Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Baptismal Divider

 "...when Jesus had been baptized, and was still praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove on him, and from the heavens came a voice, "You are my dearly beloved child; you bring me great joy." -- Luke 3:21-22(*)

Christian baptism has three or more conceptual meanings in different denominations.  It is a considered a sacrament which is, simply defined, an outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace.  It is practiced differently with different conceptual understandings.  One understanding is the baptism of repentance, like John the Baptist practiced and what gets labeled in our modern day as "adult baptism."  The outward sign is the water (be it applied via "dunking" or "sprinkling.")  The inner grace is the "cleansing from sin."  The second form still involves the water but the understanding of it is that the act denotes an embracing by and inclusion of the individual in the beloved community (family) of God.  The third form is connected with the idea of christening.  It is the baptismal act done with a small child, often an infant, and is mostly the idea of naming the child.  A fourth form of baptism is "the baptism of the Holy Spirit."  It might not involve the use of water and it is often said that it is a "second" or added connection that occurs within the spirit of the person.

Whichever form we look at, baptism draws a line in a person's life.  There is before baptism and after baptism.  Jesus is baptized and in the Gospel of Mark he immediately embarks upon his working ministry.  An uneventful life becomes an eventful life.  What difference did baptism make in your life?  What events in your life are different because of your baptism?

I propose that we reexamine our lives in the context of what baptism initiates. I argue that it is not just a sprinkling into belonging to a church.  It is a divider in your life - a before and after moment of consequence.  Spirit life before baptism is a concept and after it should be an engaged purposeful dance with Jesus. 

We are witnessing the arrival at a fork in the road of American life & society.  The road for the past 4 years has shown signs that we were approaching a desert.  Unless we exit it, we are in for a long period of wandering in a wilderness where many will die and suffer, even more so than already have.  Hate speech, vitriol, untruth, and violent talk has spread like a malignant cancer across social media and every institution has been pulled into the maelstrom, even the Church.  Baptism is the water that must be tapped into to renew the human drought of spirit.  

The Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23

Love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, trustfulness, gentleness, self-control.(*)

These are the properties seen in human relationship when baptism has been initiated within us.  They are sorely lacking in all political speech and difficult to come across on social media, proving neither venue is of God.  They don't exist in the Nationalist Christian Church, which has co-opted the "evangelical" wing of the Church, much as Trumpism has taken over the Republican party. But they are properties that the mainstream Church in America needs to re-commit itself to spreading, while simultaneously calling out all forms of lies, hate speech, or violence.

The divider is laid down as a redline in the desert sand.  Water and fruit of the Spirit is like the manna God gave the Hebrews in their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness and it must be again what each of us and our churches preach, teach, and demand.

(*) - Hal Taussig, A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts, c. 2015, Mariner Books, Hougton-Mifflin Harcourt Pub., Boston & New York   

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