Choosing a baptism bible verse – a small change that’s made a big difference

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Back in 2015 I attended a conference in Durham Diocese to discuss baptism practices and theology with colleagues from the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany. An idea which I took from our German friends was to encourage parents and godparents to choose a bible verse for their child’s baptism. We completely overhauled the way we do our baptism preparation (which is a session we run at church and the parents and godparents attend together) and one part was to introduce choosing a verse which is then read out in the service.

We have a list of verses for them to choose from (although we would welcome someone asking for one not on the list):

  1. The Lord bless you and keep you – Numbers 6:24
  2. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. – Proverbs 3:5
  3. Jesus said ‘You are the light of the world’ – Matthew 5:14
  4. Jesus said ‘I am with you always’. – Matthew 28:20
  5. Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:32
  6. Jesus said ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – 1 John 3:23
  7. Jesus said ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. – Luke 6:31
  8. I can make it through anything with Jesus – Philippians 4:13
  9. God says: ‘Do not be afraid for I am with you’. – Isaiah 43:5

When we introduced this to the baptism preparation session I was quite sceptical about it, thinking that the families would arbitrarily pick one and then we’d move on. On the contrary, the groups often spend some time debating which verse to choose for their child and regularly ask for a bible so that they can look it up. We now use the verse as the basis for the bible reading in the service and then preach about that – people are also more ready to listen when I say that the family have chosen this verse especially. We make our own baptism certificates and now the chosen verse is printed on there as a reminder to the family.

So this was a simple change we made that has made a big difference to our baptism ministry.

I’ve been reflecting on why this has been such a popular addition to our baptism sessions. I think it taps into the current zeitgeist. Photo-11-10-2017-15-51-38-1024x768It is very popular to have quotations on soft furnishings or on the wall of your home, as my friend Robb points out in an article commenting on these strange candle holders.

It is also very popular to have a tattoo of a quotation. So when I explain to the families that they have a chance to personalise the baptism service by choosing a special verse that will be like a life-motto for their child, they instantly understand what it’s about. It’s a surprisingly easy way to engage people in bible study. Why not give it a try?

This article is hilarious on this current trend for inspirational home furnishings (caution, this article is very cynical!): https://www.buzzfeed.com/joannaborns/inspirational-home-decor.

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Advent-ure Day 11: White as snow

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Today’s first 2 readings:

Genesis 1

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 

 

Isaiah 1:18

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”

 

White as snow

Something we haven’t talked about much yet is the fact that Advent is a time of preparation. Of course, it’s a time when we buy our presents, get a tree, write our cards etc. all ready for December 25th. From a church point of view though it is more important that Advent is spent in spiritual preparation. We all need times in the year for spiritual de-tox and refreshment. The major time we do this of course is in Lent but Advent, in a way, is a cousin of Lent – the same colour is used in churches for the altar cloth and vestments – purple.

The best way for us to prepare to meet with God is through confession – we do this every week before we meet with Christ in bread and wine. We can’t approach the throne of God without acknowledging our faults and unworthiness.

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I smiled when the Isaiah passage came up today where it speaks of snow – in Leeds it’s now all melted away. Yesterday, though, it was a mess. Patches of white snow and horrible grey slush and black snow piled up at the edges of the road. I did notice last week, walking through Pudsey park to Church with Ruth, how bright snow is. It was almost blindingly brilliant. In just a few days, this blinding white purity turned into ugly, wet, black slush. Underneath the snow was the grotty, dirty pavement.

If we don’t confess our sins, our lives are like that dirty road. We need to regularly ask God to forgive us our sins. We need a fresh fall of snow!

The third reading today is part of David’s great psalm of confession (Psalm 51:1-10). Take a moment in silence to reflect and then pray this as your prayer:

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

 

 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

 

 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

 

 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

 

 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

 

 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

 

 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

 

 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

 

 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

 

 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 

 

Finally, here is this great psalm set to the most impossibly beautiful piece of music in Allegri’s Miserere: