The question came from Carter in the back seat. We had just driven by the front of our church where a pool was set up for the annual outdoor summer baptism service.
I thought about the handful of linguistic avenues to answer the question and which ones could be handled at his age, staring off into the setting sun.
The world is moving towards death.
We have individuals sold out on belief systems that allow them to drive a truck through a crowd of people in France and kill almost a hundred men, women, and children. The tensions of difference are felt more now than ever.
People are angry.
There are voices for peace and yet, as this nation looks towards an election, the loudest voice cries and prods our implicit fears of the other, that somehow we are losing a war to get back what was never ours in the first place.
There’s a Flannery O’Connor short story called The River. Her main character is a little boy who is taken to see a pastor baptize people in their local river one day. The boy, in the midst of a chaotic and horrid existence, returns to the river and ends up drowning in his attempt to get to heaven.
Philip, we read in the book of Acts, meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the side of the road attempting to read the scriptures. He explains what he can about Jesus and the eunuch, the classic “outsider,” states that he must be baptized right away as they are seated next to a body of water. Philip complies and his action leads to Ethiopia being the first Christianized country in the ancient world
Baptism is about death. It is about being the outsider.
It is about love.
In Pastor Erwin McManus’s recent podcast about the Last Supper, he mentions the point in the Upper Room where we are told that “all power returns to Jesus.”
Snap your fingers and form a universe.
And what does Jesus do with it? He grabs a bowl of water and washes the feet of the disciples.
He could have, in a moment, taken apart that room atom by atom and rearranged it anywhere in the entirety of space and time. He could have vanished Judas on the spot, sending him to hell in punishment of the betrayal that hadn’t happened yet.
Yet Jesus, God and man, serves in love.
Imagine if our leaders followed the same example?
In Malcom Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, he mentions a study of crime and policing in major cities. Know what made a difference? Not the might of authority. Not the threat of a bigger punishment.
Cities and towns turned around when they realized that the police department cared. When officers went the extra mile and reached out to provide for basic needs, when they showed that they were invested in their territories beyond their badges. When they talked to parents and friends of teens and made a point to tell them they were worth it.
Service in love.
We kept driving to our destination as Carter waited for my answer. Just what was baptism about? I swallowed.
Well, I said, let me tell you a story…