November 15, 2016

Your Baptism Is Calling You: The Church in Trying Times

We are living in trying times. The election of Donald Trump has many living in fear, anxiety, and expectation that their lives may be in danger or their families may be ripped apart. This is not a normal reaction to a presidential election. This is not persons upset because their candidate lost. This is a reasonable reaction to the eighteen months of racist, xenophobic, and misogynist speech of the candidate himself. As we have seen in the rise of hate speech and crimes, whether or not Donald Trump himself believes the things he says, he has stirred up, empowered, and emboldened those who do to act out in hate, intimidation, and violence.

More than that, president-elect Trump has appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon is a man well known to be a supporter of the alt-right movement, which is blatantly racist. His former job as the head of Breitbart news gave him a ready platform to promote these beliefs, and Breitbart infamously has. We now have a white nationalist in a high position of power in the upcoming administration. We now have the authority and power of the White House making racism, xenophobia, and misogyny normal, acceptable, and powerful.

Your baptism is calling you.

In the ancient tradition of Christian baptism, the message is very clear: By going into the water, you are dying to an old life, and rising to a new one. The old life? That's the life of sin, self-centeredness, lack of love for God and neighbor. The new life? Love, love for all, love for the other, the love of Christ mysteriously finding its expression in the flesh through you.

Baptism is about the paschal mystery of death and resurrection as the only path to new life. It comes through the death and resurrection of Christ, but it is now the death and resurrection of the baptized person. The ancient font you see in the photograph has steps that lead down into the water, and steps that lead out the other side. They speak of dying and rising. In the center is a circle, a womb, and symbol of rebirth.

In the ancient baptismal tradition, one important thing has to happen before the baptism. The baptismal candidate is asked three important questions. And after each question, the candidate says: I renounce them. Here are the questions:

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
          I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
          I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
          I renounce them.

I think the rubrics here should say: 
Shouted with every fiber of one's being: I renounce them!

In some ancient traditions this renunciation is ritualized by facing west, the direction of the setting sun, the way of darkness. Then, the candidate faces east, the direction of the rising sun, the way of light, and confesses faith in Christ.

And then the baptism, the plunging into the waters of death and resurrection, the joining of one's life to Christ indelibly, the rebirth. After the baptism, the newly baptized, still wet and fresh, is handed a lit candle and told:
Let your light so shine before others 
so they may see your good works 
and glorify your Father in heaven.

Forget cute babies and frilly gowns. This is serious business. This is rejection of evil, and embracing of God's love. It is an action of God to transform us from the old to the new. It is something hardly believable, and yet believing it can change your entire life.


We are living in trying times. The legitimizing of hatred and persecution of others is dangerous. We know where these things can go from the frightening lessons of history.

Church, your baptism is calling you. Renounce what you have already been called to renounce. Do it loudly and robustly and with exclamation points and every fiber of your being. Die again to the old life that keeps coaxing us backwards. Rise again to the new life of love in Christ's name. Let your light shine in the darkness. Let others see your good works. Give glory to God, who loved you, called you, and made you new.

Your baptism is calling you. Renounce. Die and rise. Shine with light and love. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

  1. "All shall be well, all shall be well... For there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go."
    - Saint Julian of Norwich (c.a. 1342-1416)

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