Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – Holy Baptism
June 27, 2021
The names are different, but the characters are always the same. A sick child. An anxious parent. A crowd of family and friends. This is a deeply human story. You may have lived this story before as a parent, as a friend. I remember being a chaplain at Children’s Hospital in Dallas in 2008. This story of Jairus and his sick little girl played out every day there. There is agony. A father who desperately wants his little girl to be better. A commotion of people weeping and wailing. We feel this story in our guts.
And yet this is not just about Jairus asking for help; this is about Jairus offering his child up to God. In that way, this is a deeply biblical story. All throughout the bible we hear stories of parents in great angst offering their children to God. Abraham offers up his son, his only Isaac to the Lord God (Genesis 22). Sampson is born to a woman who had not been able to bear children; he is offered to the Lord and becomes one of the great heroes of Israel (Judges 13). Hannah is also a woman who is unable to conceive, so she prays and prays for a son, promising to commit any son she bears to the Lord. And so the great priest Samuel is born (I Samuel 2). A young couple, Joseph and Mary, dedicate their son Jesus in the Temple according to the customs (Luke 2). This story about Jairus and his little daughter is the next chapter in a long story. In good times and in bad, the people of God offer their children to the Lord.
This is one of the greatest acts of faith a parent can do. To offer your child, to give them away, to dedicate them to the Lord God. That is what we celebrate today at Ryan’s baptism, and it’s what we celebrate at every baptism. We should stand in awe of this; that any parent would be so bold, so brave as to say to God, “here is my child; do what seems good to you.”
Because, we should note, that there are lots of things we can dedicate our children to. And not all of them are good. Children can become pawns in the games we play as parents, as we constantly judge our kids against other kids. Children can become the vessels for the dreams we parents failed to achieve. We didn’t end up as the third baseman for the Houston Astros so we drive our sons to countless baseball practices even if they don’t want to. We feel ashamed of our own bodies so we demand that our daughters live up to some fictional, idealistic standard for beauty. In a quest to make our kids “well-rounded” we actually just wear them out. In that way, we are offering our children, though not to God. We are offering them to the sinfulness of the world.
This is the human story and it is part of the biblical story. Go back and read your Old Testament; you’ll see that some people were offering their children as sacrifices to the god of fire, Moloch. This is not all that different from our blind zeal to have our kids “get ahead” of the other kids, even if it means our kids end up ashamed, broken, anxious, and depressed. So this is the choice that we face as parents, as families, as churches, and as a society. What are we offering our children up to? To God, to ourselves, or to something more sinister?
This is the not so subtle message of the story of Jairus and his little daughter. Notice, that the crowd ridicules Jairus. His friends and family tell Jairus to send Jesus away. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Mark 5:35). And then, when Jesus says that she is only sleeping and not dead, they out and out laugh at Jesus. I know that we often bewail the fact that people don’t go to church as often, that parents may not raise their children as Christians, that Little Leagues play on Sunday morning. It’s not different than it was two thousand years ago in the time of Jesus. Jairus’ act of faith, offering his child to the Lord God, was as counter-cultural then as it is now.
By offering his daughter to Jesus, Jairus is making a theological statement. Jairus is saying that he, her very own father, is not the most important thing in her life. No, the Lord God is the most important thing in her life. This is a baptism.
Lindsay and John – you are following in the footsteps of a long line of parents who have offered their children to God. Hannah offers Samuel. Mary and Joseph offer Jesus. Jairus offers his daughter. And look around this church, it is filled with parents who have offered their children and people who were once offered up by their parents. And yes, while today is fun, and joyful, and filled with family and friends, do not forget the hard lesson of today. When we offer our children to God, we are saying that God knows what is best for our children, and that we don’t. We offer all that we have to God, even our children, because God first offered himself. And, we pray, that when things are difficult, when your own dreams and desires are getting in the way, you come back to this marvelous little story. Take courage from Jairus’ faith, tune out the crowd, and listen only for the voice of Jesus.
But take care, this is not just for the parents. If this whole lesson is about offering, then it must include self-offering. Jairus comes to grips with the fact that he does not and cannot do what is needed for his daughter. We need to have the same understanding of ourselves. That we do not and cannot what is best for ourselves. Time and again, it seems, we make the wrong decisions for ourselves. We chase after our own selfish goals. We listen far too much to the crowd and not enough to Jesus. And while we are offered up once and only once for baptism, it is our daily walk as Christians to continually offer ourselves up to God. In other words, our baptism still hasn’t come to fruition. Day by day, when we tell God that we don’t know what is best for ourselves we are following the example of Jairus. And thanks be to God that when we have that open mind and that open heart, Jesus does know what is best for us. If only we would listen.
The names are different, but the characters are always the same. And, I pray, your name is next. Of course, I don’t want your children to suffer; I don’t want you to suffer. But I do hope that the Lord opens your heart and your mind so that you only have one place to turn – back to Jesus.