it alone. I have read that a youth needs about five good relationships in the church to help them grow as disciples of Christ. And so I ask you “Are you one of the five for somebody here? We make the promise every time someone is baptized. Do we live it? Faith is more caught than taught. Is your faith contagious faith? Do the youth in this church want to be like you when they grow up? Do they know how much they are loved by God because you communicate that every time you see them here? Jim Taylor said yesterday when he saw Andy, “There’s my adopted grandson.” Lee and Barb nearly cried when they were asked to present Andy for the sacrament of baptism. That’s how much these relationships should mean.
Let’s hear these inspiring words from Ephesians:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (NRSV)
God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. He bestowed on us his glorious grace in his Beloved Christ.
I suppose I’m feeling a little sentimental about the empty nest, but I have to tell you one more thing Richard used to say to our kids when he was tucking them in. He’d say, “If all the kids in the world were in a big field, I’d look all around until I found you. I’d pick you! As we baptize a beautiful toddler today, Andy Thornton, we want him to know, beyond the shadow of doubt, that God chose him. Just as his parents chose him for adoption because they wanted him, so God chose him and will never leave him. Just as Melissa and David’s choosing Andy and his sisters changed their lives, so God’s choosing him and pouring out the glorious grace of Jesus Christ on him from the foundation of the earth makes him precious and holy, beloved child of God.
That is amazing grace. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, Andy can do to remove himself from the love of God. Andy has not achieved God’s favor such that tomorrow he might lose it. He is God’s chosen child forever – when he’s two, when he’s twelve, twenty-two, fifty-two like me and when he’s ninety-two.
So someone might retort – so it doesn’t matter how he lives? What’s your answer to that question. It’s no and yes. No, it does not matter because God will love him forever. Yes, it does matter how he lives because being in relationship with someone means you relate. God wants to be in relationship with us. It involves our choosing. God does not force – because that would not be a relationship. Relationships involve choice. When children are growing up we choose for them, as they transition into adulthood, they begin to make their own choices.
Secure in love of God, in the grace of Jesus Christ, we can choose to relate, to live in the Spirit of God or not. As Andy develops, he can choose to be WHO he is or he can resist it. If he doesn’t choose it, he will still belong to God, but his relationship with God will be broken, lacking fullness, thwarted by his choices.
So I hope you see now why Presbyterians are willing to baptize at any age – because we want to emphasize God’s choosing, because it is the given fact, something that can never ever be taken away – God’s boundless love. Our response is the only variable, and we want to remind you of your role in that variable. A generation back, I think we just assumed that the human response was as reliable as God’s because it was a cultural given that children raised in the church would become Christian adults. But it is not a given, especially when there are so many things competing for your child’s loyalty. So as Andy and all the other children grow up in the church, let’s do our very best to help them understand the wonderful love of Jesus Christ and let invite them assertively to choose for themselves a relationship of faithfulness to the Lord of life.