I began by explaining that today's liturgy, while informal, involved taking vows: baptismal vows. Other vows have been celebrated in our Sanctuary including marriage and ordination vows. When a parent speaks the baptismal vows for their child, the ceremony becomes a celebration of God's unearned grace: a small infant cannot earn or even desire the blessings honored in these vows of intention. When a young woman or man chooses baptism, however, another part of our theology comes into focus: discipleship. Perhaps that is why I chose both Romans 12: 1-2 and Matthew 11: 28-30 as the Scriptures for this gathering.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
St. Paul, who was often caustic and disagreeable, was writing from prison about the heart of
discipleship. And in his final written communication with the young Body of Christ he called the church, he reminded them of something he affirmed in his heart: the counter-cultural nature of sharing God's love in public. Such compassion always challenges Empire - and our era is in need of this love as much as any in history. To listen carefully, to be present with those in need through hard times, to call out hatred and fear is no easy task. That is why baptism always points to the Cross. The Cross documents the extent to which God's love will endure suffering. This is part of the cost of discipleship. I also reminded these young women that none of us can do this kind of loving all by ourselves: we need strength from above. That's what Jesus promises in Matthew 11: 28-30. "Come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden and I will give you... rest." Jesus was also lead us into the "unforced rhythms of grace," too.
As the baptismal liturgy unfolded, I could see from the eyes and faces of the young people gathered that some simultaneous translation was in order. Not that people were disinterested - far from it. But insider theological terms like "salvation" or "born again" often carry baggage in these trying times. So I was not going to give the culture's shallow or mean-spirited definitions of the Gospel a pass this morning. As I spoke about the symbolism of the baptismal font, the multiple means of water in scripture and tradition, what it means to die to sin and rise to new life guided by God's inspiration, etc. I could see young faces connecting the dots of between their lives and the ancient language of the liturgy. It was another small sign of hope in a weary era, confirmation that the news of Jesus continues to be good even after all these years.
And when the vows and prayers were done, all 30 of us crowded around the baptismal font, took one another's hands and bowed our heads as I led a family blessing prayer. After the ceremony, two comments struck deep. The first was the stunned question about our use of the rainbow in the Sanctuary: "do you know what that means?" asked one person in apprehension. To which a congregation member replied, "Of course, it means that all people - and all religions and genders - are welcomed here in the safety of God's loving community." To which a deep smile of gratitude arose. The second was the reaction after I reminded the folk that while our Cross is lovely and artistic, the Cross of our Lord was vile, bloody and painful, which prompted the reply: We so often miss the true cost of discipleship, don't we?
As I drove home I sensed that this is the calling of our congregation as we move into the 21st century: small, humble acts of worship and service that both explain and honor the counter-cultural grace of Christ's disciples.