Well, here we are again at what’s becoming an annual ritual for our clan. This is our third baptism in three years. My first thought standing here is that “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Maggie and Kerry, see what you can do about that!
Just kidding, of course . . . The truth is we’re all so happy to be here to at this beautiful lakeside setting to welcome into our community of faith Maggie and Kerry’s third child and Peggy’s and my third grandchild. (We all feel so proud.) We have here another child of God filled with the original goodness we celebrated and are still graced with in the presence of big sister, Eva, and big brother, Oscar. We’re here to incorporate Orlando (“Peter Pan,” “Howdy Doody”) into the Body of those aspiring to live in the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes, we’re here to celebrate “original goodness,” even though since St. Augustine in the 5th century, the emphasis in Christian baptism has been on “Original Sin. ” That seems so negative, doesn’t it, in the presence of the innocence so evident in children like Eva, Oscar, and Orlando? I remember speaking about that at Eva’s baptism three years ago.
However second thought has made me realize that there is some wisdom in the idea of Original Sin – that we’re born into sin even as infants. And here I’m talking about personal sin. Rather, I’m referencing the atmosphere of selfishness, greed, violence, and purposelessness that all of us are steeped in, and that we imbibe with our mother’s milk. We gulp all of that in with our first breath, and we grow into it getting more and more deeply mired as the years go by. As a result even for the best of us, any thought of other-centeredness, generosity, peacemaking and faith become marginalized as unrealistic, utopian, and naïve. That’s Original Sin.
Embracing it, living according to our culture’s hopeless convictions means we’ve forgotten our baptismal promises and commitment made for us vicariously when we were infants like Orlando. We’ve forgotten what we subsequently embraced consciously on the day of our Confirmation.
The grace and beauty of an occasion like this is that it presents each of us with an opportunity to remember those commitments (vicarious and conscious) and to reorient ourselves on the path that was trod so faithfully by Jesus of Nazareth. It was a utopian path, a prophetic path.
Think about the Gospel reading we just shared. There Jesus presents himself for baptism at the River Jordan. He’s baptized. The heaven’s open and a voice reveals to him – or reminds him – that he is a beloved child of God, like Orlando here. He goes out into the desert for a forty day retreat – on a vision quest to find out what that revelation might mean. He gets the vision of angels and devils, of rocks turning to bread, of leaping from the pinnacle of the Temple, of all the kingdoms of the world that might be his. With those visions and possibilities in mind, he decides on his path.
The next thing we know, he’s in the Galilee preaching. Mark sums up his message in a single sentence: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”
In other words, Jesus’ decision was to dedicate his life not to preaching about himself, not to his culture’s beliefs that some people were inherently clean and others unclean, not to the service of the Roman Empire, not even to the ethnocentric Kingdom of David. Instead, his focus was the Kingdom of God. His conviction that it is coming to this world in the here and now is what he calls the Good News. His message is a call to change the world accordingly.
And what is the Kingdom of God? In brief, it is what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. In that world everything would be reversed: the rich would become poor; the poor would be rich; the first would be last; the last would be first; prostitutes and sinners would enter before the priests and doctors of religious law.
Following Jesus means believing living and working as though that other world were possible here and now despite all evidence to the contrary.
So here we are at another baptism. And our presence on this lakeshore proclaims to Orlando the words Jesus heard on the banks of the Jordan, “You are my beloved Son; my favor rests on you.” In the years ahead of him, Orlando’s going to try to figure out what those words mean. He’ll see those visions that Jesus saw during his forty day retreat. The world will speak the devil’s lines. “Live for pleasure, profit, prestige, and power. There’s really nothing else to life. After all, you only go around once.”
Today we’re saying “No” on Orlando’s behalf and for ourselves. We’re saying “No” to a life dedicated to pleasure, profit, power and prestige. We’re saying “Yes” to the Kingdom – to the other world our culture says is impossible, unrealistic and naïve. Our hope is that Orlando will one day make his own the “No” and the “Yes” we speak for him at his baptism.
By the way, did you know that Orlando’s name means “renowned land” – famous country? In the context of today’s celebration and our Gospel reading, his name can only be a reference to that renowned “Kingdom of God” that meant so much to Jesus. In other words, Orlando’s name, his very presence should be a constant reminder that we are Kingdom people. Orlando is our Kingdom Child, our Kingdom Boy. As long as he lives, his presence and name should remind us of this day – that our guiding Kingdom vision makes us different in what we hope for, live for, talk about, and work for.
Orlando, Kingdom Boy, thank you for reminding us of who we are!
Now let’s get on with your baptism, beloved child of God.
Thursday’s Post: The highly edited Roman Catholic baptismal ritual we used for Orlando