Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit – Br. Curtis Almquist

Acts 2:1-21

I was twenty years old when I was baptized. I chose to be baptized. I had been raised in a Protestant tradition of the church that understands baptism as an ordinance for individuals who are at an age of accountability. You had to be old enough to know what you were doing to be baptized. And this is just how it was for the first four centuries of the church. To be baptized one normally had to be prepared through a rigorous, three-year formation called the “catechumenate.” Only then could one personally make their own baptismal vows, publicly accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and choosing to follow him.[i]

In a few moments all of us who are baptized will be invited to renew our own Baptismal Covenant.[ii] We will be asked to respond to a series of very exacting questions. Yes or no: “Do you believe…?” “Will you continue…?”  “Will you proclaim…?”  “Will you strive…?”  “Will you respect…? Will you protect…?” The Baptismal Covenant is earnest, adult language. And yet, while all this is going on, our baptismal candidate, Babatunde Baxter Ogunnaike, will probably have his attention on other things… like the stained glass windows, or taking a nap, or wanting his second breakfast… which all gives witness to a different understanding of baptism.

By the fifth century another baptismal tradition had emerged, where families, sometimes whole households, and sometimes whole nations chose to be Christian.[iii]  Children were being raised in the Christian tradition, and so the baptism of infants and young children came to be a common practice for initiation into the life of the church. If adult followers of Jesus were going to come together to pray and worship, of course they would bring their children and grand­children and extended families and close friends, all of whom would be formed in the Christian faith from the day they were born onward. After all, Jesus had said many times, “let the children come to me.” Jesus had also said to adults, if we want to be his followers, we must become again like children.[iv]

So we have two church traditions about Holy Baptism. In one tradition, one must personally know what they are doing and saying to make these baptismal vows. The other tradition is that we baptize babies and children, because from our first moments of life we are learning about love and learning about life – what matters most and who matters most – so of course, we will baptize not only adults but also the children of adults who are going to shape and form these children in the ways of Jesus. Once they are older, these baptized children will have opportunity to personally confirm the baptismal vows made earlier on their behalf, which is what the church calls “Confirmation.”[v]

So today we baptize this precious infant Babatunde Baxter:

  • Baxter, which is Stacy’s mother’s maiden name, Baxter the Scottish name for “bakester,” i.e., a baker.
  • Babatunde, a name foreordained. Deji and Stacy received a prophecy that they would have a son as their second child, and he was to be named “Babatunde,” Tunde being the name of the father of Deji and his brothers Damini and Makinde, their father having passed from this life to the next two years ago. Babatunde means the father has returned to life in this precious little one. Babatunde is not just his grandfather’s namesake; Babatunde is not just his grandfather’s DNA offspring; Babatunde’s grandfather is re-enlivened. That is the theology and cosmology of the Yoruba people of Nigeria from which father Deji and uncles Damini and Makinde come. Won’t this be something to witness what God has knit together in his mother Stacy’s womb. I’m using here the language of Psalm 139: “Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.”[vi]

Babatunde Baxter’s baptism is an initiation, not a completion. His soul is going to grow just like his body. We call baptism an initiation because it is God who is taking the initiative: God, who is the source of our lives and the end of our lives, and it is God who companions us along the way.[vii] We see this in Jesus, who seeks us out from before we are born, and it is Jesus who is the way to eternal life. We will also “seal” Babatunde Baxter with Holy Chrism Oil, signing a cross on his forehead. The blessed olive oil, fragrant with balsam, symbolizes “the aroma of Christ,” and signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit.[viii]

Just two other things. One thing is “sin.” We are going to hear language about sin, how baptism “washes away sin.” Tunde, as an infant, is an innocent child. Babies may soil their diapers and keep their parents awake some nights, but that would hardly qualify as sin. But here’s the thing about sin. Given the world into which Tunde and his sister, Anu, have been born, a world that is so ravaged by evil in which we adults have both suffered and contributed, we could see Tunde and, two years ago, Anu’s baptism as a kind of washing from the contamination of the world that surrounds them, and affects them, could infect them. We can see his baptism giving Tunde a kind of fresh access to the Spirit of God who blew over the waters of the first creation giving life and light and love.[ix]

Which is the second point. We all here who are witnesses have a role. We have had a role already in forming the world in which Tunde is being raised. We now pledge ourselves anew, this morning, when we renew our own baptismal promises to the reforming of this world, to our intentionally co-operating with God in our own conversion to Christ, and to helping Tunde and Anu in theirs. We pledge ourselves to be instruments of their formation, joining with their parents and godparents and other loved ones, to point them to the ways of Christ. Children model what they see, and all of us here pledge to show Tunde and Anu the way to Christ. All of us are missionaries; all of us are Christbearers to our world.

What a glorious thing it is to baptize Tunde on the Feast of Pentecost. In our prayer at the beginning of our liturgy today, we prayed our thanks to God that on the day of Pentecost, God “opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”[x] Tunde is among them.

[i] Baptism as intended for adult believers has been widely held by many Protestant group since the 16th century Reformation. The Anabaptist tradition (“re-baptizers”) refused their children to be baptized and reinstituted the baptism of believers.

[ii] See “The Baptismal Covenant” in The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305.

[iii] Insight drawn from “The Meaning of Baptism” in Sacraments & Liturgy, by Louis Weil (1983), pp. 68-74.

[iv] Matthew 18:2-4, 18:10, 18:14, 19:13-14; Mark 9:36, 10:13-16; Luke 9:47-48, 18:15-17.

[v] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 309.

[vi] Psalm 139, especially verses 12 and 15.

[vii] Weil, p. 71.

[viii] 2 Corinthians 2:15.

[ix] See Genesis 1.

[x] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 227.

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  1. Carole B Belgrade on May 23, 2024 at 16:08

    I was able to watch this service via Livestream. I knew that this was Pentacost, but could not locate my red polo shirt; but the work of the Holy Spirit is grace and understanding. I felt this powerful wave of our tradition of Baptism and its inclusion of the community’s newest member. My heart was re-opened to new possibilities of new life and the capacity for love. Thank you

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