Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Baptism


BAPTISM

I don’t think there is anyone here would could even imagine putting themselves in the place of Hannah, who takes the son she loves more than life itself, takes young Samuel, to the Tabernacle where Eli is the chief priest, and presents Samuel to Eli - giving her beloved young child to live in the tabernacle and to be forever in the service of God and his people. This is so far out of the realm of our thinking it is inconceivable.
Let’s remind ourselves of the story. Hannah is the wife of Elkanah. He loves her but she has not been able to have any children. This puts Elkanah in a difficult situation in a culture where a man having a son is the primary goal of their life. So Elkanah, out of necessity, takes another wife in addition to Hannah so that he can have a child. Now scripture is very clear that Elkanah still loves Hannah; she is still special to him and the second wife is only for the purpose of having some children. Unfortunately wife #2 was not very gracious to Hannah and would taunt her and say nasty things to her and generally try to make Hannah’s life miserable because wife #2 was having children for Elkanah. Elkanah knew this was going on and tried his best to make Hannah feel better about herself and kept reassuring her that she was the one he loved.
As the family traveled to the tabernacle in Shiloh to offer their sacrifices to God, Hannah goes on her own and falls down on her knees and begins to pray to God to allow her to give Elkanah a son. She is weeping in utter despair and crying out to God and is so out of control that the priest comes to see what all this commotion is about and thinks that she must be drunk because she is carrying on so much. He assumes that the only way a person would show such a lack of self control would be if they had been drinking. So he fusses at Hannah - how can you be drunk this time of the morning? Can’t you even refrain from drinking your wine here in the house of God. Put away that wine!
Hannah is probably mortified that he would think this of her and she answers, “Oh no! No! I’m not drunk. I am just so distraught over the events in my life that I was pouring out my heart to God. Please don’t think poorly of me. I am just so overwhelmed by the situation in my marriage that I was pleading with God to take away this curse from me.” “I am so sorry for you” Eli replied. “I’m sorry for jumping to such a conclusion. Be on your way and I will lift up my prayers to God for you as well.” “Oh thank you!” Hannah replies. She has used up so much energy in her prayers that she has to go and get something to eat. But once she has some food, and she knows that the priest is praying for her, she has a whole new lease on life and she goes back home with a whole different attitude.
And before too long, she finds herself pregnant and she gives birth to a son and she immediately praises God for hearing her prayer and the prayer of Eli and giving her this great gift! She declares that because God has shown such favor to her, she will give this child back to God. She names the baby Samuel because the name meant - “God has heard and God has answered”. She tells her husband that when the child is weaned she is taking him and giving him to God and he understands and tells her to do what she needs to do.
So Samuel is about 3 and she packs his suitcase and prepares a sacrifice for God and heads off to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Elkanah is with her and together they offer the proper sacrifices to God and with prayer, they take the young boy to Eli and present Samuel to him and to God. Hannah says, “Remember me? I am the one you chastised for my vehement prayer and I told you that I was distraught before the Lord and you offered to pray for me? God answered your prayer and my prayer and because he was so gracious to me, I am returning my son to him. I know that he will grow up to serve God forever.” And she hands Eli the suitcase with all of Samuel’s meager belongings, leans down and kisses him goodbye. And while she is sad, she is not grieving because she knows that he is in the hands of God and will be through the rest of his life.
And that is what we do when we bring an infant to be baptized. We are giving that child back to God and recognizing that child as a gift from God - not as a possession, not something that belongs to us, but something God has given us as a gift. And in presenting that child in baptism, we are essentially
saying, God, we trust you to take this child and make it yours. And instead of having to leave it at the altar like Hannah did, God allows us to raise that child - because in this act of baptism, we are promising that we will make sure this child knows that he or she belongs not to us - but to God.
In our tradition there are 2 acts in the church that we consider sacraments. Other traditions recognize as many as 13 sacraments but we in our reformed tradition believe that only The Lord’s Supper and Baptism can be classified as sacraments. And I guess a lot of our understanding of sacraments is how we define them. The

reformed perspective is that first of all a sacrament is something Christ instructed us to do - and in our reading of scripture we only see two acts that Christ specifically instructed his church to do as a means of worship - The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Second, we see that through reading New Testament instructions for the church, these are the two acts that have been pointed to in order to set the church apart for any other gathering of people.
Think about what is different between other organizations you are in and this time of worship? You pray at other organizations, sometimes you sing at other organizations, other organizations do good works, many organizations have a devotion so the Bible is read other places - so what sets us apart - and understand that God has said that this time, this particular gathering we call worship, is suppose to be set apart and different than other gatherings we engage in during the week. What are the things that set us apart - Communion and Baptism. The two things we do here as the people of God that are not part of the programs in other organizations we participate in. That is what makes them a sacrament - things we set apart that are only done for God in the context of God’s people.
One more thing that is important about sacraments - Sacraments are defined within the context of faith as “Visible signs of God’s invisible grace.” - which helps us see that even though we see these two acts as something vital and important and necessary - what happens during these times is an act of God’s spirit, it is not about what we do. It isn’t the bread and juice and water in and of themselves, it is not the rituals or the words - they are just the vehicles which allow us to have a visual aid of what God is doing. God knows we are visual people and need to ‘see’ things - so he gave us these two special moments within the context of worship that allow us to see something but knowing that what is happening is not the thing we see, but what God is doing in the lives of the individuals participating.
In baptism, God is working. We see water, but what we know is happening is that God is sending his spirit to dwell within that individual being baptized. When Jesus was baptized, what is emphasized in the story is not the water, but the fact that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon him. The Spirit of God is what was important at that moment. When John the Baptist was asked about baptism, he said, “I can only baptize you with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that made a difference at Pentecost. When we baptize, it is not about the water, but about what God Spirit is doing during that moment - the water symbolizes the fact that God is infusing that person with his spirit and thus marking that individual his - forever.
Everyone has their own opinion about baptism. Do we baptize infants, do we baptize adults, do we baptize people when they feel ‘saved’? Do we sprinkle, do we pour, do we immerse? And the answer is, “Yes”. We do all these things and we can look to scripture to see that all of these acts have a biblical basis. We cannot say, “But the Bible says only to: immerse or sprinkle or only baptize adults.” It says all these things: we can pull out an instance and say here is says...... but then someone else can pull out an instance were it says something else.” If God were all that concerned about the methods used for baptism, then he would have given us a specific direction - and he didn’t.
What we do understand about God is this - we have to trust him. Bottom line. We have to ‘lean not on our own understanding’ but to trust God. And to trust that God is working and arranging and directing every part of our life. And God knows that some of us will be baptized as infants and some of us will be baptized when we are older and some of us will be baptized when we are on our deathbed and some of us will be sprinkled and some of us will be immersed and some of us will have the water poured over our heads........ And God says, “I
know what is right for you. I know when in your life this will be best for you. Baptism is my work - not yours. You just acknowledge it at some point by some method.”
What we do believe are the words from Ephesians, “We believe in one baptism.....” and whenever it happens and however it is done, we trust God enough to believe that at that moment,of baptism, regardless of how much water is involved, that infant or that child or that teen or that adult is sealed forever as Gods.

Amen!