December 27, 2007

Dear Nicholas

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.
Luke 17:12


Dear Nicholas,

Grace and peace to you in Jesus' name. Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Altavista Presbyterian Church. As of today, we are your sisters and brothers in Christ. Though it will be some time before you can say presbyterian, much less church, we hope it will not be too long before you come to experience the strong bonds that tie us together in God's grace. We want you to know that we are honored to be here with you today.

For indeed, today is a great day in your life. We appreciate the fact that for you, right now, it probably feels like just another day after just another night. After all, how can you know the substantial promises soon to be attached to your little life? You cannot. Indeed, you will spend a lifetime coming to understand the height and depth of God's love. But for today, it is enough that we know, or at least that we are learning to know. And so we are here, in part, to be excited for you, to hear on your behalf, and we vow today to begin telling you about those promises as soon as you are able to hear them for yourself. Your parents vow to do the same.

This telling is important, because today is the day of your baptism, and everything is different from this point forward. What is baptism, you ask? Wow—where to begin? So many things to say. For now, it's enough to know that baptism is about being marked—by water, by us, by God. When you are a little older, no doubt there will be things you will want to mark—a lunchbox, a jacket, the walls. (Don't do the last one.) You'll want to mark things that belong to you so that everyone will know that this is Nicholas' lunchbox, Nicholas' jacket.

That's what baptism is: a mark with water that you belong to God, through Jesus, who makes such a marking possible. From now on, everyone will know that this one belongs to God. From now on, the story of your life is marked by the story of Jesus' life—your life is now connected to his, and his to yours. Whatever else may turn out to be true in your life, the truth of his life and love, and the truth that he is Lord—these will be the truest things about you. And so, a part of what we hope to help you learn to do is to get to know Jesus' story. Because, as you come to know his story, you'll come to know your own—and vice versa. (Good luck figuring that one out.) But don't over-think it. Just promise us you will live into it.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Speaking of Jesus' story becoming your story, one of the stories about Jesus we love has to do with ten lepers—ten men who were all afflicted with a terrible disease. When Jesus came into their village, they cried out to him for healing and hope. We love this story because, like so many other moments in Jesus' ministry, he was moved with compassion and promised to heal them. He told them to go, and as they went they were made well. Wow—what a scene! We are always amazed when we remember what can happen when Jesus comes into our village, into our lives. Everything can be different. Stories like this one have taught us that God can make all things new again.

Nicholas: As of today, Jesus has come into your village. That is to say, as of today, that same power and promise that blessed those ten lepers is now applied to your life. And so we pray to God today that prayer they prayed so long ago: Jesus, Master, have mercy on Nicholas! And he will, Nicholas. Indeed, the powerful mystery of his grace is that he already has. He will be merciful to you, because he loves you. He will stay in your village—that is to say, he will stay in your life—until the very end, and even beyond. He will make all things new.

So welcome to Altavista Presbyterian Church. Even better, welcome to God's family of faith. Know that your story is now marked by Jesus' story forevermore. And so we'll be talking to you again in a few years.

Until then, the peace of the Lord be with you.


Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
Luke 17:15


Dear Nicholas,

Grace and peace to you in Jesus' name. Today is an important day, do you know why? Thirteen years ago today we baptized you. My how time flies; my how you've grown. Seems like just yesterday you were a little infant sitting so quietly between your parents. You never made a sound. (Okay, so that has changed just a bit!) But we want you to know what a privilege it has been to watch you grow during these years. No longer are you an infant, that's for certain. Now you are a young man. And that means that today, on the day of your baptism, it is time for you to begin claiming that story that claimed you 13 years ago. We and your parents have tried our best during these years to tell you about Jesus. Now it is time for you to tell us, to tell us is to whom you belong, who it is that has marked you as his own, who it is that will lead you and guide you as you grow into a man. Tell us, Nicholas, about your trust in Jesus Christ.

But, before you do that, do you remember that story we first told you about Jesus? The one about him going into the village and healing ten lepers? There's another part we never told you: Even though Jesus healed all ten of them, the story goes that only one of them came back to thank him. Jesus was surprised. After all, he had healed them all. Yet only one came back to praise God. Jesus said to him, "Your faith has made you well." What a great thing, to know that it is well with you.

Nicholas, you are a teenager now, you are old enough to understand that, much like those other nine lepers, it seems that many people never come back to praise God for his blessings. People get involved in all kinds of things in this life, some of it pretty bad stuff. Although God's grace is there for them, it seems so many people never turn back to the Lord. But not you, dear Nicholas, not now. You've been baptized in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You've been marked as belonging to Jesus.

You've had water poured over you and the Holy Spirit poured into you. Your story belongs inside Jesus' story. And, young friend, on your baptism day plus 13, come back and thank Jesus, return to him and praise the Lord, be that 10th leper … the one who knelt down and thanked Jesus. We want you to kneel, but we also want you to stand. Stand up before us and before the world and say whose story is shaping your own. Talk to us about Jesus, your life and your Lord. We promise: He will see you through to the end.

Thanks for listening, and for speaking.

The peace of the Lord be with you.