The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 3:1-17
The Sermon title is A Most Powerful Act
Early Thoughts: What is baptism?
Is it a washing away of sins?
Is it a Christening, a naming ceremony?
Is it a commitment to live a changed life, a transformative experience?
Is it a membership rite?
OR is it all of the above?
I think the last answer is the most accurate. Overall. My fear is that oftentimes in the church we talk about baptism as primarily a naming ceremony and membership rite. Do we lose the transformative nature of it?
If we remember and embrace that possibility of transformation baptism becomes one of the most powerful acts we have in our faith tradition.
I remember reading long ago that Constantine, though famed for "Christianizing" the Roman Empire, refused to be baptized until just before his death. There was a time in the church when a baptized person was forbidden from serving in the Legions or as a government official. Baptism and Imperial rule were seen as mutually exclusive. To be part of the Imperial system (and especially the Emperor) required one to do things that were antithetical to being a part of the Kingdom of God. In Saving Paradise the authors point out that there were a number of occupations that were not considered acceptable for those who had been baptized (see page 121). Baptism was intended to be something that transformed one's life.
Admittedly that is a lot to ask of baptism in a culture where many people are baptized as infants or young children. It makes a lot more sense to talk about committing to a transformed life when we are talking about adults or teens either getting baptized or re-affirming their baptismal faith than asking that of a person still incapable of speech.
So what is baptism?
In baptism, and in the ongoing discussion and learning and growth that makes for life in the church, we open the door for transformation to happen. As people of faith we are encouraged to re-affirm, to re-state, to re-new our baptismal faith on a regular basis. This reminds us of the power of the act, it reminds us to be constantly opening ourselves to God's work in our hearts and lives, transforming us and the world.
That pouring of water is a mighty act of faith indeed!