“Moonbeams” is a periodic message from me in an attempt at reflecting the light.I hope these “Moonbeams” foster reflection in your own life.Every Blessing, Rev. Denny Moon
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan River to be baptized by him.” (Matt. 3:13)
I have always loved baptisms. Who wouldn’t? Parents proudly standing together in front of the congregation; extended family in the first two rows grinning from ear to ear; godparents shining with honor; me, cradling new life in my arms, blessing it with a splash and then lifting the baby as high as I can walking down the aisle. (Some refer to this as the “‘Lion King’ move”, but many ministers were doing this long before the movie came out.) The congregation “oohs” and “ahhs” and I say, “Look and see what manner of love we have been given, that we should be called children of God. And so we are.” Tears and smiles fill the room as the truth of that quote and the vulnerability of infancy is revealed before our eyes. I pray for the child and hand him or her back to the mother. I love baptizing babies.
So I was a bit baffled when I received a request from Zach, a 12 year old boy in our congregation, to be baptized. I was hesitant. His family came from a tradition which didn’t baptize babies, but waited until a child was old enough to make their own cognitive assent to faith. They call it “believer’s baptism.” I’m not here to argue about it, anytime anyone can be blessed– I’m for it. My hesitation had to do with my lack of experience- believer’s baptism fully submerges the baptizee under water and I had never before “dunked” a person. Zach wanted to be baptized in the lake at our church camp on a Sunday afternoon during a church picnic. I thought through the baptism process, “Vows, water, prayers, and I just won’t do the ‘Lion King move’ with a 12 year-old. That should work.”
It was a hot afternoon in July when we waded out into the water, mid-belly for me, armpits for Zach, wearing swim suits and T-shirts. Forty members of the church family were standing on shore, grinning ear to ear. Zach was standing in front of me facing the smiles. I quoted a few scripture verses about baptism and asked Zach why he was doing this. He told the group that this was his decision alone, to show God and others that he was serious about following Jesus.
I put my hands on his shoulders and pronounced, “In the name of God our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer, I baptize you Zachary Lucas Daniels.” I put my hands on his shoulders, pushed him down under the water into a squatting position, bowed my head and began to pray. “Oh God, we give you thanks for Zach, and for all those who have influenced his walk of faith…” I went on to name parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, Sunday school teachers and youth group advisors, and then, inspired by the Spirit, I added a paragraph about the gifts God had given Zach and his willingness to share them with others. Finally, I exclaimed, “Amen!” and opened my eyes to see forty people wide-eyed and gasping on shore. Simultaneously, I loosened my grip on Zach’s shoulders and he thrust himself straight upward and out of the lake, splashing water everywhere, sputtering and wheezing. The people on shore, with one voice let out a cheer, then hooted, hollered and applauded!
I immediately realized what I had done and was quite embarrassed. My smart aleck youth pastor said to me, “Baptism is a symbol of dying to self and rising by the spirit. It’s a symbol! You don’t have to drown the kid!”
I imagine Jesus went to John because he knew John shared the idea of dying to self and rising by the spirit and, of course, John was an experienced dunker. In Matthew’s account of the event, as Jesus comes up from the water a voice speaks from the heaven’s and says, “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” This same sentiment was echoed in the response to Zach’s eruption, for he too is a child of God, a gift to the world, as is every person, infant or otherwise, including those: fleeing the violence in their home countries trying to find a new life; struggling to support a family in poverty; addicted to drugs or alcohol, hoping for a way out; and the list goes on. This is one of the meanings of the symbol of baptism.
As for the one who performed the near-death baptism, he too is blessed, though no one has requested a dunking from him since.