baptism

Forgetting to Remember

Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18). He also said that those who continue in his word are true disciples who know the truth (John 8). It sometimes is the case that Christians can get it in our minds that since Jesus testifies to the truth and followers of Jesus know the truth, that we have sole access to Truth.

Beyond making it difficult to be in relationship with us when we believe we have sole access to Truth, we Christians are not very good at admitting we are wrong. How can we be wrong if we have access to the truth? How can Christian beliefs be wrong if our leader testifies to the truth?

Gil Bailie points out that the Greek word lēthe means forgetful. He notes that when you put an “a” as a prefix you get alētheia, translated as truth (as it is in John 8 and 18). Literally speaking this word means to not be forgetful, or to stop forgetting.

This means that living in the truth does not mean to speak with absolute and ultimate unquestionable correctness. Living in the truth means that we do not forget.

Photo by  James Hammond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We can be wrong and still be living in the truth, because living in the truth means we admit that we do not have the whole truth. Even that which we do “know” to be True, we hold lightly because we admit there maybe things we are unintentionally forgetting.

Living in the truth is one of the distinctions of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is more interested in forgetting than in remembering. As such, the kingdom of this world is not of the truth. The kingdom of God does not forget and thus is a kingdom of the truth. It may explain in part why the prophets emphasis remembering and why Jesus asks us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

The reality is living in the truth means that we admit we are wrong. We do not fear being wrong, in fact the Gospel proclaims that there is a joy in being wrong. As Bailie points out: “The joy of being wrong is that being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in sin.”

And so on this week going into the beginning of a new year (Advent) consider the baptism vows which say:

We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Let us not forget.

Drive Thru Baptism = Selfish

Clergy are asked to perform the ritual of baptism. These are high holy moments that most, if not all clergy, embrace and love. I do not pass up the opportunity to participate in a baptism of any kind except one. The Drive Thru Baptism.

The Drive Thru Baptism usually beings as a phone call to the church asking if the clergy will "baptize my child sometime. Having never met this person calling and this person having never entered into the community of the church we engage in a conversation about what baptism means. Frankly I am not one that believes baptism is "fire insurance" or that you have to be baptized to be "saved". (Because I think we are saved by Grace not by baptism, but that is another post.) What I do affirm is that in baptism the person being baptized is making promises/vows to be in relationship with God and with God's people. To serve God through the mission and ministry of a local church and that to make these vows without any intention to live them out in a faith community (to join a church) cheapens the ritual and promotes that baptism is less a religious act and more of a social rite of passage (like the wedding ceremony has become).

Ultimately, I see the Drive Thru Baptism - having a person baptized but never seeing that person again - is selfish. It is selfish to ask a community of faith for guidance, courage, support, help and grace but at the same time not provide any of those same things for any other in the community. It is like getting married and promising to love your spouse but as time goes by you don't show acts of love but expect your spouse to do so. 

So, no I will no baptize you or your child unless you are serious in living out your vows that you are making to live in community: to die to self, to live for others and to follow Christ. If you are more interested in getting your family together to have a party for a rite of passage, then might I suggest this is why we have birthdays, graduations, girl/boy scouts, and other social markers. 

Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts...

Source: http://www.drive.com.au/editorial/articled...

No, I will not re-baptize you.

In the fourth and fifth centuries a movement in the Christian tradition appeared called donatism. One of the things that defined this group was they way they understood the sacraments. Donatists believed that the validity of the sacrament depends upon the moral character of the minister. If the minister was a person of ill repute then, for the Donatist, it affects the sacrament of, say baptism.

Which may be why John would rather he be baptized by Jesus and not the other way around.

If you had to choose, wouldn't you rather be baptized by Jesus than by John? But Jesus says that in order for righteousness to be fulfilled, John needs to baptize Jesus. Could it be that what Jesus is pointing out to John and the crowd is that baptism is not about the moral character of the person. Baptism is less about the actions of humans and more about the actions of God.


Today we have a variation of Donatism when it comes to baptism. Where we may not be focused on the moral character of the minister, there is a focus on the moral character of the one being baptized.


In the United Methodist Church, we do not re-baptize anyone. We do not care if you were baptized as a baby. We do not care if you were baptized as an adult. We do not care if you really meant it when you were baptized. We do not care if your parents only got you baptized to keep family peace. One baptism is enough.

The UMC does not re-baptize in part because the UMC teaches that baptism is less about the actions or thoughts of the baptized and more about the actions or thoughts of God.

Baptism is a sacrament that publicly articulates a Truth about God: God loves each of us and calls us by name. God calls us God's beloved. 

 

Notice that Jesus does not repent before his baptism. He is not slain by the Holy Spirit. He does not say a specific prayer. Heck, up to this point in the story of Jesus, Jesus has done very little other than be born.

And that is the point.

You do not have to do anything to be claimed and loved by God. You are God’s beloved just because.

 

John’s understanding of baptism puts the emphasis on the individuals involved in the baptism. This is why John desires to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus is greater than John, John cannot hold Jesus’ sandals. Jesus is the greater teacher and messiah.

But Jesus understands baptism is less about the actions of humans and more about the actions of God.

It does not matter who or how you are baptized, because baptism is a way we express something about God’s love for each and every person. This is in part why Christians desire everyone to be baptized. Not as a ticket to heaven but as a way to tell everyone on the entire earth that God loves you. You are important. You are valued, cherished and a beautiful human being. You are God’s beloved.

Liturgy as script, communion as dress rehearsal

Some people are not big fans of written liturgy. You know the sort of stuff is said as a group in one voice as everyone reads the same words written on the page. Those who have shared their dislike of written liturgy with me, tell me that having the pastor or the people read something feels not genuine or from the heart. They are just words on the page that don't have any meaning - it is empty.

eo2011communion-kold.jpg

Now I am not here to say that all written liturgy is great. I have encountered very bad written liturgy (as I have encountered very bad 'words from the heart'). There are times when a written liturgy is more appropriate than others. I can also argue that words themselves are just symbols and meaning is established by people and if you encounter something that is not meaningful, you hold a large part of the responsibility of making meaning. 

I want to submit that liturgy is much like a script in a play or a movie. In that it is a set of words that are prescribed for a certain situation in order to act out a specific reality. No one who watches a play or movie a dozen times gets angry that the actors are saying the same thing all the time, or that they are just reading words from a page that have no meaning. No, we understand the role of a movie or play - to transport us and show us a picture of something else. 

Liturgy is the script we hold to. We have lines that we refer to in worship that are designed to act out a reality in worship so that it would inform our lives outside of worship. When the UMC celebrates communion, we do so with a script (a liturgy) that guides us to recall a specific story. We live out that story time and time again. And we act it out time and time again not for kicks but as a dress rehearsal.

So the next time you find yourself in the middle of the communion liturgy, ask yourself, what are we rehearsing at this moment? For instance, what is the communion liturgy a rehearsal for outside the worship?