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Baptism #3

Carli (3) is being baptized this Sunday.

Sara (almost 17) is being confirmed on May 19th.

 

Let's keep talking about Baptism.




A United Methodist pastor was appointed to her first church in the mountains of western Virginia. Upon arriving, she was greeted by a host of members of the new church. They were all eager to see who the bishop had sent. They showed up prepared with food to stock her pantry and refrigerator. They brought warm greetings and smiles…and they brought their questions.

One long-time member offered not-so-much as a handshake, before greeting the new clergy person with “Do you believe in infant baptism?”.

 

The fresh faced reverend responded with, “believe it?...Heck, I’ve seen it!”

 

Whether you’ve grown up with a background in Methodism or not, the default religious inclination of the majority population in the bible-belt is Baptist. The standard, even if unspoken in many parts of our region, is believer’s baptism. This way of thinking sees baptism primarily through the lens of our response of faith to God’s offer of salvation. The emphasis is put on you: your decision, the day you were saved, the moment you believed and reached out in faith toward God.

 

Methodists don’t have any problem with faith, or a response on the part of a believer. We do believe we are a storied people, and the way we tell the story has implications on the faith that claims us. We join countless sisters and brothers known by other names within Christianity’s family tree that put the stress on God’s decision for you: in the story we tell, the story we find ourselves in, in baptism, in salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, for God’s glory.

 

Our culture teaches us to think we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story. We call this freedom in our culture. It’s a lie.

 



 

Or as Stanley Hauerwas likes to put it:

 

“If you do not believe that that is the story that stories our lives, I ask you do you believe that you ought to be held responsible for decisions you made when you did not know what you were doing? No. On the whole, none of us believe we should be held responsible for decisions we made when we did not know what we were doing, because we were not free. Of course, the difficulty with the story that you should have no story, other than the story you chose when you had no story, which means that you can only be held responsible for decisions you made when you knew what you were doing, that story, of course, makes marriage unintelligible. How would you ever know what you were doing when you promised lifelong monogamous fidelity? Or if it makes marriage unintelligible, try having children. (Laughter) You never get the ones you want." (Laughter)

 

Look at your kids. She has your spouse's chin and your mother’s eyes. Her life isn’t even possible apart from the people that came before her. She didn’t ask to be born and had very little to do with it. How about the family of faith? Can you imagine being a Christian without your Mom’s influence, your grandmother, the church you grew up in? Can you imagine being a Christian apart from the influence of Jonathan Edwards (who significantly shaped religion in America), or John & Charles Wesley (who birthed a renewal movement in England that led to the rise of Methodism in colonial America), Martin Luther (a major figure in the protestant reformation). What about all the saints and lay people who sustained the life of the church through the centuries? People like Julian of Norwich and Martin of Tours, St. Patrick, Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Augustine. These names may be foreign to you, but they have left fingerprints, writings and practices that have deeply influenced the Church for centuries. They have shaped what you believe even if you aren’t aware of it.

 

If we go back two millennia we come to the turn of the ages and the time of the writing of the scriptures. If there was no Peter nor James nor John, no Apostle Paul…you wouldn’t have a bible. If there was no Incarnate son of God there’d be no reason to write these things down. If there was no Hebrew scripture, we wouldn’t know the story that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity was fulfilling. We simply cannot live apart from who we are and where we come from. We are storied people. If our lives are not caught up in the story God is telling, we are living by another story, and our lives are shaped by a lie and not truth.

 

Sometimes it’s helpful to have something to get you started. A summary. A foothold. A place to enter the well-worn path that long predates you and your contribution or participation. This is one reason we have gifts like the historic creeds. Another is to read scripture narratively. From the book of Genesis, which translates “origins or beginnings” all the way to the book of Revelation, there is a story being disclosed by God to his people.


 

I like to use this tool with alliteration for easy recall:

 

Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, Calling, Consummation

 

You can get more descriptive, but I like this for several reasons. It’s short, it’s made up of Seven C’s. Christ is at the center, and you can always unpack it more and more.

 

+ Creation- God created the world and everything in it. God is the Creator, the author and finisher of our faith story.

+ Crisis- From our earliest beginnings we rebel, sin enters our story and runs amuck manifesting in alienation: from God, with our neighbors and even within our own persons. Death is the consequence. Spiritual and physical.

+Covenant- God moves toward us in promise and fulfillment. God makes covenant to be our God and to speak to us even as our love for God grows cold and we continue to move away.

+Christ- Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The true human and true Israelite. Christ is a Greek term for a Hebrew concept of the Messiah. Our promised deliverer who not only shows us who we are created to be in our humanity, but in his divinity, he rescues us from sin and death.

+Church- Having been rescued, we are made to share in him. We do this in his humanity and divinity. We enter a lifelong journey of being shaped in his cruciform image receiving the benefits of his perfect record, transforming our ignorance, apathy and hate into love, and becoming more and more human. This contrasts with our previous condition which was dead in trespass and sin.

+Calling- As a part of the One Body of Christ with Jesus as head and source of life, God the Holy Spirit endows each member of his body with gifts for the common good of the One Body we call church, and for the good of Creation. To live with Christ as head or Lord means to live in his Kingdom, glorifying the King, bearing witness to the truth of His Story. This is both a gift and a task. It’s a privilege to even be included, and it’s a vocation or way of life to live into.

+Consummation- We say a marriage is consummated when the bride and groom have intercourse. Blood is shed and the marriage is moved toward its highest goal. It’s perfected. The perfection here is not static. It is simply signifying the union that is entered into when two people become one flesh. They are no longer “you” and “I”, they become “we”. The couple will spend the rest of their lives discovering what “our” time and finances looks like. They will probe the depths of love and challenge, jealousy and adoration, friendship and struggle. The goal, following the “I do’s” is a lifelong fidelity that shapes you, that you can look back on and say it was love, having no idea what you were in for in that initial “yes” you offered to their proposal. This is the same picture Jesus and the Apostle Paul both use to describe the relationship Christ has to his church; that of Bride and Bridegroom at a marriage supper. All of this is going somewhere, and what we taste and see now is a sign, foretaste and herald of the joy that is to come. It’s good. It’s really good, but as the scriptures testify:


“… no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.    - I Corinthians 2:9-10

 



 What does this have to do with Baptism?

 

I’ve given you the shortened summary of this story and I’ve gone on for three pages. How on earth are you supposed to know all you’re getting into when you say “I do”? Huh, maybe there’s a good reason Paul and Jesus both use the image of image by Scott Erickson marriage as sign of God’s relationship with his people. Maybe if we use this as a lens, we can see this same motif throughout scripture from cover to cover. 

God doesn’t ask his people if they want to be born, he just creates out of abundant love. God doesn’t consult his creatures for their assent to be protected and redeemed. He marks them, seals them, splits the seas and makes a way on dry ground where there was no way. He sustains them in the wilderness, providing for their needs and holding before them a promise that even better things are before you.

This story is mirrored in the way the Hebrews, and later Israelites raised their children, a peculiar people called to be witnesses to God, different from the rest of the nations. They took their eight-day old boys and they circumcised them. Shedding blood, making promises, inviting them, not only after they had experienced a sabbath and all that rest connotes as your starting place, but inviting them into all the privileges and responsibilities of what it means to be a part of this community called and created by God. Eight-day old boys don’t have anything to contribute but their foreskin. This is God’s promise to them, "you are mine and I love you, I am redeeming you, and leading you home…go tell the world in word and deed who this God is." Of course, Israelite boys and girls, men and women fail at this...that’s why God became flesh and showed us true God and true man in the person and work of Jesus Christ the faithful Israelite.

 

When we are baptized, even as infants, we are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation. We are brought into the one body that is telling His story. Our redemption. Offered to us without price, even to babies and three-year-olds….AND…as we grow and experience the Holy Spirit we come to learn and develop our place in God’s story. So that even teenagers and eighty-year-olds can make firm the faith that was passed down to them when they didn’t know what they were doing.

 

God does.

 

God has chosen you to be part of his story.

 

God has chosen you to share one body.

 

It’s really good…and,

 

The best is yet to come.

 

Do we believe in blessing small children with gifts and a story even before they are aware of what this all means? I'm sure you do. You feed them and change diapers, consoling them when they cry and celebrating with them when they grow, long before they have any say in what's for dinner or if they like the name you gave them. 

 

Guess what?



 

God has been blessing us for a long long long time. Our having figured that out is not a precondition to receive his benefits. It's a gift and an on ramp to greater and greater depths of being incorporated into His story.

 

Do you believe in the full participation of people who don't know what they're saying yes to, even infants?God does. That's the story he's been telling all along.

 

  image by Scott Erickson

Happy Easter,

Pastor Josh

 

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