This morning, in a few minutes, we will baptize a beautiful little girl, PB. She is only five months old, sweet and precious, and we cannot look at her without imagining what the future holds for her. What kind of world she has come into?
What kind of world, indeed.
It has been a painful week for the news. Proof of the use of chemical weapons against Syrian women and children. A mentally ill man shooting people at the Washington Navy Yard, resulting in a dozen deaths. Record rainfalls and mudslides in Colorado. Train collisions. Fires. Violent crime.
Are you frightened yet? You should be. But as bad as this week has been, it is not unique. Bad things happen around us, and have been happening around us since the beginning of time. If you don’t believe it, remember the story of Cain and Abel.
What kind of world awaits this little girl? It certainly feels like it isn’t a good world.
And yet her parents chose to bring a child into this world, and we are all happy about that.
Is something wrong with us that we take that kind of risk? Should we abstain from having children, since we worry that we cannot protect them from all the bad things we hear about every day?
It’s a fair question, but you and I both know that we will continue to bring children into the world. We have hope that the world will be good to them, that we can protect them, that we can do things that change the world so that it is a safer, better place. We think, too, that their presence in the world (despite evidence to the contrary on Dr Phil and Keeping Up with the Kardashians) will in fact make the world better.
And so we have children. And what do we do when we have them. For many of us, we recognize that our children may be the result of our own biological urges, but they are not mere biology, they are a gift. A gift from God, the creator who made us all.
We bring children to God in the sacrament of baptism to dedicate them to God, to make promises that we will make sure they know who God is and what God gives to us and expects from us. We pray for God’s protection for children, as Paul does in the Letter to Timothy, saying “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” But notice what Paul does in the letter. His prayer is offered for “for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.” Paul knows that what is going on in the world affects those who live in the world, and if God is working to guide the leaders who have secular power, it will have a good effect on the everyday people who simply want to lead a quiet and peaceable life.
We can see the effect on everyday people when the kings and leaders don’t hear God – we have the world that we live in today, where bad things are happening. They act like the dishonest manager, who worries more about preserving his own position than about those under his care.
And so we pray for those leaders, but we also pray for those who are subject to their leadership, so that they may know a better way.
That’s really what baptism is about: learning about the better way, the way that Christ taught us, where the priorities aren’t about who’s in power and who has the most, but about who is cared for, who is safe, who can live a peaceable life.
And so we baptize this child as a child of the light, a child who will follow Jesus. We baptize her because she is the embodiment of the hope of what the world might be, a better world, one in which the ground rules are set by God, not by secular kings and presidents. We baptize her because we trust in God, in whom we can always trust, in whom we always find love. Bless her. Bless kings. Bless leaders. Bless us, that we might teach her as we should, to know priorities that are God’s, not the worlds. Bless us all.
It’s a complex and sometimes frightening world for grownups and for children and for babies, too. Why wouldn’t we pray for God’s blessing to help us in the midst of it, and for the hope for the future? Why indeed?