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.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.