In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul asks some Ephesians: “Into what then were you baptized?”
Beloved: how would you answer that question? Into what then where you baptized? Were you baptized into a community? If so, do you mean the community of the church where you were baptized? Do you mean the Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Do you mean the worldwide Christian community or the community of people who know God by many names?
Were you baptized into a set of beliefs? A series of doctrines? A collection of practices and rituals?
Were you baptized into a new world? A new way of Living, a new way of loving? Into what then were you baptized?
Let’s hear this reading from the book of Acts as it is written in the Message translation:
Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace God with your heart? Did God get inside you?”
“We’ve never even heard of that--a Holy Spirit? God within us?”
“How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.
“In John’s baptism.”
“That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.”
Beloved: are we ready? To live into this baptism of ours? To take God into our minds and embrace God with our heart…..to let God get inside us? This baptism of ours is just the beginning---when we say these words and make these promises and have the living water poured over us----this is our first response to God’s invitation to live into this new world and to wake up and take part in this new life. But then, Beloved, there is the rest of our lives. Our baptism is our yes to a new authority. That’s right---I said authority. The world tries to woo us to consider other authorities: political, national, material, financial----so many options. Our country is spinning today because we, as a people, seem to be living by opposing authorities. And some of these so-called authorities do not have the Common Good in mind, this Common Good Jesus continually urges us to seek, but instead they seek power, wealth and security for some, but not all. Or they demand a personal freedom to live however they want no matter how it affects others or what it costs Creation or how much it divides God’s people.
But we who have been baptized, we answer to a different authority---and it is God, this God whom we know through Jesus the Christ. This God who is with us….this God who speaks.
Today’s Word tells us that when God speaks…..
Light is created. The sun, moon and stars come into being. Time is born and a new day begins. Order takes shape from the chaos. In the time of Genesis, when God moved over the waters, the waters were a symbol of the abyss…..the dangerous and unknown…..the shadows and the dark deep from which monsters come……And today we hear: God controls the abyss…God brings order from the chaos….God defeats the monsters.
And today we hear that when God speaks, Creation responds: thunder, lightning, earth, wind and fire. When God speaks, nature takes its course: birth, death, renewal and Glory is made known.
When God speaks, we are named Beloved. All are named Beloved, and we are sent forth toward the healing and uniting ministry this Creation needs, freed from our self-centeredness and our self-serving ways---baptized into a new life, a new way of living, a new community---a community whose authority is Elohim, Yahweh, Allah, El Shaddei, this Triune God who is Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.
So with the world around us in upheaval…..with our neighbors so divided…..with our democracy teetering on the edge……we may find ourselves asking: what can we do? What can we truly and actively do amidst this chaos….here on the edge of what feels like an abyss? First of all, we must stop saying: This is not who we are. Beloved, maybe not personally or individually, but collectively----this is who we are. There is no denying it. And as we own this reality, we can then begin to say: But this is not who we are meant to be. This is not who we will choose to be.
Beloved: remember……remember who we are and whose we are…..And Listen…..God is still speaking.
We are baptized into a worldwide community of people who know and are known by God. Baptized into a new life of practices that opens our hearts, minds and spirits to God, opens the door to God’s presence, turning us toward God----that’s what repentance means---a complete turn around from false authorities to the only authority through whom we can know Peace, through whom we can live out God’s good will for all of humankind. Listen and turn toward God. For when this God speaks……..
There is Light, life after death, order from chaos, Creation restored, glory made known, monsters from the abyss defeated.
Beloved, into what then were you baptized? Who is your authority? To whom then are you listening…….?
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.