Brandon HarrisFor three days I agonized over my sermon. It was my first week at Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston, Virginia and already I had to preach — and for a baptism at that. I wrote and rewrote. I prayed and consulted fellow seminarians on Facebook. What in the world was I supposed to say to five youth preparing to be baptized on a Wednesday evening?

Part of me wanted to tell them good luck and Godspeed! Following Jesus is never easy and he has a track record of taking folks to places they never wanted to go, like seminary. What could I say to five middle and high school aged youth who had decided that they wanted to follow Christ, who were willing to submit themselves to being immersed in our large baptismal pool. How I agonized and prayed.

I wanted to draw on my rich theological education and say something profound about baptism. However, as I stood before their eager faces that evening, hoping to say something meaningful to them, I realized my words were not needed at all. God’s word, alive in the testimony of those five youth, was more powerful than anything I could say. We laughed and we cried as we heard them witness of God’s presence in their lives. A young man testified of how God’s grace – through the love of his family and the goodness of God within his life — led him to seek a relationship with Christ. A young woman testified of how she lost her mother and was displaced from her family and how Christ had been her constant companion.

That night the youth of Heritage taught me a lesson not found in any classroom. The love of God shown in the ordinance of baptism became alive.  As they rose out of the waters, the smiles that emerged and the glow on their faces displayed to the world that they belonged to God. There in the waters of baptism those five youth were born anew. That night we saw the face of God in those youth. I will not remember that night because of the words spoken in a sermon or the lyrics of a song, but because of the testimony of one young man who proclaimed, “Jesus loves me! Why wouldn’t I want to be baptized?”