Baptism, working through us
Today I want to speak about baptism, about baptism working through us to share God’s love with each other and the world. There’s a reason for my choice of this topic: We are going to baptize Gabriel at our 10 am service today, and I didn’t want to leave you out of this event. Gabriel is the grandson of Bob and Edna, the second child of Meera and Michael. Michael grew up here at Resurrection. Michael and Meera are both military officers stationed in Maryland. So Gabriel (and his older brother Alex) are part of the fabric of our community, little gold and silver threads, tying our lives together and binding us to them—part of our extended family of God.
As I said, I didn’t want this 8 am congregation to be left out of the miracle of Gabriel’s baptism. Our lessons conveniently did their part. Our epistle lesson actually includes a disturbing image of baptism, and our gospel lesson—which never says the word—is all about what happens at baptism, how baptism works through us. So let’s see how these two lessons connect.
First, our epistle lesson. The author of this letter—let’s call him Peter—is in the middle of his “sermon of hope.” His people were being persecuted for their faith in Christ Jesus. So Peter is telling his people that they should respond to their situation as Christ responded. Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but was made alive in God’s Spirit. So we, too, must be made alive in God’s Spirit.
How can we do this? Peter links our becoming alive in the Spirit to what happens at baptism. Peter tells us that baptism saves us so that someday we can live forever with God.
Here’s the disturbing part. Peter likens baptism to the Great Flood, which for Peter was the way that God separated the pure in heart from those who perished. Peter even “did the math” for us. Peter reckoned—unlike the reckoning in the recent movie Noah, I might add—that the Great Flood “saved” eight people. By implication the eight people saved were Noah, and his three sons, and their wives, all of whom repopulated the earth after the waters receded. Peter is saying that the number of people who will be saved “by the waters” will be very small in proportion to the number of people who will die “by the waters.”
This image and this math disturb me, more than a little bit; I hope that this image and this math disturb you, as well. The waters of baptism are not supposed to be a weapon of mass destruction—or a threat. The waters of baptism do provide salvation, “yes” they do; I checked the Episcopal catechism to be sure, and I am happy to report that they agree with Peter on this subject. But nowhere does our faith proclaim that the lack of baptism is a destroying act. THIS is man’s reckoning; I pray not God’s reckoning.
Yet Peter’s identification of lack of baptism with death does remind us that there are consequences for our choices—eternal consequences. Our gospel lesson for today tells us what those consequences are:
“If you love me,” Jesus said, you will keep my commandments.
In other words, if we love Jesus, we will allow him to work through us.
And what does loving Jesus entail?
That we receive the gift that Jesus gives us—
the gift of the Holy Spirit,
so that God can “abide in us,” (can live in us)
and we can participate in God’s work.
“Your will be done, Lord God, on earth as it is in heaven.”
“If you love me,” Jesus said, “my love will live in you
and you therefore will love one another.
I am sure that each and every one of you know all of this. Week in and week out, those who attend this 8 am service at Church of the Resurrection are all baptized members of Christ Jesus’ body. And don’t we practice this Jesus love here and everywhere?
Here’s an image you might not know, though. Last week at our Adult Forum Bernard ((our seminarian)) shared an image he had learned in his liturgy class: That worship is what happens in the space between God reaching for us and our—as our first lesson today say—our groping for God. This space between God’s “finger” and our “finger,” as painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is where worship happens.
So right now we are in that holy space. And our baptism—the connection of us one to another by the power of the Christ working in and through us—is what bridges the gap between us and our creator.
I ask you: How are we putting this divine energy to work to accomplish God’s purpose here on earth. Are we spiritual couch potatoes, or are we energized by our baptism, helping to make God’s Kingdom come here on earth as in heaven?