The Revolutionary Act of Baptism
Last week when I was down visiting my parents, I discovered some very old photographs. They were in shoved in an alcove housing old games, books and some of my grandmother's old fabrics. There in a bag was the photo album with the black paper pages with little triangles, holding the pictures in place. It was fascinating for me to see the faces of people known only to me when they were a much greater age. My mother's parents, on their wedding day, at the beach, and even at their 25th anniversary picnic.
Among them were people I'd only heard stories about - my great-grandmother, Annie, and her sister, Etta. I found one of the real "characters" from our family tree, as well. My uncle Earl, who made his own beer and liked his Limburger warm. But it was my grandmother, Dorothy, that interested me most. She was the one I was closest to, and from her I'd learned much about our family.
This reminiscing made me realize just how much those people, my relatives, had passed on to me, and my immediate family. Their values, their faith, their sense of family had all given a legacy to us in the present day.
In some way, it is the same for all of us. Each one here has, in one manner or another, been shaped by family influences, present and past. Whether we were born into our families, or transplanted, the personalities, faith and outlook have made their mark on us.
The church is no different. As a matter of fact, the church may be more influenced by our history, because our is an historical faith, based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Who we are as the Congregational Church of Brookfield is a legacy that has been passed down to us through countless generations.
If we would consider it, we can see that this church is just one branch on the great Christian family tree. No matter where we have come from, which arm of Christian faith has formed us, we all share something that makes us kin - we share our baptism in Christ.
These days, we perform the ritual so often we don't perceive baptism as the significant, even revolutionary, act that it became. Ritual cleansing with water as an act of purification wasn't unknown in Jewish tradition. But the baptism of Jesus was so significant that it has been recorded in all of the gospels. We can trace our own roots back to that day in the River Jordan. There we find ourselves in the midst of something new arising in the wilderness, on the margins of society.
Only Matthew offers this curious dialogue between Jesus and John before the baptism. Many New Testament scholars have put forth that the conversation was included by Matthew to explain "why Jesus, a sinless messiah [must] submit to John's baptism, which was for the repentance of sins." (Braxton)
From Jesus' own words we find he submits to John's baptism to "fulfill all righteousness". The word righteousness signifies "God's saving action in the world". The Greek word might even be translated as "justice." "According to Thomas Long, righteousness encapsulates God's passionate commitment to set right the things that are wrong." Jesus' baptism, then, signifies his recognition of John's fiery message and baptism - that "God's justice will be manifest in the world." And as we have come to know, through him, Jesus.
The baptism of Jesus is also an act of solidarity with people who were being baptized into a new way of looking at the world. Our baptism shares that same intention - that we are open to a new mindset.
John preached repentance. In this day and age, the meaning of repentance has become distilled into meaning our own personal piety. But repentance "involves more than just and admission of wrong. The Greek word, metanoia, connotes a change of mindset. To repent is to adopt a new mindset that causes one to turn around" Jesus chose to allow John to baptize him in order to send the message that, through him, a new way of envisioning and thinking about the world would arise.
And so it did. Countless numbers have been baptised into the family tree of Christianity. It is a long and varied geneaology including some characters - John the Baptist for one. Each one has in their own way made the faith their own and passed it down through the generations. From the early communities of faith and the apostles, to the converts, such as Paul, to the early church "fathers", Gregory, Anthony, who made their mark on a Christian church reaching beyond the Mediterranean. It comes down to us through the saints who were martyred in bloody crusades to the Reformation, with Luther, Calvin, and Zwinglii who simply wanted to renew the face of the church by looking first to Christ and the revelation of God through the scriptures.
The family tree jumped the ocean and was transplanted here, so that again, people of faith could live lives that spoke to the new way in which Christ envisioned the world could be. Our own very branch of this family tree was planted here in Brookfield almost 250 years ago. The faith and the values of those with whom we share our baptism has been passed onto to us today.
There are many here who have been here your whole lives. You may be able to look back and remember the events and the personlities who have shaped the ethos of this church family. Maybe it was the pastors - more likely it was those who offered their time and commitment in so many shapes and forms.
My friend Susan and I were reminiscing the other night about the various church members where we had both been members. All of them had made a mark on the churchThe names started popping up - Bill who served on the deacons, who had a knack for knowing everyone and recognizing and welcoming the stranger in out midst. Mac, who knew his finances and took a leading role with the trustees. Every single one that we named had taken on a different role in the church family.
We are the same way. I still hear the stories you have all told me of folks who I never met but who made their mark on this place. I know that our most recent senior pastors have touched this place and our lives as well. Peter and Sargent are just two who have contibuted to our legacy. It is a legacy that we share through our baptism in Christ. This legacy is part of a geneaology that reaches far back into history, and it is pointing toward the future as well. Each one of us has been baptised with water and the Spirit, a Spirit that calls us from today into tomorrow. We all share in the task of carrying on the legacy, but in our own way, our own manner.
What gifts are you endowed with that, in your own special way, will pass on the legacy to our neighbors, our children, and to our world? What is God calling YOU to pass on? Amen.
"revolutionary" concept gleaned from Brad Ronnell Braxton's Ready for Revolution, printed in The Christian Century, January 2-9, 2002, p. 18.