Every year the Sunday after Epiphany we remember our Lord Jesus’ baptism. His words to us in Matthew 28:19-20, the “Great Commission,” are “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” What a leap of faith in only three weeks; from the birth of a savior to his words to us to carry on in the mission of winning souls for Christ.
The command seems simple enough when we read it but holds a lot of responsibility for us and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in a culture that focuses on personal needs–what’s in it for me and how can I gain more material possessions to satisfy my longings–instant gratification? Jesus taught us to seek righteousness, to work at being in a right relationship with God and others; to aim to be with God in eternity in everlasting life. In the balance on the scale of life, we have instant gratification versus the long term goal of meeting God face to face and basking in God’s glory forever. It is difficult to battle human nature which leans toward self-interest. Part of our inner working prefers that God be partial to you and me. We want to reap the benefit of being singled out, first in line toward a heavenly reward and we do not want to have to move over and lose our place in line.
The account in Acts recalls a dream that Peter had telling him that he should not call anyone profane, unclean, or unacceptable to God. As he pondered his dream, soldiers came to him as messengers from a Gentile, a centurion in the Roman army named Cornelius. He claimed that God had spoken to him in a dream. The emissaries asked that Peter allow the centurion to come to listen to him. What a challenge for Peter! Peter reminded the men that it was unlawful for Jewish folk to talk to Gentiles, but he had just had a dream from God telling him, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Could God be telling him that God provides and cares for all people? Could it be that Jesus’ message was not exclusively for the Jewish people, but for all people? Jesus is the Savior of all and now it was time to expand the reach of the message. In the company of Jews, Cornelius, and many other non-Jewish people, Peter professed that “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” (v.36).
Peter boldly expanded the message preaching that “Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (v.38b). Peter’s followers must have been overwhelmed by these words. Peter had been a witness to Jesus’ ministry; he was there when Jesus died and after the resurrection when Jesus came to the disciples and commissioned them to “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Peter finally heard the message himself, God is for everyone: hypocrites, pretenders, liars, every day saints–no partiality. Retirees, single parents, traditional families, youths, children, care-center residents, blended families–no partiality. Wheelchair users, cane users, dog guide users, hearing device users, scooter users, motorcyclists, minivan drivers, long distance truckers and e-mail users–no partiality. God wants us to include people from all lands, races, religious persuasions, city streets, mansions and condominiums.
God raises no eyebrows, shows no partiality, favoritism or exclusivity. “In every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God]” (v. 35). The family, the realm of God, is all encompassing. Family are people to whom we matter. From the outside, people might look at the Sacrament of Baptism given to us by Jesus as a rite of inclusion into an exclusive organization. Does baptism say to outsiders, “Welcome to the holy club, the in-group church?” Is the mark of baptism a sign of exclusivity or inclusivity?
Baptism sets us apart for God. At baptism, we acknowledge whose we are. Baptism is an act of sharing one’s child when the child is presented by a parent or guardian, placed into the arms of the minister–a symbolic letting go that is a precursor to future separations. The child becomes more than an extension of parental being. The child belongs to two families: the family of nurture and the family of God. Does the family pedigree passed down genetically take precedence over adoption into the family of God, where all are united in the body of Christ?
To become a Christian requires no surrender of part of one’s given identity but the taking on of a wider identity. When a child is presented for baptism, I ask: “Do you desire (for yourself or your child) to be baptized into the faith and family of Jesus Christ?” It is your choice to renounce the evil in the world, to profess faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and to commit your life and the life of your child to know Jesus, love Jesus and serve Jesus. We promise to live as best we can according to the way Jesus lived. We promise God, ourselves, and the surrounding witnesses to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and in the way we live our lives to reflect and point to Christ.
We promise the faith community which has welcomed us with open arms, adopting us to share in ministry by faithful attendance, to celebrate Christ’s presence and to further the mission of Christ in all the world as part of a church that draws others toward growth in their own faith. Baptism may be a few drops of water but it is a reminder of God’s presence bringing the holy into the now. A few drops of water here in the midst of things awakens, creates and offers holy encouragement; it is a piece of affirmation that reminds us that God is for all of us. Praise God!