ARMORED IN LOVE
Baptism sends each new Christian into the world equipped with a sacred relationship to God and the community.
A few weeks ago, as we were planning liturgies, we were discussing the fact that we had two baptisms in a row – last Sunday and today. A few people in the group kind of groaned, “Two in a row?!?” I laughed at the time. But the more I thought about their exasperation, the more I wondered why they were exasperated. Certainly baptisms can take longer. Between the blessing of the water, the renewal of vows, and the baptism itself, the service is a bit longer. And perhaps to groan came out of a place of wanting to spread out the frequency of special services – much like one rations out Halloween candy instead of eating it all at once. But the more I thought about having two baptisms in a row, the more I liked the idea; in fact, the more I thought about the baptismal liturgy, I began to wish we had one every Sunday.
Now before you all issue a collective groan of exasperation, let me explain. You see, the baptismal liturgy is one of those foundational liturgies. In baptism, we ritually welcome someone into the family of faith. But the baptismal liturgy is about more than the cute baby (though Rose is very cute, I admit!). The baptismal liturgy is the time when we declare who we are, how we are to live, and how we will accomplish that ideal. In this liturgy, we retell the story of our history – how God moved over the waters in creation, how God split the waters to free the enslaved people of Israel, and how God used the waters of baptism to mark a new way through Jesus’ own baptism. In this liturgy, we also talk about our nature – how we are prone to sin, how we (despite the fact that we are saved by the waters of baptism) are on a continual journey of repenting and returning to the Lord, and how we need each other if we are ever to keep turning toward God. In this liturgy, we also declare the radical way that we will live our lives in Christ – what being a Christian actually means. Being a Christian means regularly gathering to learn together, to pray together, to eat at the Holy Table together, and to join in fellowship together. Being a Christian means sharing the good news with others – not just by example, but by our words too. Being a Christian means seeking and serving Christ in others, loving our neighbor, striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of others. I don’t know about you, but regular worship, regular evangelism, and regular mission sounds like a lot of work! And yet, here we are (for the second week in a row!) proclaiming that we will do these things.
So if today is all about defining who we are and who we are going to shape little Rose into being, what might be the best way for us to prepare her for her new life in Christ? Some of us might imagine the story we heard a few weeks ago about David and Goliath. If you remember, David was just a boy who agreed to take on the enormous Goliath, that everyone feared. When King Saul agrees to let David fight Goliath, he first wants to suit up David. Saul clothes David with Saul’s armor; he puts a bronze helmet on David’s head and clothes him with a coat of mail. By the time Saul puts his sword over the armor, David cannot even walk! David realizes the protection weighs him down. So he removes the armor and weapon and instead takes only a staff, five smooth stones in his shepherd’s bag, and his sling. Goliath (and if we are honest, probably everyone else gathered, including the people of God) laughs at David’s puny preparation. The funny thing is that in our gospel lesson today, Jesus does the same thing for the disciples when he commissions them to go out in the world. Jesus tells them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; they get a staff, one pair of sandals, and one tunic.
When we think about preparing ourselves for the life of faith – of going out into the world to seek Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ – most of us think about preparing the way that Saul prepares David. We want some armor for all those times that we are rejected when we share our faith; we want a sword in case we run into trouble while seeking Christ; we want some heavy mail so that when we serve others, nothing or no one gets too close. [i] But instead, Jesus sends out the disciples with a staff to steady their walking as they share the good news, a pair of sandals and one tunic so that they can humbly encounter others as they serve Christ, and empty hands and bellies so that they can seek Christ in others. On this day when we proclaim who we are and how we will live, one might imagine that we are readying ourselves and gathering our supplies, and especially that we are arming this small, vulnerable child for walking the way of Christ. But instead, Jesus basically tells us that there is no way to protect ourselves; there is no way to prepare. [ii] We go with our trust in the Lord, with vulnerability, and with a sense of identity and purpose.
That is why I think we could stand to have baptism Sunday every Sunday. Our tendency would be to find the biggest backpack we can and load that bag with all the things we think we need for our journey. But Jesus tells us to put that bag down and start walking: walking the way, the truth, and the light; walking by seeking, serving, and sharing Christ. In many ways Rose has more to teach us today than we have to teach her. She came into this world with very little. In fact, she even came here with very little – sure her parents might have a monster diaper bag with all the “just in case” stuff babies often need. But Rose herself cannot carry a bag; she is not self-sufficient; she is vulnerable with us all. Instead of giving Rose an armor for Christ today, she encourages us to take off our armor and swords, and get back to the basics: our staff, sandals, and tunic. That is the beauty of baptism. Baptism helps us remember that we need each other. Rose needs us to teach her the way. We need her to teach us how to gat back to basics. Together we find our way to living the faithful life in Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.
[i] Michael L. Lindvall talks about the anxiety that evangelism produces in all of us in his article, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 216.
[ii] C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Mark 6:1-13,” July 5, 2015, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2502 on July 2, 2015.