Saturday, August 21, 2004

Baptism again 1

Baptism again!     1
I'm not sure all of this will fit on one post; besides, it's somewhat dense reading.
Recently a friend wrote to me:
Leah, do you "belong" to a church.... I mean, do you have membership, have you signed on the dotted line for any church? I have not, and so I wonder about other bloggers. I desire to be re-baptized. I was baptized as an infant and now I need some sort of a public announcement of my faith. What do you think? Do you belong to a church?
Here's the substance of my immediate reply to her, and after that I'll say more:

I'd like to respond particularly to your feeling you might like to be rebaptized, which, I believe denies the efficacy of God's Word and action, since in baptizing it is God Who by water and the Word covenants with us, but more about that later. But I also know God calls us to live out our discipleship in Christian community just as God calls us to live out our baptism in the world, so though that dotted line's not at all essential, belonging to one of those always highly imperfect though resurrected communities of faith absolutely IS of the essence.

Here's sort of a summing-up of what I wrote about baptism in a paper that later I presented as a talk:
As you read this, please remember I identify specifically with the theological tradition(s) of the continental European Reformation of the 16th century, the church bodies and the theologians that evolved from the Reformation.
In all of their theology, though particularly in their theology of the sacraments, Luther and Calvin explicitly and powerfully recovered for the church the pervasive biblical metaphor of the descent of God to creation, God's willing embrace, redemption and indwelling of everything created, not solely human creatures, but hills, trees, rivers, mountains, deserts and streams and finally the redeemed and restored city into which God pours the glory of His presence; to the extraordinary extent the commonest *stuff* of creation—like water, grain and grape—in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion become the vehicle of God's hidden yet evident self-revealing.

In grace and freedom God calls every baptized person, offering us gifts and inviting our response. To live baptized means to be a people both of the empty cross and of the empty tomb. People of Good Friday and people of Easter Sunday, so we're both dead and alive. Both wet and dry. Both slave and free. Later I'll say more about this paradoxical state of existence, about thriving within the embrace of the faithful God Whose passion always is Life, the God of Life Whose answer to death and defeat remains Resurrection. God's faithfulness to our baptism, to Her complete and unconditional, gracious Divine embrace of our life and being remains the central reality of the church's life.

Our baptism is the event that defines our individual lives and designs our community in Christ, here in this city, beyond the gates of this city, beyond this country's confines and throughout the world. (Romans 6:2-11; Galatians 3:28) Our baptism, the cosmic event in each of our lives that defines our ministry and God's call to each of us, is the absolutely cosmic event that describes and delineates the inclusive community that is the Body of the at once Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Church.

After Jesus himself, baptism is central for us Christians, as baptism defines the Christian community and enables its witness and response; in baptism we seek to discern our call to service. We are baptized for events such as September 11; we are baptized for times of loss and grief and sorrow; the Spirit leads us to the baptismal waters in order to make real and to reveal to the world and to one another the promised presence of Jesus the Christ. We are baptized to be the Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ to the world, to speak the prophetic and redemptive Word of Life, the Word God promises never will return to Him empty. To quote God's Word to us given through one of the prophets we know as Isaiah: "…my word that goes forth from my mouth…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11) Above all, we are baptized in order to enter into the joy of covenantal community with our Creator and with the world! (Matthew 25:21) Baptism is a sign of God's presence and the embrace of the baptized community of faith may be the primary evidence we know of God's unconditional, graceful, and faithful baptismal embrace of each of us. Although both of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper or Eucharist, are God's free and gracious gifts, as you also know in the sacraments the Living Word of the Living God encounters earthly, created matter in order to become vessels and vehicles of grace for us. Although they are gifts of God, the sacraments actually depend upon us humans for their existence! The living Word of our Living God evokes God's presence in our sacraments calls grace, freedom, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation into the gathered community enabling the people of the Font and of the Table, we people of the Table and of the Font who are sent into the world, to proclaim grace, freedom, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation to the world. God sends us into the world to be the Body of the Risen Christ and to speak the healing Word of God.

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