Beloved: You are called. You are.
Not just those who wear collars. Or those who are elected leaders. Or those who seem to have it all together.
None of us has it all together.
All of us are holy.
All of us are worthy.
All of us are called.
Called by the One who set the stars in the sky.
For too long a message that Christianity has put out into the ethos—pretty much from every denomination or flavor of Christianity—is the message that some folks are not legit. Not legitimate enough.
They are not baptized.
They have messed up too badly.
They do not believe the right things
Or participate in the right practices.
Beloved: this is not Gospel. Nor is it Jesus.
Oh, I know—at the start of Jesus’ ministry—before he begins, he gets baptized. Not because he needs it so much, but because Jesus is showing us, as fellow humans, what we need.
And at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:
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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
But friends, the Baptism ritual—the sacrament of Baptism–did not exist at that point. It began later in the church as a way of bringing folks into the community. And yes, John the Baptist was baptizing, but that was a ritual about forgiveness—more like what we call reconciliation when a person seeks a confessor and asks for absolution (which is available and offered in both the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions).
When Jesus says Go and baptize folks in every nation, Jesus wasn’t talking about the ritual, the sacrament. Jesus was talking about helping folks to begin a new way of life. Walking with folks and introducing them to another way of living–the Way of Love, the Way Jesus shows us with his life, his ministry, his death. This isn’t about ritual; it’s about how we live.
Now, for me, the ritual can have very great meaning. And humans are wired for ritual. There’s something about ritual that helps the purpose and meaning behind the acts to sink into our bones, our spirits, our hearts. I am not saying the ritual has no purpose. I am saying we have missed the point.
We think the ritual makes folks legit. Beloved, in God’s eyes, everyone is already legit. Everyone always has been; everyone always will be. The ritual is a means to empower us to let go of a life that prevents us from knowing the wholeness and wellness God desires for us–no matter what situation or circumstances or physical realities we find ourselves in—to let go of that old life and to reach out and receive the life God desires for us. The life where and when we recognize our connectedness to all others, all of Creation, and to the Holy Three who is a One. The life that equips us to live the truth that we are bound in a web of grace, caught up in salvation, if only we can believe it, expect it, anticipate it and learn how to trust that as our foundation, our identity.
This Baptism isn’t a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. I have shared with you before that the Greek word, Baptizo, is the verb that is used to describe pickling. Yep, pickles are simply baptized cucumbers. This verb, baptizo, means to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge. It isn’t just that moment on a Sunday morning when the family wears their best and lots of photos are taken. Baptism is every time we hold our hands up to receive the blessed bread and wine and consume Jesus—kneeling next to friend, foe and stranger because we are all guests at the same table. It’s every time we let the Word pierce our hearts and change our understandings, our worldview, our judgemental opinions. Baptism is all those moments we recognize the divine in beauty—be it art or music or nature or silence. In Scripture, God and beauty and holiness are all wrapped up in one another; is it any wonder that beauty engages our soul?
Our baptism, our pickling in the brine of Jesus–which is simply the juiciness of love–happens when we recognize a person as a fellow human, a sibling, and treat them accordingly. When our neighbor’s suffering becomes our own; when our neighbor’s joy becomes our joy. When injustice makes us so angry that we feel the need to turn tables, and then we actually go and do it by demanding change to oppressive and unjust systems and policies. These are all baptismal moments and events that shape, reshape and form us.
Did you notice the first thing Jesus does after he is baptized? He gathers with others. Come and see he says, soon to be followed up with and Come and follow me. Gathering with others, building community, is step one of baptism because Jesus knows this work of healing Creation is not a one woman or a one-man job. It is community’s job, the work of all humanity. Together It’s my gifts, and your gifts, her gifts, his gifts, their gifts—working together. My resources, your resources, her resources, his resources, their resources—working together. Come and see; Come and follow. Baptize. Gather. Go.
That Giving card we sent out this past month—often referred to as Stewardship—that’s not just the church asking for money. Don’t get me wrong, to continue as the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran we need money–and most of our income comes from you. But giving, our generosity, is baptism. It’s a moment of pickling. Of recognizing that what I have isn’t really mine; I have been given the opportunity to be a steward of what I have so that I have the opportunity to use it for the work of Love. In my life, my family’s life, our community’s life, in the re-creation of Creation. We ask you to fill out the Giving card because it is discipleship; it is a chance to be like Jesus, the One who laid everything down so that all can have more, so that all can have enough.
That’s why we are here. For another dose of pickling. To gather with our fellow cucumbers and pickles-in-the-making and to submerge ourselves in the Jesus brine. So that we can go. Go and do whatever bits of creation healing we can do as this upcoming week unfolds. Knowing that we will return next week, for another dip into the baptismal waters, holding our hands and hearts out for more Jesus as we become more and more like Jesus—-agents of Love, Healing and Mercy. This is what it means to be church; what it means to be Beloved Community.
As Isaiah reminds us today: God says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up [only] the tribes of Jacob and to restore [only] the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
That’s you, Beloved, that’s you. Pickles and Lightbeams. And all God’s people say: Amen.
What’s in a Name?
We hear two different names in our Nativity stories, assigned to this newborn baby: Emmanuel, meaning God is with us, and Yeshua.
Yeshua is the name Mary and Joseph were told by the angel to name their firstborn. Yeshua, meaning the one who saves, that we translate as Jesus.
The One Who Saves: Salvation is at the heart of the meaning of the name of this One we proclaim and profess to follow. But there are all different means and ways of saving. And as the church, a gathering of followers, perhaps we should especially focus on how it is that Jesus saves. Not doctrinally or dogmatically, but experientially. How did Jesus save as Jesus lived, as Jesus loved? What does this saving actually look like in the flesh?
In the story of the woman at the well, the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in Scripture, Jesus walks up to this unaccepted and cast-aside woman—joins her where she is, listens, accepts what she has to offer, and builds relationship. A relationship that leads to transformation for the woman and many others in her community.
In the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus is required to humbly re-think what he has learned and allow for this woman to enlargen and enlighten his view, his own doctrinal wisdom.
In the story of the young girl who is believed to be dead, Jesus arrives, believing in—seeing— her life rather than her death. Jesus takes her hand and calls for her to rise up. Talitha cumi: rise up, young woman and live.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear of a neighbor who gives of his own time, his treasure–who sets aside his schedule and agenda to meet a dire need of a stranger. Taking the wounded to a place of refuge and calling in others to help with the healing, providing what is needed because he can, and then vowing to return—not simply considering his work finished because he has done what he can in the moment; this is not a transaction, but the blossoming of a relationship—whether it be short or long. A relationship of healing, of presence, of laying down one’s life for another.
In the feeding of the thousands, when the disciples are overwhelmed by the task to feed so many hungry and ask Jesus where the food is going to come from, Jesus says: you feed them. And the process of each seeing what they have to create a commonwealth of food, drink, of sustenance begins. And together they discover not only do they have enough, they have more than enough, an abundance with baskets and baskets of more.
Beloved, it is Holy Name day. What does our Name—as followers of the way, really mean? As the church we are being called to reconsider how it is we see ourselves. Historically, as we have “served others,” we have seen ourselves as the Benefactor. The one who has the resources, the answers, the proper and correct ways of being that we then offer to the less fortunate. We are the blessed and we bestow God’s blessing by giving to the less blessed. Our way of living and giving allows us to see ourselves as the great Benefactors, often casting ourselves as white saviors. This is a hierarchical system that then requires the receiver to exist on a lower status, a less-blessed, less-privileged position.
Jesus lived and moved from a status of mutuality, of reciprocity. Knowing that each of us needs the other, that our wellness comes from interdependence, not hierarchical generosity. Jesus knew the hungry among the thousands had much to share. Beloved, I wonder what inspired them to loosen their grip so that what they had was no longer “mine” but “ours”? What will inspire us?
Systems of mutuality have a primary purpose to satisfy common needs instead of growing private and personal profit. Mutual societies are managed according to principles of solidarity and unity rather than creating pockets of privileged preferences and desires. Jesus lived by the code of: I will walk with you and together we will know the wellness and wholeness God desires and provides for us in this life that has both glory and misery, both suffering and sustenance. Jesus moved from the Mystery of love’s generosity–which can not be fully captured by data or numbers, but is best shown and known through story and relationship.
Beloved, let us re-order ourselves and our lives to become who we most truly and authentically are called to be: a mutual community of reciprocity, of love, of compassion and healing. We may very well become a mystery to many around us as we incarnate this one we know as Yeshua–the One who Saves. Let us be neighbors instead of benefactors.
Oh, I know. Being a true neighbor is much harder than being a mere benefactor. Just ask anyone who volunteers down at One Big Tent. We are constantly messing up, relearning, and challenging ourselves as we learn how neighbor is different than benefactor. It requires relationship rather than transaction. It requires vulnerability, authenticity, and intimacy rather than a distanced giving. It is a laying down of one’s life, a giving of one’s very self–the meaning of both the cross and the manger.
For the incarnation, Jesus’ birth, is one moment given to teach us an eternal truth: I am in God; God is in me. God is in you; you are in God. We are in each other. God dwells among us.
Yeshua: the One who Saves.
What’s in a Name? It all depends on how you live it out.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.