On Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three young siblings into the faith and family of Jesus Christ. They were ages seven, five and not quite one. When baptizing young children, I invite the smallest members of the church to sit in the front pews so that they get front row seats to the party! Usually the kids and I sit on the chancel steps together for the children’s message and have earnest talks about faith matters. This is one of my favorite and least predictable moments in the worship service! They tell me who has recently potty-trained in their household. They recount the most recent antics of their dog. Little girls cozy up next to me and whisper that they like my shoes. They reveal to the adults who are listening in on this conversation that they know their baby sister loves them because she smiles at them. Every other answer they offer is “God” or “Jesus” and they’re usually right!
But on baptism Sundays I block the pass to the steps and direct them to the front pews. It’s a bit like herding kittens (which we actually did during another children’s message years ago…but that’s another story) because switching up the game plan on small children inevitably causes some confusion. Once I have them in place, in rapt attention, I begin with the baptism liturgy: “They were bringing little children to Jesus that he might place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant…”
Of course Jesus was indignant! He knew that one of the best ways to grow a church is to have a baby giving you a drunken smile over the shoulder of their parent in a worship service! Jesus understood that the sound of small children thundering forward to sit with the pastor and share their great wisdom during a children’s moment is often the one theological teaching the adults remember when they get home! On baptism Sunday our kids receive a special invitation to the best seats in the house so that they can see the water dripping down the face of a tiny baby who becomes mesmerized with the sensation. They do, however, have a responsibility. I always walk the baby or small child up to this audience of young faces to ask them a very important question before we actually break loose with the water. I remind them that these younger children will look up to them and imitate them. I ask them if they will be a good friend to this child who is becoming a new part of the family. I ask them to promise to show this infant how to love Jesus so that they will learn how much Jesus loves them. I make it easy for them. I tell them how to answer: I promise.
This past Sunday I had three eager faces looking at a couple pews worth of church children. Sometimes their answer, “I promise”, is a bit lackluster. They are timid, distracted or simply using their quiet voices. I wanted some volume for these three baptismal candidates. So I gave more specific directions than usual, turning it into a sort of sacramental pep rally. I set up the proposal of shepherding and modeling for these three siblings a love for Jesus. Then I said, “If so, will you please answer by saying, STRONGLY, “I promise!” I smiled at these dozen or more faces and waited for their passionate responses. They did not fail me. Every single one of them said, “STRONGLY I PROMISE!” Straight out of a comedy routine–but they were serious!
How awesome is that?! They don’t just promise with strength in their voices—they strongly promise! The congregation laughed at their inadvertent joke and we walked the three siblings back to the baptismal font. We could proceed with the sacrament knowing that our church children were all in, ready to lead these newest Christians into the ways of discipleship! As we completed this beautiful celebration of a new faith journey for the family, I was able to assure the congregation that I STRONGLY believed that it had been a good baptism for all three kids! We had a congregational chuckle and I released the front pews to go to their Sunday School classes. As they tore down the center aisle to get to their classrooms, we sang the most fundamental lesson together: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong—they are weak but He is strong! Yes! Jesus loves me. Yes! Jesus loves me. Yes! Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
For the three children whose hair was still wet, their journey was launched, their discipleship begun. “Jesus said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…’ And he took them in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
You better believe He did! Children so readily accept spiritual truths while we fight our way through layers of rational thought to embrace the assurance that Jesus loves even us, woeful sinners! Later in the day, as I was reliving the moment of the children’s rote repetition of instructions, it made me wonder: What do I STRONGLY promise to do to support my brothers and sisters in the faith? No, seriously!