Have you ever been to a naturalization ceremony? I attended one several years ago. I didn't know anyone being naturalized. The ceremony was open to the public, so out of curiosity I went. What I witnessed overwhelmed me. Over 100 people raised their hands and pledged their allegiance to the United States of America. Over 100 people cried and hugged with joy after their long journey was finally over. They were Americans. In tears, I realized how much I took my citizenship for granted. My citizenship didn't start with an application, a civics test, and an oath of loyalty. It started with my birth.
Have you ever been to a baptism? I've been to several baptisms, of babies mostly. It's a beautiful experience. Parents and sponsors surround the baptismal font and vow to raise the child, this precious gift from God, to know Jesus. There are smiles and tears of joy as the child is washed in the waters of the Holy Spirit. I don't remember my baptism, but I bet it was pretty similar to what I just described. You see, just like I was born American, I was born Lutheran. My parents took me to church and had me baptized. My parents started me on my faith journey a long time ago. Being Lutheran is comfortably woven into the fibers of my being.
I took my citizenship for granted. But how about Jesus? Until recently, I never thought it possible. Which is why meeting Ileana was such a joy.
Last summer Ileana and her family started attending church at Shepherd of the Valley. She's on a faith journey too. We have developed a wonderful friendship. In fact, she asked me to be their baptismal sponsor on Easter Sunday.
Have you ever been to a baptism? I attended one on Easter Sunday. I knew the children of God being baptized. It was my dear friend Ileana and her two baby girls. What I witnessed overwhelmed me. My friend vowed not only to raise her girls to follow Jesus, but to follow Jesus herself. She bowed her head over the baptismal font with eyes closed and let the waters of the Holy Spirit wash over her. It was a beautiful experience.
Watching Ileana's baptism brought me back to that naturalization ceremony all those years ago. It made me realize how I take Jesus for granted. My relationship with Jesus, just like my citizenship, started at birth. He's always been around. And just like the people who chose to become American, Ileana made the grown-up choice to be baptized, to take that "oath of loyalty" to Jesus Christ. Unlike the naturalization ceremony, however, baptism is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Ileana (jokingly, I hope) called me her "spiritual advisor." She asks me questions. She asks me and it shakes loose those comfortable fibers of my being. When I hear myself answer her questions with an intelligent "um, ah, hmmm," I can't help but wonder if I've been asleep my entire faith journey? Somewhere along the way I got too comfortable. It's time for me to wake up. Time to splash my face with the memory of those refreshing waters. And with Ileana's help, remember the eyes-wide-open wonder and excitement of the life-long faith journey that began at my baptism.
Becky Corson is a member of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.