3 Pentecost—7-A, June 25, 2017
Jeremiah 20:7-13, Psalm 69: 8-11, 18-20, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
Mark Twain was once asked, “Do you believe in infant baptism?” To which he responded: “I not only believe it, I’ve seen it!” We’ve all seen a baby dressed in a white gown get three handfuls of water poured on her forehead with adoring parents and godparents looking on. It’s a beautiful sight and I love to be part of it! When I meet with parents and godparents the day before the baptism I ask them what does baptism mean, what does it signify? Usually, no one answers with the words of Saint Paul this morning: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
I mean baptism is about life, not death, right? No doubt we all want the newness of life promised in Baptism: We want forgiveness of our sins, we want to share in the abundant life, which begins here and now. We want God’s protection from evil and we want life after death.
But we’re not so sure about this cross and dying business. After all, we’re Americans; we’re not supposed to lose, we’re supposed to always win!
It’s kind of like the times years ago when I imagined that I should have been a doctor. But in all those daydreams I didn’t think about the decade of difficult study and arduous training to make it a reality. Sure, Jesus, give me and my child resurrection but we’ll take a pass on that thing called dying in Christ.
Of course Paul is not saying we have to spend years of study and training to enter new life in Christ. Rather he is saying in our baptism we HAVE ALREADY BEEN united with Christ in his death. It is a metaphysical fact as real as gravity.
Baptism doesn’t create this reality; it simply allows us to wake up to it and begin to live it. As the prayer book puts it, baptism “IS union with Christ in his death and resurrection.”
It is as true for you and me as it was for Saint Paul or Mother Theresa in their baptisms.
But then someone might well ask, “why don’t I experience this reality of divine union in my daily life?” Surely this is just some tenet of the faith that I’m supposed to give lip service to, but never experience, because it’s just unreal church talk.
This is why some folks who, years after their baptism, have a deep experience of Christ, want to be re-baptized. But the church says, “No, baptism is never to be repeated, because that would undermine the reality of the sacrament and turn an objective event into a subjective experience, dependent on the feelings of the one being baptized.”
So how, according to Paul, might we experience the reality of our baptism into the death and life of Christ? First, Paul uses the word death/died 13 times so we won’t miss the doorway into the faith journey. He says in baptism that:
- we have been united with Christ in death
- we have been buried with Christ,
- our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
He is saying since we are in union with Christ we are in a new situation of forgiveness and grace that everything changes. Then Paul says what the role of our faith is: So you also MUST CONSIDER YOURSELVES dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Reminds me of the song from the musical Oliver!, “Consider yourself at home, consider yourself part of the family.”
Or the New American Bible says: “Consequently, you too MUST THINK OF YOURSELVES as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
N.T. Wright’s Kingdom Translation says: In the same way you MUST CALCULATE YOURSELVES as being dead to sin, and alive to God in the Messiah, Jesus.”
Paul is not saying we must now find a new level of willpower and try even harder not to sin and not to be afraid of death. NO!!!
He is saying because our sins died on the cross and our life is hidden with Christ in God we must adjust to this new reality.
A common example N. T, Wright uses is of the sacrament of marriage: the day after you are married you may not feel a bit different than you did the day before. And you certainly have the freedom to get up that day and act as if you were not married. You can go look up your old flame, you can hang with your friends and ignore your spouse, but it doesn’t change the reality that you are married.
Most of us, however, on the day after our wedding, are excited about the venture of giving ourselves to this new reality called marriage. So every day we consider ourselves married and calculate what our new life as a married person really means and then we live into that reality.
So too with the sacrament of baptism: we must wake up every morning and consider ourselves to be in Christ. Even if we’ve ignored this reality for decades it still remains true for us, so we don’t have to get re-baptized. We only have to wake up to the presence of our union in Christ and live AS IF our sins are forgiven and we are filled with the Spirit of Christ in whose death and resurrection we now abide.
Every day in our prayer and thinking we let go of the levels of misperception and walk in the awareness that we are in Christ—part of his Body the Church, and ambassadors of the good news of reconciliation to every person we meet.
And when we decide not to do this, what happens? We go to our default setting and act as if we are still in Adam, that is, in the worldview of anxiety, fear, control, and judgment.
It’s like the story of the woman who had a bully for a landlord. He never made repairs yet he would show up in her apartment at random times to harass her. Finally, she finds a new place to live with a decent landlord. After she moves in, however, her old landlord shows up anyway. At that point she could give in and let him continue to bully her, or she can remember she is in a new situation with a new landlord, and kick the old one out.
But of course this can be difficult when the bully is in our own thoughts—attacking us and others. We think these negative perceptions about ourselves and others are facts that will always be pushing us around. If we think this is our reality they will continue to oppress us and define our reality.
So, Richard Rohr suggests we practice dealing with these inner bullies: he says, imagine these negative thoughts of our inner bully as boats coming up a river, with us on the bank watching them. And instead of climbing aboard one of the bully boats we name it as “my anxiety about tomorrow” or “objections to my husband” or “Oh, I can’t do that well”, and instead of climbing aboard again we let it go on its way without giving it another thought. We don’t identify with it since we now identify with Christ.
Rohr says, “With every idea, with every image that comes into our head we say, ‘NO, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.’”
“Some may feel the need to torpedo your boats. But don’t attack them. Don’t hate them or condemn them—You aren’t allowed to hate you soul.” What the Mystics Know, page 84
So finally the question for us isn’t, “Do we believe in infant baptism?” The question is do I believe in my baptism? Do I believe that years ago I too was immersed into the death of Christ and now share his new life of forgiveness, healing, and grace?