Benediction Online

Sunday, January 12, 2014

No Half-baptized

I expect that many of you, like me, will not remember your baptism. I was baptized in England on a Sunday in late March when I was four weeks old. I was not a sickly child, there was no rush to baptize me before I expired. It was simply the fourth Sunday in Lent, and therefore Mothering Sunday, a day which had come to be associated with mothers similar to Mothers Day. The vicar wanted a Mothering Sunday christening and my family was happy to oblige.I don’t know how my mother thought about the service. I imagine she saw it as thanksgiving for my safe arrival, and to give me my name – Caroline after my great aunt who drove ambulances in France in the First World War, and Jane because it was rhythmically fitting. She may have seen it as giving me back to God, as making me a member of the church, but I doubt that the words “Full initiation into the Christian faith” were in her mind, let alone on her lips.

Much has changed since then. Baptism is no longer a nice tradition for acknowledging and celebrating babies. In fact, when approached by proud grandparents about baptizing their new grandchildren I always ask, “Will she be brought up as a Christian and a church member?” The answer is rarely an unequivocal “Yes” and so I decline. Because in the 1970s, the Church re-discovered baptism. We rediscovered it as full initiation into the Body of Christ. We re-discovered it as a rite of passage. We rediscovered how the early church practiced baptism and it made us rethink the whole thing.

So today, most of us - those born before the mid-70s - have two competing visions of baptism; one a nice family tradition and the other, something more rugged, rather more demanding yet also more relevant to our lives. Because in our baptism we were marked as Christ’s own for ever. In our baptism we were made ministers and missionaries in Christ’s covenant people, the Church - and in the world beyond. Our baptism initiates us into the church and sets us apart as the daughters and sons of God.

John was baptizing in the River Jordan as a sign of repentance. There had been some significant periods in Jewish history when the people repented and were restored to their rightful covenant status with God. Since the prophets consistently declared that right relationship with God would lead to national stability and independence, I am sure that many who came to the river came in hopes that a mass revival would lead to the overthrow of the Romans and a new reign of God in a free Israel.

But Jesus did not need to be baptized into repentance. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, and as his followers, when we are baptized we too are baptized into righteousness in him which means new life for us. We are baptized into the New Covenant, God’s daughters and sons, God’s beloved. God’s beloved. I often wonder how different our lives would be if when each of us were baptized, the rafters parted and a divine voice declared, "This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." So often we find ourselves anxious, concerned about the future, our inner voices telling us that we’ve screwed up or that we won’t be liked; what a difference in those moments to remind ourselves, “I am God’s beloved - a child of God.”

With great honor comes great responsibility. That wonderful prophecy we heard from Isaiah applied originally to the people of Israel, but now it also applies to us, their spiritual heirs. We are also the ones that God has chosen. Each son and daughter of God sitting here – we are the ones that God has called in righteousness and taken by hand. We have been chosen to bring justice to the nations, we have been given as a light to open the eyes that are blind and bring the prisoners out of the dark. This calling is our calling as a people, as the beloved ones of God – we were made to be a covenant people bringing justice, light and freedom to the world.

Yet the news is depressing. Chemical spills, war, refugees, abuse of power, corruption, unprecedented weather events fill our television screens. In a political climate where to obstruct your opponent is more important than to protect the poor or work towards reducing the greenhouse gases that we know are going to kill millions of people if left unchecked, in a political climate like this, how can we do anything?
Yet we are the ones who have been baptized. We are the ones who have been called. We are the ones whom God is leading by the hand. How can we stand by and not act?

Jesus went to the river to be baptized. He was dunked in cold and probably somewhat dirty water. It was a shock to his body – something that he would remember. But most of us were sprinkled with water or had it poured gently over our heads – the minister careful to make sure he didn’t spill it down our clothes or on to the floor. It’s not something we remember. We don’t have a kinesthetic memory of our baptism – it’s more a concept. And because it’s more conceptual than physical it’s easier to forget. It’s easy for us to leave here this morning and quickly forget that we are the baptized. But it doesn’t change the reality. You can’t be half baptized. You either are or you aren’t. And if you are, then you have a wondrous gift and an important calling.

It’s time for us to stop behaving as if somehow our baptism didn’t take, as if the minister got it wrong or God stayed in bed that morning or somehow we weren’t fully baptized. For we were and we are. We are the ones who God is leading by the hand. We are the ones who are called to bring justice, light and freedom. And the sooner we take that seriously the better. For, as Paul says in Romans 8, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). Creation is waiting for us to get our act together. Creation is waiting for us to realize that we are not half-baptized but the fully baptized and empowered sons and daughters of God.

There are many things we can do to work towards justice and peace. We can cultivate the attributes of non-violence in our lives, we can reduce our energy usage and eat less meat. We can work locally to ban fracking and to establish clean energy sources. I thank you for all this congregation is already doing. I thank you for your support for People of Faith for Justice as we seek to draw people of faith in this county together to work for the coming of God’s reign. I thank you for your decision to become a Welcoming and Reconciling congregation. As a young woman coming to realize that I was gay, I thought I had to make a choice between taking my place among the people of God, and enjoying love and intimacy. I wish then that there had been churches with open doors.

Yet as much as you are already doing, there is so much more to be done. The people of Jesus’ time went to the Jordan in response to John the Baptizer’s call to repentance. They hoped that they would be beginning a mass revival. That didn’t happen, but something far more profound happened. Jesus the Christ came among them and proclaimed the reign of God had begun. They couldn’t see it, but the world was being transformed in front of their eyes.

Transformation is happening. Our world today is astonishingly different from fifty years ago. Even thirty years ago I could not have imagined being legally married to my partner; or that we would have an African American President; or that we would be able to connect to all the information on the internet with just a few clicks.

Transformation is happening and we are called to play our parts. And as the beloved children of God, we have another, quiet way to make things happen. We can pray. And I ask you to take this opportunity very seriously. There is only so much I can do about the people of Syria; there is only so much I can do about greenhouse gases; there is only so much I can do about all the things that need to be transformed. But I can pray and I can enroll in the work of the baptized who are changing the world on the inner level. If you want to change the course of a river you have to change the river bed. Prayer changes the river bed. If you want to change people’s behavior, you have to change their hearts.  Prayer changes hearts. Let us be diligent in engaging God in prayer, because the Holy Spirit uses the energy of our prayers to speed the transformation that she is bringing.

Let us pray without ceasing for God to raise up leaders like Martin Luther King and Mandela, men and women who will be able to gather us around a clear vision. Let us pray without ceasing for the political will to reduce greenhouse emissions to safe levels. Let us pray without ceasing for an end to killing and the re-homing of all those who are displaced. And even as we meet on inner planes with the covenant people, the baptized who are praying, let us continue to work on the outer planes for an end to homelessness and an end to hunger, let us continue to work for justice and peace.

You cannot be half baptized. Let us not be half-hearted baptized but throw ourselves, body and soul into the adventure of God’s beloved, bringing God’s reign on earth.


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