See Jane Run…

Mark 1:9-15 – 1st Sunday of Lent – for February 26, 2012

“…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

I was baptized once.

No, hundreds of times.

Raised in the American Baptist Church, my parents had me “dedicated” as a baby, but it would be my decision for a formal, full-immersion baptism. As a United Methodist clergy, most of the baptisms I’ve celebrated have been squirming infants while I dribbled H2O on their heads. Thus, based on my childhood church’s traditions, and the denomination I serve as a so-called responsible adult, I’m uniquely qualified to argue with myself about when (and how) a believer should be baptized.

Let’s see what you believe . . .

Those who think infants should be baptized, please line-up against the digital wall on the right side of the virtual room. And you adults-only supporters . . . over to the left wall. Both sides, please behave!

I’ll remain in the middle of the room and give a quiz:

The proper way to use the baptismal water is:

A. Minister sprinkles water on head once
B. Minister sprinkles water on head three times (symbolizing Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Creator, Christ and Spirit or . . .)
C. For a once-only ceremony, minister pinches believer’s nose closed and immerses her/him in water.
D. For as many times as it takes (for sinners keep sinning and need to be saved again…and again…and again), the minister pinches believer’s nose closed and immerses her/him in water.
E. The water better be a river, and not just a Jolly Green Giant-sized bathtub behind the sanctuary’s altar.
F. Who needs a minister? Like Robert Duvall’s Sonny in “The Apostle,” you can baptize yourself.

Is it okay to baptize yourself? Duvall's character Sonny did it in "The Apostle."

At “F” I grew weary (wary?), so that’s where the quiz ends. (For example, I began research on Anabaptists and their baptismal beliefs and practices, but my head started hurting. So “F” is where I’ll stop, though I hope it’s not the grade I’ll get as I reflect about this wondrous sacrament.)

It’s complicated: who we baptize and when; how we baptize and why.

And yet, maybe not. For Christians, before baptism evolved into a sacrament, a special set-aside ritual to acknowledge and celebrate a believer’s trust in the God revealed by Jesus Christ, it was the simple act of a man* wading into the Jordan River.

Therefore, let me tell you about Jane. That’s not her real name, but I do want to protect her identity. I grew up in the 1950/60s and recall those insipid, vaguely helpful, Dick and Jane (See Jane run!) books that taught kids how to read. Dear, sweet Jane. A simple name: easy to pronounce and neutral. So I’ll use it to keep my Jane anonymous.

This is a story about Jane heading for H2O. In her case, it was not the Jordan River, but on a backpack at the snow-fed Lake of the Lone Indian in the Sierra Nevada’s high country. Truth be told, this is really not Jane’s baptism, but mine. Oh, did I tell you I’d been baptized only once? A lie, indeed a faithful, lovely lie! Not only, as an ordained clergy, have I baptized hundreds of believers; I myself have had many baptisms because of others. Let’s call those second-hand baptism.

Jane was adventurous and stubborn. She’d directed several non-profit agencies. You should also know she was around 60 (shouldn’t reveal a woman’s age) when she arrived at Lake of the Lone Indian. Further, she was a cancer survivor. And . . . she’d been my boss because she’d chaired the church’s Staff-Parish (or personnel) Committee. Every year, that group evaluated the lay and clergy staff. No one, in my entire ministry, had been as critical of me as Jane. She bluntly, and fairly, shared with me how I could improve and strengthen my ministry. In other words, Jane was a tough, loving, smart lady.

Ah, the strange, ubiquitous Dick and Jane books...

But she stumbled along the trail on the hike. She wasn’t a spring chicken. She was a cancer survivor. She hadn’t backpacked in years.

Mid-way through the journey, we arrived at the lake. It would be our campsite for two nights, allowing aching legs and sore shoulders to heal. Some of the younger folks decided to swim. I watched Jane watch them. She slowly stripped off her sweaty hiking clothes until only in “skivvies.” Jane, the professional woman, the person who’d staggered up and down the trail, ran toward the water. Ran toward joy. Ran toward the sheer pleasure of a plunge into an alpine lake.

Her water splashed me. Second-hand glory.

A few years later, Jane died. Is this why I vividly recall her dash toward the water? Yes. No. More it’s because she embraced life. How much every single dry or watery, blessed moment mattered.

Jesus waded into the Jordan. You and I are second-hand recipients of that sacramental moment of trust in God.

But I also think of Jesus’ actions, in its simplest form, as a plunge into life. Sure, we can all argue about the “best” way to baptize. But I see Jane run, feel her water splash on my arms and within my heart, and imagine baptism as a thousand different moments where I am reminded of life’s gifts.


*Here I will get in trouble with everyone in a virtual or real room. There are those who believe Jesus the divine was Christ before/at the moment of birth. There are those who believe Jesus the man became Christ after baptism and/or transfiguration and/or resurrection and/or…? All statements of belief create tension, whether polite debate between friends or nations battling each other. If I say anything is simple, it’s also something we humans have muddled up.

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  1. In seminary, we never touch on when Jesus became Christ or when he became divine or if those are the same thing Or even if this is a very important question. Generally because there is insufficent evidence for any of those answers The only thing we can profess with reasonable certainty based on the New Testament is that while he walked the earth, he was fully human, and after his resurrection, he was fully divine.
    I won’t risk boring anyone with the well-known reasons for Right / Center denominations doing infant baptisms. The Lutherans do it becuase the child has no say in the matter of whether God’s spirit is with them, and they shall be redeemed. That’s already determined. Luther also continued doing it because it had been done for 1500 years that way, and no one was about to say all those people are damned.
    What puzzles me is that it is so rare for someone to request to reinact their baptism, the same way married couples renew their vows. I can guess all the counter-arguments, but then my church conducted a wedding (same sex) which did not have the blessing of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But we did it anyway. The call of the spirit can often run counter to both church and state.

    1. Thanks Bruce. I thought you might “plunge” into the Right/Center reasons and disagreements about baptism. Always appreciate your insights!

  2. Larry,
    Again, my mind is going 90 to nothing after reading your words. What difference does it make when we get baptized? In the long run, a family, a church, or a group of people will do when they think the time is right. And I don’t care which way it’s done. I had to chuckle to myself reading your list, and wondering if I know or knew the answers to A through F. You make me think about things I don’t necessarily think about, or perhaps it’s that I don’t want to think about. I am struggling with more than one friend or friend’s friend dealing with cancer. I know that in at least one case, she will not survive this round, she is in horrible pain, and all I can do is pray and say I care, and can I help to her family. I feel helpless! But yet I know those who have survived their battle with cancer, and for that I’m thankful. No matter what we deal with in this life, personally, or with others, and how we deal with scriptures and our churches (when to or not to baptize or marry) it all boils down very simply. Our love of God and that He accepts each and every one of us, and gives us grace and mercy never ending. It’s so complicated yet so simple. Dick and Jane. Hadn’t thought about them for years. Maybe it’s a very good thing you jog my memory so well at least once a week. And with those memory “jogs” you make me think outside the box and my comfort zone. Thanks!

    1. Nancy…again, thanks for the kind comments about my site/words. Deeply sorry to hear about your friends with cancer. We can feel helpless, not knowing what is the right things to say or do. But I believe our prayers and presence matter. I suspect your friends feel, and are grateful for, your support.

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