At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. ~Matthew 18:1-5
This past fall, I served as a discernment intern at the Church of the Guardian Angel in the Remington neighborhood in Baltimore. On November 7, we baptized Peter, the two-year-old son of the rector. Now, his parents had been talking with him about baptism, preparing him to have holy water poured over his head and to be anointed with oil, but he wasn’t too sure about the process, particularly the water.
No one was surprised that he quite vocally expressed his displeasure when he was picked up to be baptized, but the promise of a treat gave his father a few moments to baptize him. It was his four-year-old older brother, though, who reminded us all of the words above from the Gospel of Matthew when, after water had been poured on young Peter’s head, his brother said in a joyful voice, “You’re part of the church now!” then jumped up and down while cheering and clapping, which we all joined.
Young Timothy knew instinctually that belonging to Christ and to the church is worthy of celebrating and brings great joy. Being part of the church also calls us to follow Jesus and to keep the promises we made in our own baptismal vows. Belonging to Christ and to each other means that we continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. Belonging means that we persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, we repent and return to the Lord. Belonging means that we proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Belonging means that we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Belonging means that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
In chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Timothy knew how to welcome his newly baptized brother into the church. We are called by Jesus to welcome each other. But we do not have to do this alone, in our baptismal vows we respond not simply with I will, but I will with God's help. We all belong to God, we are all part of the body of Christ, and with God's help we can fulfill our baptismal promises.