This sermon was offered on January 8, 2017, - 2017 – The First Sunday after the Epiphany, at St. John's Episcopal Church, Franklin -by the Rev. Deborah M. Woodward
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“PLEASE DE-BAPTIZE ME”
Modern theologian and evangelist Brian McLaren tells a story of a woman who comes to a priest, asking him to un-baptize her. “Please de-baptize me,” she said. The priest’s face crumpled.
“My parents tell me you did it,” she said. “But I was not consulted. So now, undo it.”
The priest asked why.
“If it were just about belonging to this religion and being forgiven, then I would stay.
If it were just about believing this list of doctrines and upholding this list of rituals, I’d be OK.
But your sermon Sunday made it clear it’s about more. More than I bargained for. So, please, debaptize me.”
The priest looked down, said nothing.
She continued: “You said baptism sends me into the world to love enemies. I don’t. Nor do I plan to.
You said it means being willing to stand against the flow. I like the flow.
You described it like rethinking everything, like joining a movement. But I’m not rethinking or moving anywhere. So un-baptize me. Please.”
The priest began to weep. Soon great sobs rose from his deepest heart. He took off his glasses, blew his nose, took three tissues to dry his eyes.
“These are tears of joy,” he said. “I think you are the first person who ever truly listened or understood.”
“So,” she said, “Will you? Please?”
As this story ends you may ask...
Why do I offer this story?
I do like Brian Mclaren's comments about the encounter.
“This woman seems to recognize that the baptismal promises are serious; more serious than many of us imagine. Baptism requires much more of us than simply following the Ten Commandments – as if that were easy., I might add.
Or checking a short set of behaviors off of a list – although the list has no end, I might suggest.
Jesus never says that following him is going to be easy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus says,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21
That is one way to comment on her request.
Why would I, personally, offer this story?
This is why...
Because this story touches the heart of my personal Christian regret...
I am touched by this story because I sometimes spiritually weep for myself and ALL that I cannot do and have not done to bring peace and justice to this world
I weep for my own baptismal ineptitude.
I think about those remaining in Aleppo and their fate about which I have done nothing and I feel an odd sense of self rage.
I think that this Aleppo thing as just one more of many failures. I mean not to be Aleppo specific. Simply suffering specific.
I think of Richard Rohr (another of MY theologians) who states."Until religion becomes flesh, it is merely Platonic idealism instead of Jesus radicalism." Just a nice thing to do because a nice guy did it.
As the woman in this story heard the radical baptismal call, she realizes that the baptismal life is a life of complete and total transformation, a life that is deep and demanding. The only true joy—God’s abundant life—comes by following Jesus, and she realizes that following will take her far outside her comfort zone.
It means being committed to worship.
It means serving the poor and others at the margins.
It means giving away much of what we might think is ours.
We are asked to do a lot, but in doing so, we are given a lot.
Ah, now there's an interesting bullet point. Given a lot.
And so NOW, here is the sermonic turning point!
What is this “lot” we have been given?
I believe we are given a lot in lif;, a lot that is ultimately good.
And so I find the conversation, so far, a bit troubling.
Even while wondering if perhaps we need more – SPINE…
I consider – would I preach this story if there were a family here, with a perfectly beautiful infant – with one toe already in the water?
Would I. NOT
The story is incomplete.There is the ultimate good. And I would want the newborn to be baptized into the fullness of the grace of baptism.
We need to remember, that the prayer from our Baptism Rite.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon us, your servants, the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of Grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. AMEN.
Do we hear these words?Were they offered to that woman?
A New Life
Why would I stay baptized?
I think we might want to revisit our reasons for accepting our baptism.
For carrying on with the ministries and vocations to which we have been called,
however apparently unremarkable,
or astonishing them may be.
I think we might want to reconsider our reasons for surrendering to and embracing the sacrament of baptism.
And while I might not stay for the rules.
I might indeed stay for the forgiveness.
I would certainly stay for the blessing of this community,
that I might not journey alone but within the body of Christ.
For me, this blessing is huge. Oddly, it was not noticed or mentioned in our opening story.
Yes, that is huge.
And, there is one more REASON
- For me an absolute,
- a bottom line,
- an ultimate good,
- a reason that deeply respects the fact that baptism is a sacrament that changes life…
While I believe that no-one can take away our “child of God-ness” That fact is forever. It is why God cares...
I do also believe that it is possible to live a dreary life of
- not knowing
- not owning
- not claiming
- the power
- and grace
- and unity, the community, with God
- and God's son
- and God's spirit that is the awakening gift of baptism.
Yes, to follow Him is a challenge.
But I regret that that pastor did not return to those graces and those blessings.
- A New Life
You see, the challenges remain, in any human heart, the challenges
that Jesus named:
These are left for us to tend.
We live in the same challenged world that our Savior entered at his birth. And however much that one woman might have wished her Baptism undone, she would never be able to undo herself from the world of challenges within which she lived.
So I cherish the grace of baptism.
I would rather live within the power of the Spirit, that same descending dove.
I would rather have alight upon me the same heart for compassion.
I would rather find my strength as part of His courageous gift.
I would rather have my hand of Love held and guided by Jesus' hand.
What was Martin Luther King's favorite hymn.“Precious Lord Take My Hand.”
And I choose to hold on.To stay.Why would I let go?
I would rather stay, and be, I hope, free and empowered and brave and bold and blessed to see Joy and Wonder.
We are God's children, a gift of joy and wonder. I would stay within the embrace of baptism that calls us ultimately not to tears but to the joy and wonder of God.