The Next Faithful Step
Scott Cormode, Fuller Theological Seminary
Communal Story: “He asked his Friend to be the Family of God to Her”
I once heard a man explain why Presbyterians emphasize baptism’s communal nature. He talked about the baptism of his daughter and how part of the service called for the congregation to make vows. The congregation promised to proclaim the faith to the children just as the parents promised to raise the child in the way of the Lord. The man went on to describe what happened many years later, after his child had grown. One night she called him from Denver, where she had gone to live. She told her father that she was in trouble. She had gotten into drugs and made a series of choices that she now regretted. She called asking him to help her turn her life around. But the man did not have a lot of options, a lot of resources. Circumstances were such that he could not move to Denver and she could not move back to his home. What was he to do? That night he called an old friend who now lived in Denver, a man who had been a part of the congregation that had promised at her baptism to proclaim the faith to her. He reminded his friend of that vow. And he asked his friend honor that vow. He asked his friend to be the family of God for his daughter that night and in the months to come. His friend dropped what he was doing and attended to the girl and proclaimed the love of God to her when neither her father nor the institutional church could. When this man called on his friend he was drawing on the sacrament of baptism as a resource.
But the story does not end there. A few years ago I visited a friend who was a pastor in rural Virginia. She asked me to preach while I was in town. And it turned out that there was a baptism scheduled for that day. So I preached my standard baptism sermon--every minister probably has one. And in it I told the story of the daughter in Denver. I also talked about when my own daughter was baptized, just a few months before we moved across the country. I told them that the nature of the church is such that the congregation nurturing my daughter in California was now fulfilling the vows taken by the congregation that baptized her in Connecticut. After I preached this sermon, I discovered that the interpretation was far more meaningful for this Virginia congregation than I knew. The woman bringing the child for baptism was the child’s grandmother and everyone knew that soon the child would be moving to a different part of the country. The congregation did not know quite what to make of such a familial arrangement. What the sermon’s stories said to that church was that they were taking a vow that another part of Christ’s church would fulfill, just as they each day fulfill vows taken by other congregations. We are all part of the family of God.
Communal Story: “Baptism Now Complete”
This morning a friend sent out a Facebook update that said simply, “Baptism now complete.” When someone asked her to explain she said, “In baptism we die with Christ and are raised with Christ to eternal life. My friend Carole's baptism is complete. We celebrated her life and the gift of new life in Christ this morning.”
Communal Story: “She Belongs to God and She Belongs to Us”
At the Connecticut church where my daughter was baptized, the pastor had a little routine that she followed whenever she baptized a child. After the ceremony, she took the child in her arms and walked her through the congregation. As she did it she said, “This is <child’s name>. She belongs to God. And she belongs to us.”