Sunday, January 16, 2005

Sermon: Baptism of Leonidas Beane

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, January 16, 2005

at East Jefferson General Hospital, Metairie, Louisiana

Text: John 2:1-11

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Happy Birthday, Leo. Happy Birthday.

I say this twice because you have two birthdays. Yesterday, you emerged from the safety and tranquillity of the watery womb into a raucous world filled with sights and sounds you could not have imagined in your former life. And if that weren’t enough, today, you were drowned in water and were reborn, risen with Christ to yet another birth. You emerged from the raucous world filled with sin, misery, and death into a tranquil world, an eternal world, a sin-free world that none of us can even imagine in this life, on this side of the resurrection. In this second birth, you join all of us in the “now” of the Christian life, and in the “not yet” of its completion. Whereas I had to wait 18 years between my first and second births, you, Leonidas Martin Gregory Beane, have the blessing of God to experience the miracle of birth twice in two days. Happy Birthday, and again I say, Happy Birthday. Now you are truly alive. Welcome to the real world.

Your mother and I are honored and humbled to be instruments in your creation. God used us as his ministers of the sacrament of earthly life. You were procreated, made incarnate, from our love for one another. Until yesterday, not one second of your existence were you not physically touching your mother. This privilege of mothers is like no other in God’s universe. And I have the privilege to baptize you into your second birth – being God’s unworthy and humble instrument, a priestly minister of the sacrament of life from above, authorized to act in the person of Christ (though I’m sure over the years you will wonder how one such as I can speak with such authority). I have the distinct honor of being your father twice over – biologically and spiritually.

Today is the second Sunday after Epiphany. In our Gospel text, our Lord turns ordinary water into something miraculous: wine. And wine is the very substance he would later change into something even more miraculous – his Holy Blood, by which he saves us. He began with water contained in stone jars used for ritual purification, and he blessed this water – making it truly pure by his presence. Thus he fulfills the law. Similarly, Leonidas, our Lord purified the water in this humble font – a bowl of crystal given to your mother and me for our wedding by your grandmother. Our Lord has blessed our union with a child – making our union truly pure and complete by his presence. Similarly, he fulfills the law on your behalf, presenting the wine of his blood and the water from his pierced side to you as a gift, and cleansing you from all your sins, making you truly pure and complete by his presence. You are even made pure of that which you have inherited from your parents and grandparents all the way back to Adam and Eve. We have indeed saved the good wine until now, my dear son!

You have the distinction of perhaps being the only Lutheran you may ever meet who was baptized in Latin. An English priest named Ronald Knox was once asked to conduct a baptism in English. He declined, saying: “The baby does not understand English, and the devil knows Latin.” Fr. Knox understood what Christians have always understood – baptism is really a form of exorcism. In Baptism, our Lord conquers Satan yet again, rescuing another beloved lamb from death and hell. The western church had spoken the baptismal formula in Latin for many centuries. And while the words are just as powerful in any language, it must give Satan horrific flashbacks to hear the words of our Lord spoken in the same way as they have been millions of times over in the past. For in a sense, baptism is addressed to the devil – just as the first Gospel was spoken to him in the Garden of Eden. This is why we opened this service by exorcising you, my son. Hopefully, by the time you are my age, this once-common practice will again be fully restored among our people.

Now regarding your name: your mother and I have a great appreciation for history, and a love for the saints and heroes of the church - as well as for people who have defended freedom throughout the ages. Leonidas is a name that honors the great Spartan king who stood defiantly against a tyrannical emperor at the Battle of Thermopylae. It is also the name of a Christian martyr (St. Leonidas, the father of Origin). Leonidas literally means “son of the lion” or “son of Leon” – and Leon is my middle name and that of your paternal grandfather. Leonidas Polk was also a man of courage, as well as a churchman: the first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana and a Confederate general who died in the cause of Southern Independence. The short form, Leo, pays tribute to Pope St. Leo the Great, who articulated the two natures of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon.

Your name Martin is a tribute not only to St. Martin of Tours and Blessed Martin Luther the Reformer, but also to your maternal grandfather. Gregory is the name of heroic theologians of the East and West: Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, as well as Pope St. Gregory the Great, a bishop of Rome who left the church a legacy of liturgical chant and wise pastoral counsel.

We chose your name very carefully, Leo. But the greatest name you received today has nothing to do with Spartan kings, Confederate generals, popes, bishops, reformers, and grandparents – but rather the Name of Jesus Christ. For today, you have taken the most important name of all: “Christian”: heir of eternal life and a true son of the Father. You received the Name of the Holy Trinity today, and that trumps every name – for at this Name, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Your first birth took place on the Saturday of the week of the Baptism of our Lord. In that Gospel text, our Lord Jesus Christ was also baptized with water as the Triune God was manifested in this miraculous work. And the voice of God the Father rang out from the heavens and proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So also has your Father in heaven spoken these words even as they are spoken in a less lofty way by me. You are a beloved son twice over – son of God the Father, and my beloved son as well. And we are very pleased indeed.

So once again, my son, happy birthday, happy birthday. Your mother and I, your extended family, and every member of the communion of saints throughout history look forward to life with you that will have no end. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: