Can Anyone Withhold the Water for Baptizing?
This year because of the way the lectionary readings in Acts have been divided up, I noticed something new to me. In Acts 10 we read,
Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
He's referring to Gentiles, remarkable enough on it's own! When I read those words this week, I immediately remembered last week's reading from Acts 8:
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
What is to prevent me from being baptized? Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? The waters of baptism are expanding broader and broader to include more and more people until literally all people, and as we might reflect theologically on the rest of the New Testament, all of Creation are included in the new life in Christ offered there. But what struck me this year is that it is a noticing, or a change in seeing that takes place.
The Ethiopian eunuch himself speaks it first. He heard the good news of the Gospel, and his response was to see that baptism was for him. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Gentiles even before they have received baptism, and Peter sees differently. He realizes this new reality is taking place, he sees that the Holy Spirit has once again gone ahead of them, and he asks this question: can anyone withhold baptism?
The answer is no. No human being can withhold baptism. The sacraments belong to God, they are a gift of grace to us. We also have the grace to be transformed to see the Holy Spirit's work in the world, the continual work of Jesus' Spirit in the world to reconcile all Creation to God.
Where is the Holy Spirit going ahead of us today?
Lately at IHS I have been getting a lot of requests for baptisms. We've been worshiping mostly online in the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting our services to keep the most people safe and healthy as possible is important work, and I'm proud we have done it. Yes, the institution of our congregation may hurt from the restriction and change, but the value of life, safety, and health of our vulnerable members is far more important than the institution. Acts is a reminder that the Church is not an institution but a movement of God's Spirit in the world, the Body of Jesus Christ that carries his authority and reconciling work into the world.
Who can withhold the water of baptism? In November we rejoiced to be able to hold an outdoor baptism. In January we held a small indoor baptism that we streamed online. In May we'll hold a small, private, outdoor baptism, and in June we'll hold another outdoor public baptism. Each of these services has been or will be held differently, in order to open the waters of new life to the circumstantial needs of everyone involved and the ever-changing pandemic crisis.
The most memorable, celebratory moments in my ministry as pastor at IHS have been baptisms. Whether baptizing adult or child, my own children or others, families we see often and families we see less frequently, a baptism is a joyful celebration of God's New Creation in Jesus. Do you remember your baptism? When you renew your Baptismal Covenant or attend a baptism, does it reignite that fire of the Holy Spirit poured on you and sealed on your forehead? Does it open your eyes to see God's work in the world in a new way?
I would love to hear your baptismal memories in the comments below!