Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year…through all those holiday seasons, I believe, many of you had a chance to have a family gathering, small or large. When our families get together, what do we usually do? First off, we eat. And what else? Yes, we talk. We share stories about recent events and things to catch up. Then, we also share some stories about the past. Good stories, bad stories, stories that make us laugh or cry… telling those stories, we get closer to one another weaving another common thread of family history.
A psychologist at Emory University did research on how healthy families counteract cultural forces that try to make families fall apart. He found that those families develop a shared family narrative. And while doing so, the family members, especially their children, grow a strong “intergenerational self” and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.True, our family stories have such power to bind us together.
Whenever I visit my mother, I know, at some point, she would bring out old photo albums full of my childhood pictures and tell me the stories that I’ve heard more than a hundred times. I’m not particularly happy to hear those stories again and don’t like to see me as a naked baby in the pictures, but what can I do? Anyway, my mom’s golden globe for the best story goes to…the story of washing me. This story begins with a picture of me sitting in a red plastic tub with a colorful shower cap on my head. When I was little, my family lived in a slum where my father served poor families as a pastor. We had no hot water and no bathtub. So, to bathe me, my mom had to boil some water, mix it with cold water in the red tub, and move the tub into the room. It sounds unbelievably inconvenient, but she always says, that was her great joy and she was happy to see me clean and fresh after bath. Finishing the story, she never forgets adding her classic line to the story, “Oh, I want my baby back. Who is this guy next to me! Won’t you go back to that time?” Well…what can I say?
I know, it’s a simple story, but now I realize that this story is deeply rooted in me. Whenever I think of the story, I feel my mom’s love in a concrete way and the bond between me and my mom shaping my life. I think, if I would have a child in the future and bathe him or her in the evening, I would understand more about my mom’s experience. And I am so sure that I would tell the same story I heard from my mom to my child… someday. Yes, just like this, our family stories bind us together, and moreover, they continue in our lives from generation to generation.
Today we are celebrating Baptism of the Lord Sunday. We will have our Amelia baptized, and after that, we will renew our baptismal covenant with grateful hearts. But here’s one question. What do we do in baptism? We know, by the baptism of water and the Spirit, we are incorporated into the church, the Body of Christ; we enter into Christian faith and the journey of discipleship. But definitely, there’s more than that. What’s that? Today, I hope we don’t forget: through baptism, we come to have a story… the great story that binds us together in God’s love. Through baptism, we are born anew by the free gift of God and placed within this family called church.And we inherit a family story, in this case, the history of salvation narrated in the Bible. Yes, through baptism, we become part of this unfolding story of God’s grace. And this story doesn’t just remain as an old tale from the past, but it becomes our own story, the living and life-giving story that continues in our own lives, here and now.
This story is something truly bigger than us. This story begins with the creation when God created humans in God’s image, but humans failed to follow God. The story goes on to tell us that no matter what, this Creator God faithfully loved God’s people even when they were yet sinners. The Prophet Isaiah delivers the voice of this God today, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Then, the story reaches a milestone point when Jesus was baptized and revealed the way of new creation—the creation liberated from sin and death, the creation with the restored image of God. At the baptism of Jesus, there was a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Then, where does the story go from there? The story crosses borders and extends its scope through the ministry of the disciples. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they shared the good news, baptized people in the name of Jesus, and included them in God’s family. And finally, the story reaches its highlights in our very lives. In our beginnings, God created our life. And through our baptism, God initiated our new life in Christ. This way, the great story of creation and new creation becomes our story and continues in our very lives.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, through baptism, we become part of the unfolding story of God’s grace that binds us together. This story of God’s family clearly tells us who we are. It teaches us that we are created in the sacred image of God and with many blessings. This story tells us how much we are loved. It gives us faith in the unconditional love of Jesus and the assurance of salvation. This story tells us our purpose of life. It calls us to carry on the mission of the disciples: proclaim the good news, live out justice, and above all, love God and love our neighbor.
Today, at the baptism of Amelia, let us, as a church family, witness the moment that this amazing story now continues in her life. And let us bless her and pray for her together so that she can write her own great story of faith in the love of Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And today, as we renew our baptism, let us refresh our sense of belonging to the family of God and reaffirm our call to share this good story of salvation with others. May God be with all of us and bind us together as we remember our baptism and be thankful today. Amen.
Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us” from New York Times, March 15, 2013 (accessed January 10th2019: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html).
Mark W. Stamm, The Meaning of Baptism in The United Methodist Church(Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church), p 4.