Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Baptismal Community

On Sunday, we baptized young Caden, the baby boy of Ben and Michelle Wayman who are joining us in ministry at St. Paul's. Using the lectionary texts for last Sunday, I tried to weave a narrative regarding the nature of a baptismal community. Below are a couple of paragraphs from the sermon:

The Free Methodist Church in our day and, in fact, much of American Christianity is faced with a severe crisis of identity. We no longer know who and whose we are. The temptations of our culture and sub-culture threaten to overwhelm us and perhaps render us impotent or irrelevant. And so we grab for all the outward appearances of success at hand and reward any one and any place that shows a jump in statistics, a showy worship program, and beautiful and wealthy people. But today, my friends, we engage in reaffirming whose and who we are through the simple act of splashing a bit of water on the forehead of a child. Believe it or not, this is one of the most counter-cultural acts in which we might engage. As Gordon Lathrop says in his book, Holy Things, “If bread and wine are at the center of the assembly, water is at its edge, marking its boundary, slaking its thirst, holding its life and its death.” And this water refuses, like the Good Samaritan in today’s gospel lesson, to know boundaries. It embraces the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the powerful and the disenfranchised. And just as that parable was meant to shake up the Jews who overheard it, shattering their misconceptions and stereotypes about what it meant to be one of God’s people, so, too, do these few drops of water challenge us to rethink our own identity as children of God.
Through the gift of baptism, we are offered an opportunity to be converted yet again. As Will Willimon claims in his little book, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized, “Infant baptism can be a reminder that conversion, and the repentance it entails, is not usually (contra much of American evangelicalism) a momentary, instantaneous phenomenon. Baptism, whenever it occurs, sets in motion a lifetime of turning and detoxification. As Luther said, every day of our lives we must wake up and volunteer for death, praying to God to finish in us that which was begun in our baptism,” (63). Baptism reminds us that our citizenship is not something stamped in a passport but one discovered in a community. Our home is not a place, I tell you, but one found among a people. And we are called to live out that charge this day as God’s holy people.