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A Song for the Baptized
By CAROLINE A. WESTERHOFF
Church Publishing, IncorporatedCopyright © 2005 Caroline A. Westerhoff
All rights reserved.
Baptism and Ministry
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
* * *
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
The children in our midst look around and ask (as those children always will): "What are we to do if we are followers of Jesus? What habits do we practice?" Another way of phrasing the question might be: "What defines these followers in the first place?"
One source of answers is the prayer book catechism. Here we read that the ministers in the eucharistic community are those who are to carry out its mission of reconciliation and restoration, of reuniting the fractured peoples of the earth with each other and with God. These ministers are the church's laity, bishops, priests, and deacons, and to each is given a particular charge. So we begin with a presupposition: that each of the four orders of ministers has different functions to perform for the church, the body of Christ, and each is dependent upon the others to make up the whole. To say it another way, each order is a symbol for the others of what they are and what they are to be. A body is not in vigorous health when essential parts are missing.
In considering the ministry of the baptized within the eucharistic community, it is useful to think of a round table with four chairs drawn up for a meal or a serious talk. If any seat is missing or empty, the company is diminished, incomplete. Certain acts will not happen; certain words will not be said; certain points of view will not be maintained or defended—at least as they could have been. We need to ask: "How is a particular actor distinct from the others? What will he or she do or say that the others will not?" These are very different questions from: "Which one is more important than the others?"
We are not talking about a blurring of the boundaries among the various designations of minister within the church. Rather, we are calling for clarity and crispness. While from one perspective some say that the bishop, priest, and deacon forever remain in the lay order (and the bishop remains a priest and deacon and the priest, a deacon), I think this assertion is confusing to a clear understanding of ministry. I am convinced that it is more useful to separate the four orders according to their differences. The paradox is that as we work to define specifically the ministry of one, the ministries of the other three become more apparent in their own right. As those in each order—layperson, bishop, priest, and deacon—take up their roles within the community with clarity, authority, confidence, and enthusiasm, the others are better able to understand and assume their own.
In the catechism the description of each of these roles begins by saying that each of us is to "represent Christ and his Church." This is what we have in common, and these words have ramifications for us all—lay and ordained—as baptized Christians. A minister is one who follows Jesus, who learns from the example of Jesus, and who takes seriously the implications of the baptismal vows to say and to do on Jesus' behalf, to speak and behave as Jesus would.
At baptism we are given both the means and the mandate: we are incorporated into Christ's body, infused with the character of Christ, and given power to represent Christ and his body, the church. We hear the words:
John ... Frances ... Sarah ... David, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever.
Sealed and marked—washed in waters of new life, seared with fire of the spirit, drowned and burned so that we can emerge fresh and new to be about the work God has intended since the beginning of time.
Then the people of the community give the welcome and the charge:
We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood. You are one of us now. You are to go forth with the liberating word of the One who came among us to show us how it is to be. You are now among his own, those ordained as his servants to the world.
So we become members of the company of Christ. We can be with them forever. We can share their tea and cake. We can be shaped by their holy habits. We can hear their lively stories that help us form our own. This company will call us to take up various roles on their behalf—to sit in various chairs on the porch. Then, putting these roles aside until we return, we are to go forth to other companies and other porches, carrying with us as God's baptized people the good news of God in Christ.
Much has been written and said in recent years about ministry, particularly the ministry of all the baptized. The subject is an urgent one, and yet we continue to skirt around it. I suspect one reason we do is that it is so urgent. If we took it seriously we would have to change much about how we set priorities and how we live our lives—as a people and as individuals. There is that cross in the way.
I think our other primary difficulty is that of definition. The children in our midst have asked: "What are we to do if we are followers of Jesus? What habits do we practice?" But what if this is a subsequent question and not the initial one? The children in our midst are only following our lead.
Many of us in the church—volunteer and stipendiary—would say we see our work as ministry. And sadly, we still tend to consider the church as the locus of real ministry—despite our many words to the contrary. Nevertheless, we could go on to describe other ministries: of the teacher, of the doctor and the nurse, of the parent. But suppose ministry did not have as much to do with role and function as with who we are and how we are disposed to behave—our "am-ness" as a young woman said to me recently. Suppose the children's question were to become, "Who are we to be if we are followers of Jesus? Who are we to become?"
John the baptizer urges us to prepare for this becoming. The derivation of the word "prepare" is illuminating. Not only does it point us to the expected Latin parare, to bring order, to get ready, it also refers us to parere, to bear, to bring forth. Preparation does not just have to do with getting ready for a birth; it has to do with the very act of birthing itself, with the bringing forth of something which has not been before—something new. As God planted the divine seed into the womb of Mary the virgin, God has planted the divine seed within each of us. Our life's work is to carry that seed, to swell with that seed, to give birth to the fruit of our loving relationship with God: to become the selves we are and were intended to be.
If we took seriously that every one of us is born in the image of the divine and that we bear the mark of the Creator God from before the moment of our birth, the mark peculiarly seared upon us who are named Christian at the time of our baptism....
If we took seriously that every Christian carries deep within herself or himself the mind and heart of Christ and that our lifelong work is to practice holy habits that reveal and name the Christ in ourselves and others—to uncover the image, to scrape away the layers of accumulated grime and turn ourselves to God's polishing hand....
We then would seek perceptions of ministry that include every man, woman, and baby we graft into the body with that marking and sealing and drowning and searing, regardless of gift or grace or circumstance.
We would identify and honor the ministry of the child and of the aged.
We would identify and honor the ministry of the student as well as that of the teacher, the ministry of the listener as well as of the speaker, the ministry of those with lesser intellectual ability as well as of those who labor to give them tools for comprehension and expression.
We would name and respect the ministry of the sick and of the dying as well as of those who bring healing and comfort, the ministry of the homeless as well as of those who strive to bring them some measure of dignity and relief.
We would accept and welcome the ministry of the loyal dissidents in our midst as well as of those who strive to address their concerns, the ministry of those who ask disturbing and annoying questions, the ministry of those who want to change the rules.
Ministry would be part and parcel of our saying, "I am; I am baptized." In describing ministry, questions relating to character, identity, and disposition to behave would concern us before those regarding the various roles we assume or functions we perform. Such an approach could enable us to pass through the strangling sphincters of the "isms"—clericalism, sexism, racism, classism, ageism, and the rest. It is worth a try—but there is that cross in the way.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
There was a time in my early twenties when the world I knew as predictable and orderly fell apart. The sun went dark for a while, and I was bombarded by doubt. All that I had been brought up to believe about good and about God came into question. But because I had been brought up to believe certain things about God—basic things like, God is—I took my terrifying questions to a wise priest of the church, and he introduced me to the writings of C. S. Lewis. It was a graceful match.
One night as I sat up in bed reading, I came to the following passage in the chapter of Mere Christianity entitled "The Shocking Alternative":
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
The hair on my arms rose, and my eyes filled with tears. The choice was suddenly obvious to me. I closed the book and slept soundly for the first time in months. My questions and doubts were not swept away forever that night, and over the years new ones have arisen. But ever since, such questions and doubts have been stripped of any demonic and paralytic power they might hold over me. That night was what some might call a conversion—not to be the last for me. I describe it as a watershed: the night my lifestream turned to flow in its true direction. It was a night that the sun shone.
Peter's declaration in Caesarea Philippi regarding Jesus' identity is also a watershed event; its accounting is the pivotal passage of Mark's gospel. Jesus' Galilean ministry is essentially over. He and the twelve are on the road to Jerusalem and all that lies ahead. In the bright light of the moment Jesus invites the disciples to reflect on their experiences with him. He invites them to draw meaning from all that has happened to and around them. "Who do people say that I am?" he asks. "What's out there? What's the latest word?" And they provide him with a variety of interesting responses: He is John the Baptist, some say, and others, Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets. Answers abound as we troop along in the sun.
But "What's out there?" is not the relevant question, and Jesus' next query penetrates to the core of the matter: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answers correctly for the twelve: "You are the Messiah." Jesus' response at first seems strange. He sternly orders them not to tell anyone. "Why not?" they must have wondered. "Its time to shout from rooftops. You are the one for whom we have been waiting. You are to set everything right again. You are to make up for everything that has gone wrong for our people for so many years!" Still Jesus invokes deep silence, for the disciples do not yet understand the implications of Peter 's confession. And we too will be wise to sit in quiet expectation until we have some grasp of what it means for us.
Then Jesus begins to teach. He describes what lies in store for him—suffering, rejection, and death, and the incomprehensible notion of resurrection. Like a developing eclipse, a shadow begins to move across Peter's sunlit declaration. A silhouette falls over the confession made by the young woman lying on her bed those years ago and the one we make each time we reaffirm our faith with the familiar words of the creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light....
For our confessions of belief are not where we end; instead, they mark a beginning. Once we have some glimmer of who Jesus is, we then will be confronted by the implications of the life of discipleship. "No," Peter cries, "No!" And we join him. Jesus is talking dangerous nonsense. No one willingly walks into that kind of future. Maybe he is a crazy man, and we would be crazier to follow him. Peter desperately tries to stop Jesus from saying more. Peter tries to push back the cruciform shadow that continues to move over the sun, but to no avail. It slides ever farther across.
In a sharp rebuke that recalls the wilderness temptation, Jesus retorts to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan! Move back, you seductive devil! You are to follow me, not to lead. The ways of the world are not the ways of God. God's definition of success may not be yours. God's definition of power may not be yours. God's definition of life may not be yours." We strain to see in the lengthening shade. "What's happening to the sun?" we cry.
Jesus continues unrelentingly. He beckons the crowd to move around him, and he pronounces God's truth. It comes in the form of paradox, as truth usually does:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.
We are not to talk about the cross; we are to take it up. But taking up the cross does not mean bravely, stoically, cheerfully bearing the burdens and tragedies life throws our way. Any human being can do that. Rather, the disciple of Jesus is to deliberately choose what could be avoided—without considering the cost, without worrying about who gets the credit—in order to serve.
Taking up the cross of Christ is putting ourselves without reservation in the service of God and neighbor. It is engaging with the world's suffering because we can do nothing less. It is being vulnerable even to those who will turn against us. To deny self—the grasping, self-centered ego—is to liberate the true self, the wondrous one created in the image of God and baptized into the likeness of Christ. The shadow passes from the sun's face, and we stand in blazing light.
* All the Baptized
I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
When I am honest with myself, I admit to a recurring desire to be successful even when I am not sure what "successful" means. I want to do something someone will notice, something that will make a difference, something that will merit a headline somewhere. So I am both relieved and troubled when I read of Jesus' response to the request of James and John, made as they travel the road to Jerusalem—on the way to the cross. Jesus is striding out ahead of the twelve. James and John catch up with him to ask a favor: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
And Jesus replies, "To sit at my right or left is not mine to grant. But you do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? You must be buried with me in order to live. You must drown in the deep waters of my love to be free from all that binds and destroys you."
"We are able," James and John assure him, all too quickly—just as we can make and affirm our baptismal vows without thinking about their terrible implications. "So be it; it is the only way," Jesus answers. The other ten are indignant at the presumption of James and John, and Jesus continues, "The great among you must be servant and slave of all."
Excerpted from CALLING by CAROLINE A. WESTERHOFF. Copyright © 2005 by Caroline A. Westerhoff. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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