All of us have an identity. Some of us can be attributed to multiple identities. We identify as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, pipefitters, teachers, friends, entrepreneurs, academics, farmers, certain sports fans, retirees and the list goes on. Almost everything that is done by a human can eventually be turned into an identification marker for that human. Humans have this internal need to be identified with something. Throughout much of history humans have been chiefly identified by their family. Their family name is what is important and all of living and dying was done in that name. The answer to the question ‘who are you’ is answered with ‘I’m a Colquhoun.” There is still strong remnants of this kind of identity within our cultures but there is others that also are at play. If someone asks you who you are now you might answer by your nationality. In a world where borders are disappearing, identifying by your country is very common. I am Chinese, I am Canadian. Or in a world dominated by economic interests you might answer the question by the way you contribute to economics. I am a teacher. I am a banker. I work in the plants. Work has defined us quite a bit over the last few hundred years.
Religion carries with it quite a powerful identity. Many people identify as Christians, Muslims or Jews. It’s an identity that is formed through generations simply by what you are born into. Odds are if you are born into a Muslim country, you will be a Muslim. If you were born in North America (especially 30 years ago) you’d likely be a Christian. In many ways it’s similar to a family name.
So Jesus shows up a few thousand years ago in the middle of a lot of religions and tried to put an end to this identification system that we have been sticking too so closely. He sees the stark reality of what competing identification systems do to people and flipped it all upside down. In a world where people were identifying by their riches, he chose to be with the poor. In a world where people were identifying by their religion, he chose to be with the lost. In a world where people identified by purity, he chose to be with the defiled.
By identifying by things that don’t make us all equal we naturally put ourselves against each other by finding things to identify with that are shallow and not equal. He saw and knew that we all needed to identify by the same thing because we are the same thing. Namely that we are God’s children, we are loved and we are part of his Kingdom. We are human and God loves us. We are not a sum of the things we do or the families that we are part of. We are who we are because we were created by God to love him and love each other. Any other identity is secondary. Paul picks up on this idea of thinking soon after in his letter to the Galatians.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The church is made up of people who accept this identity and strive to live into this identity. The church is made up of these people who identify with Christ and these things. Since communities are fluid entities there is always people at different stages of understanding and living into their identities. If you look at new Christians, they still have a long way to go to someone who grew up in the church. If you look at babies, they don’t just identify with something, they are raised to identify with something. So the church is a community of people at different stages of understanding and living into their identity in Christ and as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.
The church in other words is an identity-forming community. It is within this community that our love can be formed, and our identity can be shaped into the way we were created to be.
So if we view the church this way, then we can start to see many of the things that the church does as identity-forming practices. If you look at our practices thus far (music, potluck, eucharist, dialogue) there is always a link back to how these things help shape us into being the people of God. We acknowledge that we have all sinned and that we default against God and who we were created to be and that these disciplines and practices give us the freedom to start to live into God’s promise for his children.
One of the main practices that the church holds is that of baptism. There is many views around baptism. There is full submersion, there is sprinkling. Many churches, especially evangelical ones, would never baptize a baby and would only do adult baptism. They see baptism as a confessional ritual where you confess your faith and make it your own. The mainline churches though see baptism as more of a symbol of being included into the community of God, it’s a mark of belonging to the community and a celebration that God’s grace is already present in their life, and has been up to now. All Christian churches have a practice surrounding infants and their families and the commitments of the parents and their community to raise their children like Christ and all Christian churches have some sort of practice when the child is old enough to make their own decisions to make the faith their own. The nice part about the Free Methodist church is that we really recognize all of these traditions as legitimate. We haven’t put our foot down that you aren’t allowed to baptize babies or what you call it. The funny part about the whole debate is that it really is minor. The act itself is a symbol and they are attempting to say and do similar things and lot of it is language and rigidness around rituals that have been fossilized into the church.
So this morning, we can call what we are going to do whatever we want. We can call it a baptism, or a dedication, or a commitment. The point isn’t what we are calling it or if we are throwing some water around. The point is are we thinking about what we are doing?
Q: What are your experiences around baptism, dedication, profession of faith, confirmation? What does a morning like this mean for you?
I would like for us to reflect deeper on what it means that this morning is what incorporates us into the church. Generally this has always been thought of as a very individual moment, when the parents are committing to something or the individual is confessing something. But what we are celebrating here this morning is growth in the whole Christian community.
In baptism we are proclaiming that Ainsley, Adlih and Will are members of the Body of Christ and theStory. That they are just as much members as any of us. It doesn’t matter what role you have here or how long you have been here. This morning, we are saying that these three are members, no more and no less than everyone else. This for us means that we need to accommodate them where they are, and learning to be the kind of community that loves them for who they are and taking an active role in shaping their life and faith. One of these days they will take this decision into their own hands but in the meantime their lives and faith are contingent on those who love them, those in their community. This is normal for children, they are so incredibly vulnerable and they trust those around them. All we can offer them is the stories we can tell them, the prayers that we share with them, the love that we give and all these things will become part of who they are.
So this morning is marking their identity. Darryl & Laura, Steve & Emily, Mike and Katie. Your children are no longer yours. They belong to Christ. They have been grafted into the vine, into the body of Christ alongside of us. They are under your care and stewardship, but they are members with us now in Christ’s Body. That is their primary identity. Not as your child. Not what they want to be when they grow up. Not how good their grades are or how great they are at sports. Their identity is that of a child of God created to love and be loved.
“It is a bold and audacious thing to baptize/dedicate a child. It proclaims God’s sheer, gracious love. They are His, not based on merit or anything they have done or believed, but by grace alone. And they are one with us; fully one with us. We need to enact that, by being responsible for them and by forming and loving them, but also by making real space for them, such that they may exercise their ministry to us ““ so that the gift that is their childhood may be for this community a recollection of what it is that fits us for the Kingdom of God.”
Call Up The Children and the Families
God, through Moses, made covenant with his people, saying to them, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. In the days of the new covenant, Christ Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these;” and on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter declared, regarding the salvation given through Christ, “The promise is for you and your children.” It is therefore our privilege to present our children to the Lord and our duty to raise them in his ways. These parents now bring these children to offer them in dedication and to pledge in the presence of this congregation, to bring them up in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.
Let us pray:
Father, we praise you today for the gift of these children into our world, among your people, and into these parents’ homes Thank you for all the joy these children have already brought to them. We praise you too for all the potential that you have packed into these lives. May they, as the years progress, increase in wisdom, in freedom, and in favour with you and with other people.
Bless Mike & Katie, Steve and Emily, Darryl & Laura as they parent their children. So work in their homes that at an early age in life these children may affirm personally all that has been pledged on their behalf here today.
And Father, bless this whole church family in such a way that in both what we are and in what we do, we may model and minister in the power of the Spirit in ways that will lead to the fulfillment of what we ask today.
Lord, we thank you that though these children have not consciously thought about you yet, you have already been thinking about them, about their place in your plan, and about how you want to shower your love upon them. Thank you for grace that seeks us even before we have even thought of you.
Come and bless us now as we consecrate these children and ourselves to you. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
Now these questions we address to the parents.
Do you, in the presence of God and this church, solemnly dedicate these children to the Lord?
Do you renounce evil and all its works and all its ways so that you will endeavour neither to follow them nor be led by them?
Will you faithfully strive by word and example to lead these children to personal faith in Christ?
Do you accept the story as we read in the scriptures and attempt to live it out in this community as your story as well?
Out of this story, will you diligently teach these children, the commandment of love and promises of salvation, raising them in the discipline and instruction of the church?
To the congregation
Do you acknowledge our duty to support this family with our prayers and encouragement, thereby aiding both parents and children to fulfill all that has here been promised. The congregation will affirm this by standing.
We dedicate you to God in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you experience God’s grace every day of your life within the company of us here at theStory and God’s people everywhere and one day make the faith yours to walk in.
William, Ainsley and Adlih, by this act of dedication, we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life. This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of God’s experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we know not. Where God will take you, surprise you, we cannot say. This we do know and this we say””God is with you.