Keeping Promises

  My daughter and her mama before Palm Sunday 2005, the day she was baptized.

My daughter and her mama before Palm Sunday 2005, the day she was baptized.

I do a lot of comparing and contrasting when I read the Bible. For instance, just this morning, I was reading about the people of Israel crossing the Jordan River into Canaan to begin the conquest. The Jordan River stopped and the people passed through on dry ground. There are echoes of the Exodus in this event. Joshua 4 even makes the comparison. There are contrasts as well: a river versus a sea, leaving slavery versus leaving the wilderness, entering the promised land versus entering the wilderness. When the themes are similar, it makes sense to detect those connections because they draw out a depth of meaning and order within the Bible.

13 years have passed since my daughter was baptized. My wife and I were in our late 20s, and our daugther was 5 months old. In 1977, my parents were in their late 20s and I was 5 months old when they brought me to Atwater UMC in Atwater, MN. The same mode of baptism was used in both baptisms. The same liturgy was read by a United Methodist pastor. In both places and at both times, the same promises were made by the parents, the church, and, implicity, by our Triune Creator God.

The contrasts are stark. My path in faith has been markedly different than my daughters. My parents and the church I attended growing up did the best they could as they confirmed me and guided me. But I arrived in adulthood malnourished and somewhat malformed. I was a bit of an autodidact in the ways of the Bible and in theology. That's not to say that I didn't have deeply Christian people around me who loved me and prayed for me. I think, however, they suffered from a century's worth of ecclesial malpractice with respect to discipleship. We weren't told that we were to make disciples much less how to make disciples. Yet the promises were made and the attempts to fulfill them were earnest.

My daughter, however, has been catechized in the home. She's encountered people who had an inkling of what is required of us as disciples, and has grown spiritually in ways that I'm pretty sure outstrip my own spiritual development by the time I reached seminary. I am overjoyed by her heart and soul on a regular basis.

Yes, there are contrasts, but my reminiscence isn't about who did what or kept which promises. All of our spiritual journeys are beset with obstacles, difficulties, and victories. No matter the contrasts, the strongest comparison between those two baptisms is the initiator and sustainer who has been completely faithful in keeping his promise. Too often, we look at baptism as something "I" did or "we" did. However, the Bible and the lived out interpretation of the Bible we call tradition is clear that God is the subject of this means of grace. If baptism were a sentence, God is the subject, we are the direct objects, and the water is the indirect object. We miss the point when we spend too much time comparing and contrasting the objects rather than beholding the steadfastness of the ultimate subject, our Triune Creator God. God is the one who kept his promise to love and keep the both of us. God is the one who has formed us according to his love and mercy, both of which were promised to us. God is the one who daily teaches us to "swim in our baptismal waters," as my friend, Andrew Thompson, so eloquently wrote about in his book on The Means of Grace

As I watch her grow, both physically and spiritually, and as I pause to think about and celebrate her 13th "baptiversary," I am overwhelmed by the love and grace of the God who loves her, guides her, and forms her by the promise he made to her in the Bible and in the baptismal liturgy. What a loving Father he is to us.