A Fresh Look at Baptism

Rev. Frances Young is a Methodist minister and professor of theology. Her son, Arthur, was born in 1967 with a serious brain injury. He’s been unable to do anything for himself for the whole of his life. Arthur lived with his mother and father for 45 years until the summer of 2012, he moved out into a care facility. In her book called Arthur’s Call, Frances describes the complexities, pain and beauty of her life with Arthur. She talks about his calling by God, his unique work and vocation as a disciple. She says this:

“It has always been of the greatest importance to me that Arthur was baptized as a baby. Even though he cannot receive the sacrament of communion or make a profession of faith in confirmation, he is held in God’s grace and belongs to the body of Christ through baptism.”

She says that Arthur has taught people what love looks like. That has been his special work in the body of Christ—helping others hear the voice of God’s claim of belonging on THEM, as well.

Do you remember the nine Fruit of the Spirit? Patience, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness, etc? This fruit of the spirit is precisely the gift that Arthur has brought to her and to those whom he has touched during his life. The book I’m reading about this family says that Arthur’s lessons have not leaned the family into the typical cultural norms of competence, efficiency, productivity, competition, or any other qualities that clock-time and the values of modernity suggest are central to being human. No. Rather, he has revealed a different way of being in the world, for to be with Arthur, it is necessary to become uncomplicated.

This, my friends, is the teaching that many people here in memory care give us each week. You cannot be comfortable with someone who no longer has the ability to carry on a conversation with you, if you are travelling at the world’s usual speed. To truly join in connection with a person who just speaks in sentence fragments, you need to be slow, gentle, and willing to be comfortable with uncertainty. None of these things are easy for “fast and focused people” to achieve—and that is what the world out there rewards and encourages. Sometimes I often feel that in this place is where I most often see and hear the holiest of conversations—even if words are never spoken.  

When I first applied to a local retirement community back in 2002 to work a few hours a week, I imagined I might be reading mail to someone who had limited vision or helping to run errands for a person who was unsteady on their feet. When they told me there was a family whose mother lived with dementia and needed companionship twice a week for a couple hours, I was terrified. How do you talk with someone who doesn’t remember what we just did a moment before? I wasn’t sure I was up for that. However, in getting to know my new friend, whose name was Janie, a whole new avenue in the spiritual journey opened up for me. And like all parts of our walk with Christ, some of this felt like a blessing and some of it felt very odd and uncomfortable. Frightening even. Such is life when we are willing to step outside our comfort zones to follow the Light, like we remember the wise ones doing on their way to Bethlehem.

We say in Liberation Theology that God has a “preferential option” for the poor of this world, for the “least of these” in this world—anyone who is misunderstood, misjudged, and marginalized by the mainstream and privileged people in a society. If you look at scripture from Exodus to the Exile to the Ministry of Jesus you will see that God is always on the side of those without power and place of privilege. Liberation theology says that the Church needs to be on their side, as well. That we, the Church, become our fullest best and the most like Jesus, when we invest our lives with those who are considered “the least.”

Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 25: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I was in prison and you visited me.” Friends, are there not ailments of aging that create a prison of sorts for our minds or bodies? Jesus cares especially for these.

So, you may be wondering, what work are you called to do by God in this season of your life? Perhaps you can no longer see well or walk easily or maybe your hands tremble or are stiff with arthritis. Maybe your pain or incontinence or medication makes it impossible for you to feel comfortable being with other people for very long or uncomfortable going very far from your room. Maybe you use a wheelchair for transportation, or it’s not easy to remember how to navigate without getting lost. What do you think Jesus might say about your role in the body of Christ in this season of your life?

What is our highest vocation? To simply BE for God, not to DO anything—to BE means to get our own egos and sense of importance out of the way. There are plenty of human “doings” who have forgotten their baptism, so to speak—checking off their to-do lists today out in the world, but not transforming the world with any reminder of God’s tender vulnerability that we see in Jesus.

The vulnerability or weakness that you may despise in yourself is exactly what the world needs—in order to be called out of all their “doing” and invited to slow down, to listen with their hearts more than their minds, to become human beings. Not “human doings.” Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 12: 22 “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

The moment you are baptized you can rest in knowing that in God’s eyes you are forever indispensable to the world—not because of anything you will accomplish, but by simply being your honest, vulnerable, authentic self which wants to help make the world a bit more kind and just before leaving.

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