Monday, August 27, 2007

From the middle of yesterday's sermon

Every year, new seminarians begin their study of Lutheran theology. They are very keen to learn how to do things the right way. They want to be good theologians and excellent pastors. They are being evaluated and graded and they are intent on making the right choices.

Some times they worry about how to fold their hands during worship. Some days the issue is the translation of a particular verb. But it is absolutely certain that at some point in the first semester, some one will raise the question of baptism and still born children.

Professor, what do you do if a baby has died and the parents want you to baptize their child?

It’s a difficult situation to imagine. And an all too painful reality for some. The thing is, our Lutheran theology, our doctrine, our rules, say that baptism is meant for the living and that it is not necessary to baptize an infant who has died. Luther very compassionately argues that the tears of the parents are all the blessing that their child needs and that there is no doubt that God welcomes these little ones into his kingdom.

But when faced with grief stricken parents, who insist there can be no other way, do you break the rule?

I have come to believe that whatever you do in a situation like that, make sure, absolutely sure, that you are a sign of God’s love to those people. Try your best to be a means of mending and not breaking. Unleashing and not binding. And trust that God will bless all those involved with his love and mercy.

9 comments:

Pastor David said...

As a liturgy geek and someone with a deep passion for sacramental theology, I am right there with Luther on his answer. As a pastor, I baptize the child - not for the child, but for the parents. I think it is one of the learnings of every new pastor: how to balance the academically correct and the pastorally practical answers. Of course, the better our theological background, the easier it becomes to integrate good pastoral practice.

RevHRod said...

As a card carrying member of the Liturgical Police, I feel strongly that baptism is not necessary. Not for the child, that is. My hope is that if we can carefully tend to the needs of the family, they too will understand that their child is safely in God's care. But if there is no other alternative- if saying, "No" would shatter them, then the time comes to say, "Yes." Just as God said yes to that child.

Pastor David said...

Exactly.

And what a nice treat to have stumbled upon your blog, you have some good stuff here.

RevHRod said...

Thanks!

the reverend mommy said...

I've do it -- in CPE. It's the pastoral thing to do. Sometimes theology has to take a back seat to what's right in practice.

I actually struggled with this for quite a while....

BTW, thanks for the Rabbit story.
I enjoyed it.

RuthRE said...

It's interesting. A woman in my church had cited one reason for leaving an LCMS church is that her pastor said the theology went the other way, regarding the child, he clearly didn't know his lutheran theology.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

well... thankfully i've not been in this position. i would do the baptism... sometimes we're entirely too legalistic in the name of being liturgic.

Songbird said...

I'm so glad you're blogging again!
My tradition is different in all sorts of ways regarding baptism; my call would always be on the side of ministering to the parents. And that was taught to me by the Catholic priests at the hospital where I did CPE!

RevHRod said...

I used to think that baptizing was the automatic response. One of my favorite friendly profs has started me on thinking that there are ways to help people see beyond that. However, you'd really have to know the people. They'd have to believe you and trust you. They'd have to be willing to think through the theology. And you'd need to have all the right pastoral care words in your pocket. That's an awful lot of ifs to deal with in what would probably be a crisis situation.

Songbird, thanks for the encouraging words!