Sermon Preached on Sunday, June 3, 2012
How is your memory? If you are like me, there are some days when your memory seems better than others. And, there are some things you can remember for no apparent reason – that, for example, Des Plaines is the home of the first McDonald's and that the ice cream “sundae” got its name in Evanston – but other things, like where you left your car keys, that try as you will, you simply cannot remember – especially when you need to most!
There are, of course, many tricks to help you remember things. I recall the Sesame Street skit in which Ernie has a string tied to every finger and he patiently explains to Bert, “This first string tells me to remember this string around my second finger. And this string on my second finger, reminds me to remember the string on my third finger, and the third string tells me to remember this fourth string here. And you know what this fourth string around my finger tells me to remember Bert? It tells me to remember that I am out of string!
If tying string around your fingers isn’t practical in your life – or, if you happen to be out of string – you might consider creating a series of visual links to jog your memory. In a Dale Carnegie class I took about a decade ago, we were taught to visualize a whole bunch of delicate dinnerware with a giant #2 pencil balanced on top. Impaled on the pencil is a Jersey Cow (sorry for the gory detail). King George is holding onto the cow for dear life. He has a cut on his forehead and a band-aid connecting the cut. Over the band-aid, he is holding a huge mass of ice. Sitting on the ice, freezing is Marilyn Monroe. In her lap is a south-bound car filled with new canned hams which are wrapped in sheet music titled, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia.” Shooting up from the hams is the Empire State Building and balanced at the top of the empire state building is another car – this one going North, being driven by a Rhode Island Red Rooster.
What is that, you might wonder? It is a list of the original13 colonies that made up the United States, in the order that they ratified the Constitution:
1. Delaware – dinnerware
2. Pennsylvania – pencil
3. New Jersey – Jersey Cow
4. Georgia – King George
5. Connecticut – connecting the cut
6. Massachusetts – mass of ice
7. Maryland – Marilyn Monroe
8. South Carolina – south-bound car
9. New Hampshire – new canned hams
10. Virginia – “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia”
11. New York – Empire State Building
12. North Carolina – car heading north
13. Rhode Island – red rooster
The prophet Isaiah uses a far simpler memory trick. After he has this most amazing experience of God:
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings . . . The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.”
After this amazing experience, Isaiah does not want to forget – he does not want to forget this moment in his life. So, he links it with a piece of information he already knows – the year that King Uzziah died. The death of King Uzziah and Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet will be forever linked in the prophet’s mind. In this year, God called out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”
Many of us do not remember the day on which God called out to us. For most in this room, parents and godparents said, on our behalf, “Here is my child; send her!” --- “Here is my child; send him!” And, so unlike Isaiah, we may not be able to say with certainty, in the year that such and such took place, I was baptized.
But despite the absence of memory, we are reminded by John Westerhoff in his book, Living Faithfully as a Prayer Book People, that
“[t]he bond that God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble. We can reject and/or distort it, but we can never deny who and whose we are. It is God who is the prior actor in Baptism, an action to which we respond. This explains why a baptism can never be repeated. While we may break our covenant with God, God never breaks God’s covenant with us. An appropriate and necessary response to being unfaithful to our baptismal vows and covenant, therefore, is to reaffirm them over and over again.”
And so we do. Each time a baptism takes place in our church, those of us who have already received the waters of baptism, stand together and reaffirm – remember – our own baptismal promises. And this reaffirmation, this remembrance becomes for us our collective, “Here am I; send me. “ At Baptism, we approach the water saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a person of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” And God reaches out to us with the water and says, “Now that this has touched you, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
In Baptism, Westerhoff writes, we are made “‘a’ Christian; [baptism] tells us the truth about ourselves. But to become Christian, we need to spend the rest of our lives living into our baptism becoming who we already are.” In other words, when, in the waters of baptism, God asks us, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” it is as if we are children on the playground once again, crying out “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!” and God says, “I will and I do” and we respond with our lives - “Here am I; send me!”
This morning we are doubly blessed. We will baptize, Leslie Elizabeth, an infant and Kay Lynn, an adult. Both are called by God. And both remind us of important truths. Westerhoff writes,
“Infant baptism reminds us that God’s grace comes prior to our response; that the community’s faith comes prior to our faith; that Baptism is something we need to grow into; and that faith is a gift.”
Adult baptism, on the other hand,
“reminds us that Baptism is a sacrament and not magic (being baptized does not give us God’s love but makes us aware of the love God has already given us); that Baptism calls for a moral response; that it is intended to be a mature act; and that faith is necessary if we are to be aware of what Baptism offers us so that we might benefit from it.”
In all likelihood, Kay and her sponsor, Tim, will remember her baptism. And while Leslie will most likely not recall hers, her parents, Geoff and Jennifer and her sponsors, Teri, Siobhan and Bryan will hold it in memory for her. Perhaps, like Isaiah, they will link it to another event – “in the year that Facebook went public, then Leslie received the waters of Baptism.” Or, “in the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, then,” Kay might say, “I was marked as Christ’s own forever.”
And for those of us who cannot remember our own baptisms and perhaps do not even know the year, may this be the day that we are nonetheless reminded of the Good News that God has indeed picked us. Through the waters of baptism, God has said yes to each of us and today is waiting for us, the members of this church to answer with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”