Friday, April 19, 2019

A Tithe of Baptisms

There are some weekends in ministry you just feel intuitively that, many years from now,  when you are chewing a long piece of grass, while rocking yourself to sleep on the front porch of your retirement home, that you are sure you will remember.  This coming weekend at Burlpres (The First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame), is shaping up to be one of them.

This weekend is Easter, and we will be celebrating 51 baptisms and re-affirmations of baptism in our church!

Five weeks ago, we began a Lenten preaching series on the topic of baptism.  Using each of the baptismal questions as a guide for the sermon series (Who is the Lord of your life?, Do you Trust him?, Do you want to be a faithful Disciple?, Do you recognize the power of Sin and evil in the world and promise to do your best to turn against them?, Do you want to Devote yourself to the life and ministry of the congregation?), we preached through these basic tenets of the Christian faith.  The series was called, "Coming Clean", a play on the use of water as a baptismal symbol, and the process of a spiritual cleaning of the inner self.  We talked about how baptism is a "renaming", a "miracle", a "sealing", and a "mark" of God's promise.  We discussed the historical fact that in the first century church, all baptisms took place on Easter.

And yet...we didn't expect this outpouring of response.

In my twenty years of ministry, I have never known a congregation to be more responsive or more excited about the concept of baptism than this one.  What began with an oblique goal of having around 20 people baptized or reaffirmed in their baptism, has turned into a larger movement of the Holy Spirit.  Most people, myself included, thought 20 baptisms was an ambitious goal, but one worth shooting for.  What has resulted has culminated in a veritable...

Tide of Baptisms

Or should I say...

Tithe of Baptisms

I say tithe, because at around 700 members, 51 baptisms (and we could have more before Saturday and Sunday when our services take place) is a little less than 10% of our church.  This idea of 10% of the church being baptized has also helped me see another important facet of the baptism experience.  Like tithing (giving 10% of our time, talent and treasure to the church), baptism is a way of giving back.

When a person stands before a worshipping community and answers the baptismal questions and has water put on their head in the name of the, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit", it is a way of saying, "Lord, this life does not belong to me.  This life belongs to you.  I do not own my life.  You do!  You're in charge.  Take back this life you gave to me, clean it, and make it new, and use it for your larger purposes."  When 10% of a congregation gives back their hearts, minds, bodies and souls to God, I can only assume that God is pleased with this offering.  It's a...

Tithe of Baptisms

What has been so powerful for me are the individual stories of renewal that I have been privileged to be a part of.  There is the teen age girl in Sonoma who is on her way to college, and has never been baptized, but wants to do it before she makes this next big step in her life.  There is the retired man, who, having completed a successful business career, now wants to do something spiritually significant with the rest of his life.  There is the couple who live in San Mateo, who just started coming to the church who have a crazy Bay Area existence, and want to dedicate their two children in baptism.  There is the couple who lost their son-in-law to suicide less than a month ago, and wants a reminder that even in a world of brokenness, that God still exists.  There is the woman who is now separated from her husband in a potential divorce dynamic, and wants a reminder of the special mark God still has on her life.  And the list goes on and on.

Churches, of course, are made up of more than just a collection of individual stories.  A church is also more than simply a large handful of people, from a varying array of backgrounds, who are gathered in one place to worship God.  Churches are comprised of significant groups of people who do big things for God.  It was this concept of a small but powerful gathering (of disciples, of apostles, of servants, of 70 workers) that God had in mind as having the power to stand against the gates of hell, and also the power to lean towards the gates of heaven.

I am so grateful for this call and this church and this ministry at this time in my life.  There was a time when I actually wondered if God was really still calling me to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament.  However, it is weekends like this one that reaffirms my commitment to the ministry.  It is weekends like this one that also remind me of the baptismal vows that my parents once dedicated my life to as an infant, 47 years ago.  God is still God.  And God still has a plan. And that plan is very good!

Oh and one more thing - I am one of the 51 who will be re-affirming their baptismal vows.  So, excitingly, I too can say that I may be playing a very small role in a larger contribution to the...

Tithe of Baptisms

All for now,


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