In a few minutes, the Holy Spirit will take one of our children and make her a child of God, a member of the body of God’s beloved Son. “Child of God,” may be a bit of a clichéd term for us these days, or at the very least a term used to the point of having an ambiguous meaning. When I say, “all God’s children” I’m pretty much talking about everyone, all the people walking down the street, all the people greeting me with smiles and perhaps especially the people irritating me, all God’s children, all beloved souls, each bearing the possibility of becoming more deeply a harbinger of God’s good news for the whole creation, even when I can’t quite see it myself. When I say “all God’s children” I pretty much mean the whole human family. But this is not what Paul meant. Paul was writing to folks in Rome. In Rome, there was one child of God and it was Cesar. Son of God was a religious-political title bestowed upon the ruler of the whole empire, a myth crafted to sanctify his lineage and his claim to the throne, to infuse his leadership with divine authority. For any follower of Jesus in the Roman Empire to call their teacher the Son of God was to subvert the political order of the man made world, the world that invested in the interests of a few through the subordination of the many. Their peculiar faith told them that it was not Cesar who was the Son of God, not the one in the finest robes, not the one with the largest army, not the one whose face appeared on the currency and to whom all tribute came, but rather that the Son of God was a country preacher-healer who got executed by the state for being mouthy. But it was not JUST the fact that this Jesus whom the world crucified and God brought back to life was the true Son of God, Paul said that anyone who followed his wandering Spirit around could be given the power to be a child of God, too. You, too, are a son of God, you, too, are a daughter of God, if you find yourself speaking to the same heavenly parent whom Jesus spoke to. Not the Emperor, not the center of this world’s power, not vanity or might, but one whom all the children of the world could find themselves adopted in with the way of God’s justice, peace, and truth.
But how does one follow the Spirit of God, and where does this Spirit lead? Paul writes, “when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” In other words it begins with prayer. It begins with that prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say in the privacy of their own rooms, the one where you begin by addressing “Our Father” even when you are the only person around. Because that “our” at the beginning of “our father” is what prevents any of us from ever being the only person around. The “our” at the beginning of the address to “our father” marks the presence of a pair, the Holy Spirit speaking along side our own spirit, the Holy Spirit giving our own spirit the words with which to speak, the Holy Spirit helping our spirit to set our gaze in the way that Jesus did, towards an origin somewhere beyond the world which we can touch and taste and see. When we pray to “Our Father” the very Spirit of Christ is helping our meager spirit pray by the side of Jesus as he directs his attention towards God. “For we do not know how to pray as we ought,” Paul writes a bit later, “but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Even somewhere beneath the titles, beneath the manmade names, beneath the limiting gender of human language, there is a deeper prayer which the Spirit is lifting up from us to God, a groaning, a wordless moan full of desire and pain. “Our Father,” may be the beginning of that address, but the content is something more, something beneath the surface of words, some exhausted expression of a child still so far from home, sometimes wanting for the comforting touch of the one who raised her, often longing for the journey’s inevitable end.
Perhaps this is a bit much to expect of the prayer life of Chloe Leigh, whom God will adopt in baptism momentarily. When she is old enough to speak, “Our Father” may very well be one of the first prayers which we teach her. But if she is anything like most of the children I’ve known, she will find her own ways of speaking with God, too. She will speak to God in the sandbox in her first moments of awe at the alchemy between dirt and water. She will speak to God the first time she says, “Whoa!” at the sight of a crashing wave, or a timid bird, or a fresh ripe strawberry on the vine. She will speak to God when her heart is broken, she may -even if she travels far from the faith of her childhood- find herself asking the empty air one night, “How could you let this happen?” and “Please help me.” She will have said “Thank you” before meals so many times that one day she’ll say “Thank you” out loud to the hills and sky simply because she cannot believe the blessings which have accumulated in her life through friendship and family and victories and mistakes. She may find, wherever her path leads, that in the privacy of her own room there is a “you” to talk to, and a “we” to do the talking with. And if she’s still with us in the Church by then, or if she finds her way back after some time apart, and if we do our part in being open about sharing and teaching about our own faith, she may learn to call this “we” a Trinity. The Spirit who gathers each of us into the very Body of God’s own Word, a word of thanks and unadulterated love to shout out at the only One who will never leave us alone, a plea for guidance from the only One who is making and saving and persistently staying with us always. In the name of this holy and undivided Trinity, let us now baptize Chloe Leigh.
A note: Typically Baptisms occur at St. David’s on one of the four baptismal feasts, but I needed to make alternate arrangements this time because my schedule sharing with St. Michael’s did not permit me to be at St. David’s this Pentecost. Yet, as circumstance would have it, I found the readings for Trinity Sunday to be very well suited to a baptism! I believe it was a blessedly graced occasion. Not least of all because of how generous Chloe Leigh was with her smiles.