Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 5, 2005


Son’s ordination the latest step in his return to faith


      Sunday school is important to many Christians. For about 20 years I have been writing a commentary on the International Sunday School lesson that some churches use. This has been most helpful to me in understanding the Bible, and perhaps along the way a few Sunday school teachers have been helped by my commentaries.

          The subject for today’s lesson is the link between baptism and the call of God to service or ministry. The biblical passage upon which the lesson is based is Mark 1:4-13. Each lesson has a “Key Verse” and the one for today is Mark 1:11 which reads, “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

          As I mulled over that verse drawn from the account of the baptism of Jesus, I thought about my own son, Matt, and how pleased I am with the progress he has made toward becoming an effective pastor. Perhaps you will be interested in seeing how I tried to use Matt’s experience as an example of the connection between baptism and God’s call to service.

          Matt was born in Union Springs two days before Christmas in 1957. I remember well the night Dean interrupted my reading to tell me it was time to go to the hospital. I protested, “But honey, we can’t go yet; I have read only three chapters of this book on child birth.” With her usual wisdom, she said, “Bring it with you; you can finish reading it in the waiting room.”

A few months later, on a Sunday in the spring of 1958, Matthew was baptized by the Rev. Marvin K. Vickers, our district superintendent then. I was serving the Midway Charge in the Troy District. We remember his baptism well, especially his loud burp on my shoulder when Brother Vickers handed Matt back to me. The unexpected sound caused the little congregation to mark the moment with laughter.

We have shared the story of his baptism with Matt so many times that the words -- “Remember your baptism” – always bring a smile to his face. A few years ago Matt shared the story with Brother Vickers, now retired, thanking him for the role he played in his Christian life. 

A few weeks after Matt’s baptism I was ordained an elder at annual conference in Montgomery. Now, 47 years later, Matt is about to be ordained an elder at the annual conference in Mobile. He has completed the required three years of probationary service while serving the Trinity-Weoka United Methodist Church near Wetumpka.

Like many of God’s children, Matt ran from God for many years. His baptism was not a deterrent to sin. He wanted to live his life on his own terms, not God’s. Yet all the time he was running from God, he was unable to forget that he had been dedicated to God as a baby. Though it was not his own decision, he had been received into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.

Matt’s rebellious streak began in, of all places, Mobile, while I was serving as pastor of Government Street United Methodist Church. How fitting now that he has surrendered to God, and answered the call to ministry, that God should bring him back to Mobile for his ordination as an elder. God has a way of bringing his children full circle, perhaps to show us that He is in charge. The home where we lived then is only a few blocks from Dauphin Way United Methodist Church where the ordination will be held tomorrow night, June 6.

Dean and I marvel at all that God has done in Matt’s life – how he has changed him and made him a caring pastor and willing servant of Jesus Christ. Is there a connection between his baptism and his call to ministry? We believe there is.

When he was an infant we took him into the house of God and asked God to bless him. On his behalf we confessed our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We accepted at the altar our duty and privilege to live before Matt “a life that becomes the Gospel,” to bring him up in the Christian faith, to teach him the Holy Scriptures, and to help him learn to worship God privately and publicly. We did our best to keep him under the influence of the Church in the hope that one day he would accept for himself the gift of salvation and become a full and responsible member of Christ’s holy Church.

Our brethren in the household of faith vowed with us to love and care for Matt, for he was, by baptism, a member of the family of God (though not yet a “professing Christian”).  Countless people did surround Matt with “steadfast love” and prayer so that one day, by the grace of God, his rebellion ended and his journey with the Master began in earnest.

When Jesus was baptized by John, God was there. He spoke the tender words, “My Son,” and declared his pleasure in his Son. God was not pleased because Jesus had turned from sin; indeed, Jesus had no sin of which to repent. Jesus’ life was sinless. His baptism was used simply to declare that the Messiah had arrived at last; the Kingdom was at hand.

When Matt was baptized, God was there also. Because his nature is like that of Jesus, we know that God was pleased with Matt. God knew even then that his plans for Matt were good and that one day this infant would accept his invitation to ministry. God also gave us, his parents, the joy of being “pleased” with our son, and we were. The baptism of a precious child is a joyous occasion. We have known that joy with the baptism of each of our infant sons.

As Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, so our son faced his own temptations as a young man. Jesus knew his own identity so he was able to resist the devil and make him flee. Our son was not sinless like Jesus, but during his battles with the Evil One he never forgot that his true identity was that of a child of God. Surely the blessing of God at Matt’s baptism continued to draw him back to God until he could finally accept his own “sonship” as a child of God. And not merely a child of God but a dedicated baptized child of God!

Well it is that we all remember our baptism! Our baptism affirms our identity as children of God. Our baptism reminds us to whom we belong. Our baptism stirs us to hear the call of God to Christlike service. Our baptism remembered causes us to rejoice that the Holy Spirit can empower us to lead, follow, and serve wherever He leads!

When Bishop Larry Goodpaster lays his hands upon our son’s head to ordain him, my prayer is that Matt will hear the Bishop’s words but also God saying, “My son, with you I am well pleased. Now rise and serve my Son with the gifts I have given you.”

I have shared this story in the hope that some father or mother of a baptized, wayward child will read it and take heart. Do not give up praying that your child will turn back to God. Claim one of God’s precious promises for your child and never, ever, give up believing that your child will surrender to Jesus and allow God’s good plan for your child to be fulfilled.

Believe me, God is faithful. He keeps his promises. He answers prayer. He changes lives. He does not want to lose a single baptized child!  In fact, it is God’s will that every human being be baptized, saved from sin, and with gratitude answer his call to serve others. + + + +