The Baptism of Our Lord Year B
January 8, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
“I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”
Today we remember the Baptism of our Lord. I love Baptisms. For babies, you are just holding this little person and they are being welcomed into this big, ancient, global family. There is so much nurture in that action, there is such a village. And for bigger folks, it is like wow. What a commitment. You have been moved by God in Christ with the Holy Spirit to do something very radical, very counter-cultural (at least out here in Oregon, progressive Christian Baptism is very alternative, even edgy).
I am guessing that most everyone here has been baptized. It did not have to be an Episcopal baptism, any form or tradition counts, so to speak, so long as it was done in the name of the Triune God. And if you were not baptized, no worries, you are still welcome to share in the Feast at God’s table, we should probably talk about it, but certainly everyone is welcome. Historically this was NOT the case. Everyone worshiped together, the Baptized and those in training, the catechumen, up until the Eucharist, then the un-Baptized had to leave. The transition in our worship from the liturgy of the word to the liturgy of the table reflects this ancient polity. And the catechumate was rigorous; like three year long rigorous. Can you imagine how powerful that first communion would have been, years of study and work. There is certainly something to be said for the high commitment church where it takes dedication, hard work, where there are high expectations to fully participate. We really are not supposed to have an open table, but I believe it is better to err on the side of inclusion. But this is not a small deal, and we have to ask ourselves, what does Baptism mean?
Well, what does Baptism mean? And let us look to the source of all that is good and holy, the BCP. Where would we look? Exactly, the Catechism. Someone look to page 858. What is Holy Baptism? And then two lines down, what is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism? Someone else…
Adopted as children; inheritors of the Kingdom of God. Union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family, the church… these are very good things, and true things, but something very, very important is missing, particularly in this post-Christian age. Inheritors of the church? Yes that it generous, but this vision of baptism feels sort of like inheriting a crazy uncle’s slowly sinking yacht. This vision of Baptism is inward looking, and if there is anything that the history of Christian hegemony in the West teaches, it is that this is a terrible religion when it is inward looking. Christianity, the Church is just plain dangerous when it is more concerned with itself than with the world. All religions are
Baptism is fantastic. (And don’t get me wrong, the Church is fantastic, too). Baptism is powerful. It is important. It is one of the two sacraments that Christ Himself instituted. How do we bring it back to holy relevance in a world where membership in this club does not mean a whole lot? Particularly as we learn more and more that being Christian is a great privilege, and that it is as great a privilege to be Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu or whatever. The privilege comes in being a person of faith in a community of faith, not in which lineage we find ourselves. So why is baptism into the church important? As I will say time and time again, it is all about mission. And what is mission? It is what God is up to in the world, and our job, our sole job as Christians is to discern what God is up to in the world and figure out what to do about that.
I understand baptism much like I understand ordination. It is like an ordination into “Das Priestertum aller Gläubigen.” The Priesthood of all believers. I see it in SAT terms: priests are to the laity as the baptized are to the world. And what is ordination but a commissioning for mission. It is being set aside by a community for certain purposes. Priests are set aside for specific service and leadership roles and are responsible for certain sacramental obligations. Deacons proclaim the Gospel, both in church and in the world, with words and with action. And the rest of us, the Baptized? What is our responsibility? What are we set aside for?
We are set aside to live a Gospel life, a life directed by our experience of God in Christ. We are set aside to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves. That is it. That is the reason for being Christian, receiving in baptism the commission to follow the great commandment. And practically, what does that look like? What are we supposed to do? What is Great Commandment living? We are supposed to live with intention. We are supposed to live with purpose. To live an examined life. To strive to do meaningful work. To leave the world better than we find it. To pick up after ourselves, and others if they forget, or can’t, or won’t. to turn the other cheek. To share our wealth, not only with the church to support this work, but also with causes we believe in, with our neighbors in the form of taxes. We should treat people as they actually deserve to be treated, that is as a child of God. We are supposed to consume less, and choose the local thing, that shirt or tomato or bottle of wine, and to buy it from a neighbor. We are supposed to take care of our bodies and our minds. We are supposed to pray, and study scripture, and have our faith as a guiding force in our lives.
We are supposed to be the people that we know we are supposed to be. That is why we come to church, to be reminded that being good takes work. It is not always the easy or natural path. We come to church to start over again, weekly, comforted and forgiven, and strengthened and renewed, to take on a one day at a time kind of life. The only reason we do what we do here; the fellowship, the friendship here at Resurrection; the fun we have, the easy laughs, the good food… the feeling of home here is valuable in that it helps us do the work in the world that we have been given to do; to love God and neighbor more than it seems possible, or wise.
Are we going to do this? We’ve had our first season together, the Advent-Christmastide, I am getting to know you all individually and collectively. As I wrote in my newsletter article, we are doing a lot of things, and well, and goodness, we are just scratching the surface. We’ve got a lot to learn together; about God and our relationship to God, about discernment and mission, about our Holy Scripture and our history, about how to organize ourselves for mission, how to invite others to join us in this work, in short, how to to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. This is what you got signed up for in Baptism. Are we together in this? Are we going to build up an outpost of the Kingdom together? Are we ready to fulfill our vows? Really?
I am going to give one of my hero’s the last words. Whatever I am talking about, this poem is pretty much what I mean. This is the “Manifesto of the Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.