A colleague of mine tells the story about a family in her church that wanted to baptize their five-year-old son. This family had a tradition of doing baptisms at a lake in the summer. So Pastor Sherry went out to the lake with them.
They gathered at the edge of the lake and set up a picnic table for communion. Pastor Sherry spoke with the five-year-old about what was going to happen. She explained to him that baptism was a very special thing we did that made us all members of God’s family, and that by joining this family, we all become saints. This five-year-old was sweet, loving, and trusting. He also was a special needs child. As he looked at the water, and he looked at his family, he decided flatly and resolutely that he was NOT going to get baptized in the lake after all.
So Pastor Sherry told him he could watch as they baptized his young cousin. His cousin came forward and stepped into the lake, as Pastor Sherry said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Through baptism, his cousin was claimed by God—claimed as a saint for all eternity.
Still, though, the boy did not want to get into the water.
So they continued with the worship service.
Pastor Sherry read Scripture. She talked about the legacy of faith, passed down from generation to generation. She preached that in baptism, we are surrounded by the saints. Not just the saints like the ones you see in pictures with halos over their heads – but all the members of God’s family who have gone before us. now, The family’s grandfather had died just a few weeks earlier. And the pastor shared that through the sacramental acts they participated in together – the Holy Eucharist, Baptism – they were still connected to their Papa. They were surrounded by the saints, those saints who are with us now and those saints who have gone before.
Suddenly, the five-year-old boy piped up: “You mean Papa is here with us now… ‘cause of the water of Jesus?” And the preacher replied, “Yes.”
The boy ripped his shirt off. He grabbed the preacher’s hand.
He pulled at her as he ran into the lake. He yelled, “Put my Jesus water all over me now!”
So she did…again and again… as he cried out his love for his Papa, and now, for Jesus, reveling in this blessed connection through the waters of baptism.
There is a Celtic tradition that speaks of “thin places” – places and moments where the veil between heaven and earth is transparent, where the spiritual world and the natural world seem to intersect, where we see heaven and earth meet and we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday world.* Where the waters of a lake bathe us in the presence of a love we feel but cannot see.
Maybe for you, that is the ocean, or a piece of NYC architecture, or the view out of the window of an airplane, or a moment of overwhelming love for your child, or forgiveness from someone when you didn’t deserve to be forgiven, or your grandmother’s house, or a church on a mountaintop halfway across the world. Thin places are where the separation between God and this world dissipates.
Today, the feast of All Saints, is one of the church’s thin places, where we see through that veil separating heaven and earth. Where the presence of all the saints who have gone before — not just the famous ones in stained glass windows— are remembered, their presence among us noted.
If you read your bible, in all of Paul’s letters, he addresses the saints – and he’s not talking to St. Michael, or St. Jude, or St. Mary.
He’s talking to the community of faithful believers. The truest understanding of saints is the entire body of Christ, both living and departed.
You are all saints.
So are your parents, and grandparents, your spouses, your children, and all your loved ones who have gone before you.
It doesn’t mean you, or they, behave well all the time.
It means you, and they, through baptism, belong to God.
And because we all belong to God, the saints who have gone before us are still with us and join us in our prayers and sacraments. The Christian faith is full of thin places, like Baptism, and Eucharist, holy mysteries that reach beyond the veil and connect us, in faith, to a great cloud of witnesses. The waters of Baptism have washed over our ancestors as surely as they will wash over Lucas Mateo today. When we participate in these sacraments, these beautiful rituals, we do it in the blessed company of the saints.
You know what that’s like. Chances are you’ve felt the presence of a dearly departed loved one, and you’ve said to yourself, “I know Grandpa was watching.” or “I know Lori was with me.” Chances are you’ve known, at least once, that you’ve been in the company of the saints.
And it is in their company that we commit today to the promises we make in baptism, just like they, too, committed to these same promises. Promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, to persevere in resisting evil, to commit oneself to Christian community and teaching. Promises that are hard to keep, but that is why we look to the saints who have lived them and shown us the way. Saints who have shown us the blessed life of the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
After all, what are we committing to in baptism but the grace that brings the kindom of God, that upside-down world in which the meek and poor in spirit are blessed? What are we committing to if not for God to change us from the inside out, so that we can change the world from the upside-down?
That upside-down kingdom of God feels quite far from us right now. And even more, it feels so far from our ability to usher in. How can one person – you, me – how can one church, living out our baptismal vows, make the world look a little more like God intended it? How can it bless the poor, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Well, the story of a 5-year-old boy I’ve never met made its way to you this morning. The pure faith with which he almost literally dove into his baptism, and his incredible ability to grasp the mystery of the communion of saints through a splash of water, made the meaning of baptism come alive for everyone who witnessed it – so much so that they had to share the story. And its ripple effects have reached all the way from somewhere in the middle of the country to New York City.
We’re just a few days away from the most contentious election in American history. We’re 8 months into a global pandemic that is showing yet another wave of infection sweeping across the nation. We’ve witnessed, yet again, more unarmed black men being killed by the police this week. The ripple effects of our baptism into those realities matters. Our unwavering commitment to God’s love, justice, and peace means that we’re not resigned to being passive bystanders, or paralyzed balls of anxiety, or angry raging hotheads.
We may not be influential theologians, or members of religious orders, or martyrs, or caring for the poorest of the poor, or dedicated to a life of poverty and fasting, or always righteous and blameless, or any of the other things saints seem to be known for. But we are saints not because of what we are, but because of who we are. You are each a beloved child of God. The ripple effects as you emerge from the waters of your baptism will reach places you may never know about, but when you hold fast to the vows you make and reaffirm today, they will reach far and wide.
Because you are a saint. So go forth from this thin place, to be one… and make a splash.
opening story: courtesy of Rev. Diane Kenaston