“Children ages zero through five— roughly the same ages as the children we are baptizing today— are going through this amazing process of self-awareness. Just imagine what those revelations would feel like: this body is me. This body is me forever. I believe something very similar happens when we, as Christians, gather to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. This is the sacrament, the holy act, in which we recognize that we are part of a body— a body that is bigger than any of the individual bodies we are each born into.”
Sermon Preached: Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 at Trinity on the Green
May I speak in the name of God who made us, who loves us, and who walks on this journey with us. Amen.
This Sunday we have the privilege, and responsibility, of welcoming four children into God’s family through the sacrament of baptism. It’s been a while since we’ve had this many baptisms all at once here at Trinity, and I love that we have a range of ages among our baptismal candidates: Thelma is five months old; Tim is exactly one year old (his birthday is today!); John is four, and his sister Avery is six.* Each of them will remember this day differently— or perhaps, they won’t remember it at all. In any case, this day and this sacrament stands as a reminder that each one of them will always be surrounded by love— the love of their parents and godparents; the love of aunts, uncles, and friends; the love of a vast array of church members who will watch them grow in this place and beyond; and above all the love of God.
As a new parent I’ve already watched my daughter grow so much, over these past few months. One friend recently described these phases of early development, phases we all went through at some time in our life, as a kind of Pokémon evolution. One month you have a cute little Squirtle, and the next month you have a fully grown Blastoise! Whoa, when did that happen?! That reference was clearly intended for the younger members of our congregation. That being said you don’t have to know what a Pokémon is to know that kids grow. Kids change. And somehow, miraculously, a five month old becomes a one year old, becomes a four year old, becomes a six year old. All of us went through this evolution at some point in our lives— and it never stops. We continue to grow and change, and that is a wonderful thing.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on one specific way in which infants grow and change— and that is: how they understand themselves. It’s not exactly a change that we can see in those sequential, how-many-months-old photographs. But we might notice it in other ways. For example: in the way an infant brings their hands to their mouth, or starts staring at their wiggly toes, or looks in a mirror and smiles. It’s as if an infant is discovering: this is me! I have hands. I have feet. I have a body. I am a person!
Research suggests that self-awareness in babies comes in phases. One helpful way of understanding these changes is thinking about how babies relate to mirrors. This is how psychologist Philippe Rochat identified five stages of self-awareness, in a 2003 study. Stage 1: that is a mirror. Stage 2: there’s a person in that mirror. Stage 3: that person is me. Stage 4: that person is going to be me forever. And Stage 5: everyone knows this about me already. I won’t go into the details of that study, but instead invite you to simply consider what a momentous change over time that is. Children ages zero through five— roughly the same ages as the children we are baptizing today— are going through this amazing process of self-awareness. Just imagine what those revelations would feel like: this body is me. This body is me forever. What an incredible realization.
I believe something very similar happens when we, as Christians, gather to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. This is the sacrament, the holy act, in which we recognize that we are part of a body— a body that is bigger than any of the individual bodies we are each born into. In the words of our faith, we call this the Body of Christ. It’s an image that comes up again and again in Scripture. We read about it in the Letters of Paul, who tells Christians in communities throughout the Mediterranean that they are part of one another, attached to each other like a leg is to a foot. We remember this body when we gather for communion every Sunday and hear Jesus’ words: “this is my body, given for you.” Then we are invited to go out and be that body’s hands and feet in the world. We are even reminded of this greater body in our collect, our prayer for this All Saints’ Sunday, which says: “Almighty God you have knit us together in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.” In baptism we remind ourselves that we are a part of this body. And we do this by turning to the youngest members of our community— by turning to Thelma and Tim and John and Avery— and saying “hey, you are a part of this body too.”
That is what we are doing today, in a nutshell. We acknowledge that these children, our baptismal candidates, are a part of the Body of Christ. And we remember the important truth that we are a part of this body, too. We are all connected to each other. The choices we make: the things we take on and the things we let go of; the things we turn towards and the things we turn away from– all of this has a profound impact on our common life in this world that God has made. We are one body– interconnected, inextricable– because God has made it so.
In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter a part of Jesus’ teaching that people have struggled to hear: the Beatitudes, as told in the Gospel of Luke. This is the less familiar, less popular, more confrontational version of the Beatitudes. While Matthew’s words are all blessing– “blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacekeepers”– Luk gives us a second set of words to reckon with: “woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who are laughing.”
These words may sound harsh, but they make a lot more sense, to me, when we think of them in terms of the Body of Christ. Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, is very interested in leveling the playing field between those who have a lot, and those who have very little. When Jesus says “blessed are those who are poor” in one breath, and “woe to you who are rich” in the next, he is imagining a world in which things are equal. He is imagining a world in which the rich can’t be happy while the poor go without, because they realize they are a part of one body, one community in Christ. What hurts one part of the body hurts everyone in the body, whether we realize this or not.
This is a monumental change in perspective– to go from living as individuals, to realizing we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. And because it is such a major shift, it comes with some cost; it comes with some pain. Those who are blessed with excess may feel as if they are suddenly hungry; suddenly empty; suddenly grieving a kind of lifestyle that was propped up by false promises of wealth or attainment. Those who are blessed with excess might protest and say: “but wait! I worked for this! I earned this!” I know that I’ve felt that way, in some aspects of my life. It’s no wonder that those who are rich, those who are full, those who are laughing might feel some sense of woe as we adjust to what it means to be one body. At some point, every one of us has to reckon with the fact that the blessings of our lives are only worthwhile if they can be shared with others. We are one body. And if a part of us flourishes while another part is neglected– then all of us suffer in the long run.
The Beatitudes, as told in the Gospel of Luke, can feel like a bit of a downer on a Sunday when we are in a mood to celebrate. And yet, in a way, this text is perfect– because if I had to identify one thing that I hope my daughter will embrace as she grows and develops her own sense of faith, it is this: I hope she will grow up to believe in the common good. I hope she will believe that she cannot be truly satisfied, until others are fed. I hope she will believe that being gracious and merciful to others, when we all inevitably make mistakes, is a way of extending love and grace to herself. I hope she will forgive others’ debts and trespasses, as her own will be forgiven. And I hope she will believe that what’s good for one part of the body, is good for everyone in the body. This is what Jesus teaches us: that we all are one. Or as one of the saints, Dr. Martin Luther King, said in his own words: “we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny… I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be” (King, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”). We hear this same sentiment in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, when he writes: “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Remember once again those five stages of self-awareness. Remember those infant revelations: this is me! I have hands. I have feet. I have a body. This is the process of self-awareness that each one of us is invited into today, not as an individual, but as a community.
Stage 1: look around you. I actually mean that— take a moment to look around you. Stage 2: these are your people. We belong to one another. Stage 3: we are a body. We are the body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world. Stage 4: we are a body forever. We are in it together, whether you like it or not. And finally, Stage 5: everyone here knows it. Know that the people around you, the people you stand with, and sing with, and pass the peace with— are here to support you, because our lives are inextricably linked.
Live today as if we are truly one. Live as if what is good for others is truly good for you. Live as if the promise of baptism, the promise of new life and new hope, is as real for you as it is for the four children who are getting baptized here today. Live as God intended us to live— as one. Amen.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution” (Speech, The National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., 31 March 1968). A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. Ed. James M. Washington. New York: HarperOne, 1986.
*Names of baptismal candidates changed for privacy.