Baptism: Tying Knots for Each Other

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original tweet after the loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

With the recent spate of celebrity suicides, we’ve all been thinking a lot about how to reach out and help each other when someone’s struggling. Actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted a characteristically positive message: 

*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
*checks knots*

Stay put, you. 

We worry a lot — about ourselves, our loved ones, our souls. We worry about things like blaspheming the Holy Spirit. As a kid I used to worry as many of us do — I haven’t done that, have I?

And as I was preparing for the service, I thought about changing the Gospel text, thinking, “Do we really need to talk about the devil this much?” 

Welcome to the church, Sophie! We talk about some crazy stuff here, and we still swear it’s the 21st century.

But stay put, you. We’re going somewhere. 

This past Lent, we talked about what I lovingly called the “Dark Arts” of theology: we talked about mortality, sin, and finally, Satan. We talked about how Satan, “ha-satan” in Hebrew, means “the accuser”: the voice we all hear from time to time, whether we name it Satan, one’s demons, or simply low self-esteem. It whispers things like: “You can’t do anything right. You’re a terrible parent. You’re not paying enough attention to your aging parents. You’ll always be addicted. You’re too fat. You’re too skinny. You just can’t follow through on anything, can you? Maybe you want to be depressed.” 

You get the idea. This voice is persistent, cruel, and creative. Whether or not you believe in a literal devil with a pitchfork, the voice of accusation is real, and it comes for all of us. Sometimes, it comes from a voice inside of us; other times, people speak their accusations of us out loud.

Whenever we baptize children, we do so with the knowledge that someday, they too will hear that voice: the one that tells them that they’re not good enough, not strong enough, not beautiful or talented enough. But before that ever has a chance to happen, and before the kid has ever done a thing wrong or right, we baptize those children and call them beloved of God.

We come to tie knots firmly to ourselves and to Sophie and to her family and to each other and to God. We check the knots. 

Stay put, you.

We say to Sophie and her family, as I love to quote: “God loves you, and we love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Before she ever has to deal with either difficult, accusatory people or her own self-doubt, we tell Sophie that we’re here for you, and God loves you — always. 

In today’s Gospel passage, with all of its devil talk, we hear those voices coming for Jesus. He’s been out there in Galilee doing some good. His family thinks he’s gone crazy, and you can’t really blame them — they live in a land occupied by a strong foreign empire, where they and their neighbors live in constant fear of persecution. Jesus is out there raising a ruckus, so what mother among us can’t say that she wouldn’t grab her Messianic son by the robes and say, “Boy, have you lost your mind?!” They will kill you if you keep drawing attention to yourself!

What’s more, some religious leaders have come out to the country to see what all the fuss was about, as word about Jesus was spreading. They don’t seem to spend much time getting to know Jesus or his healing before they accuse him of being Satan.

And that’s when Jesus lets loose of this line that has caused existential crises among the spiritually anxious — that is, most people, including me and maybe you — for centuries: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). 

It’s even gone the other way: a few years ago on YouTube there was the “blasphemy challenge,” where some anti-religion-types decided to record themselves “blaspheming the Holy Spirit,” but from what I could tell, they mostly only succeeded at poorly conjugating the verb “to blaspheme.” 

Here’s what I don’t think it means: I don’t think that God is as petty as we are. I don’t think it means simply uttering bad things about the Holy Spirit, causing God to have a grudge that God never lets go of. Because here’s the thing: the Bible is full of people who got mad at God, even cursed God, and were still loved and saved by God. So nice try, militant atheists on YouTube. 

Here’s what I see in the passage: the religious leaders, the ones who claim to get what this whole God thing is all about, look at the new life that Jesus is creating and they call it evil. 

I still don’t think that makes God have a giant grudge. I think that, instead, Jesus is describing a reality: if you think that new life is really death, or evil, and that you know better about whom God loves than God does, you won’t experience new life. Jesus isn’t being prescriptive, or talking about how God will punish; he’s simply being descriptive — that is, “this is what happens when you do this.”

In short, you can put your existential worries away. Stay put, you. 

You’re just fine.

God loves you, and there’s nothing you, or the people who accuse you of not being enough, the voices in your head, or anyone else can do about it. 

This is why we are here: to remind one another that Satan — that is, those accusing voices — have no power here in the presence of the love that Jesus preached, lived, died, and rose again for.

When I was interning with a church in Atlanta, we went to the pride parade. Thanks to a stall in crowd flow, a group of parishioners and I once found ourselves between the Atlanta Pride parade and a group of protestors with bullhorns holding signs, some of which had Bible verses on them. Those signs were accusatory, insulting, and disgusting, and so were the words coming from the bullhorns — for a moment it seemed like all of them had bullhorns. They saw that we were a church group in rainbows, and they turned their ire and accusations towards us. They told us all about our church, and about how our message of love was straight from Satan. 

So we yelled too. But we did not yell at the protestors. We yelled to the crowd instead. We hollered for a full minute about God’s love, and for a good forty-five seconds of it, between us and the crowd, we drowned out the voices of hate and accusation in messages of welcome and love: “There is nothing wrong with you. Who you are is not shameful. You were wonderfully made, and God adores you.” Essentially, “STAY PUT, YOU.” 

That is why we are here: to challenge those voices that come for all of us. To say to each other and to Sophie, and to her family, that no matter what voices of accusation rise in their lives as the years ago by, they can always come here to drown those voices out in messages of love.

To say, “We love you and we love having you around. Stay put, you.” 

We say it, we pray it, and we sing it: in singing “All Are Welcome” when the service started, we sang of building a house “where love can dwell and all can safely live.” After I sit down, we’ll sing about God’s love through our whole lives in a song that we usually reserve just for baptisms. 

Because the voice of the accusers are always so strong, we never stop coming here to make sure that though those accusations are loud for all of us, God’s love is louder.

So when we renounce the devil in the next few minutes, think about those voices in your own life, and renounce them, because God’s love is, and always will be, louder.

Because I love you, and God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Stay put, you. Amen.

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