Archive for the 'Baptism' Category

Remember Your Baptism AND GROW UP!


(NOTE: I began writing this post on Jan. 13, the Sunday referenced below. But once again Life superseded my carefully-crafted schedule and imposed its own timing.)

Last Sunday the Christian liturgical calendar led many churches to focus on the Baptism of the Lord. We heard the story of Jesus’ baptism and were reminded of our own baptism. Many United Methodists shared a ritual in which we reaffirm the promises we made, or that our parents or other sponsors made on our behalf, at our baptism. Finally the liturgy challenges us to “Remember your baptism and be thankful”.

This ritual,“Renewing Our Baptismal Covenant”, always involves water. Sometimes the water is only symbolic. Nobody gets wet.  Other times all who choose to do so are invited to touch and experience the Water of Life. Many find this service a powerful moment of renewal. It’s been a high moment in my ministry to lead these services and say to each worshiper who comes to the water, “Remember your baptism and be thankful”.

But sometimes I’ve wished I could ad lib. I would rather have said, “Remember your baptism—and GROW UP!” I would have said that to men and women who’ve been Christians their whole lives, yet still behave and/or believe immaturely; to folks who cling fearfully (faithlessly) to “the way we’ve always done it”; to those who stubbornly resist inconvenient and sometimes risky change in the form of new ministries designed to reach new people. I would have said, “Grow up!” to those who treat the church as their private club rather than God’s precious gift to be shared extravagantly with all in reach of our influence; and to those enslaved to the idols our culture worships—money, sex, power, success, celebrity; nationalism, consumerism, racism, me-ism, and all the rest. (NOTE—All of these apply to both laity and clergy, including myself.) Finally, I would have said “Grow up!'” to youth who feel they’ve outgrown church. While most are experiencing normal growing pains,some have in fact outgrown what their local church is able or willing to offer them and think that’s all the church they need. Most have outgrown well-meaning adults’ patronizing “you’re the church of the future”. These youth are ready, willing, and able to take an active role in leadership and service today. Yet they often meet stiff resistance from adult church leaders who block their participation, yet wonder “why we have no youth”.

“Remember your baptism and grow up”—into our God-given identity as persons created and claimed by God’s love to follow Jesus together. At his baptism Jesus heard God’s Spirit declare him “…my own dear Son…I am pleased with you”. (Luke 3:22 CEV) On this side of Easter that gracious affirmation extends to all who follow Jesus. It references two different understandings of the expected Messiah. “…My own dear Son…,” from Psalms 2:7, refers to the kingly Messiah. The second half, “…I am pleased with you…,” from Isaiah 42:1, introduces a character commonly called “The (Suffering) Servant”. The Servant speaks God’s word to Israel and to the nations. A series of four poems describes the Servant’s s gentle faithfulness in the face of growing opposition that ends with his humiliation and death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

So who are you, Jesus? King or suffering servant? The gospel writers would answer, “All of the above.” They claim that these two streams flow together in Jesus. They claim further that he called all who follow him to follow his way of representing the God of the Universe with gentleness and self-emptying love. We work with our Risen Lord and all his disciples in God’s mission of healing this broken world and building a new one. We do so not with aggressive win-at-any-cost secular power plays, but with self-emptying servant love.

“Remember your baptism and grow up” into those who embody God’s love for the world as we see it in Jesus. I believe strongly that Christianity’s decline is due largely to our corporate spiritual immaturity. Does our memory fail us when we get involved in the daily-ness of life in our clearly less-than-Christian culture? Or we were never adequately taught the fullness of what it means to be “God’s own [child] with whom God is pleased”?

A few months ago I was privileged to help baptize our granddaughter Amelia Rose, and to preach at that service. (CLICK HERE to read the message) I asked that congregation to help her parents teach her grow into her baptism. I reminded them of an early Christian hymn which describes the life to which Amelia and all of us are called:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what… he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave…an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges…he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)

With help from Time Magazine religion writer Jon Meacham, I pinpointed four marks of that cross-shaped life: 1)“To reach out when our instinct is to pull inward;” 2) ”To give when we want to take;”3)“To love when we are inclined to hate;” 4)“To include when we are tempted to exclude.”

Brothers and sisters, Remember your baptism into the cross-shaped life of a follower of Jesus, along with countless brothers and sisters from every time and place. Remember your baptism and grow up into its fullness. Grow up into God’s dream for you. Grow up together into the Body of Christ that can help heal our broken world. Remember your baptism and grow up—and be joyfully thankful every moment along the way.



Teach the Children–a Baptismal Message

[Recently I had the privilege of baptizing our youngest granddaughter. I was also invited to preach at all three services that day. Some people (even some unrelated to Amelia and me) thought the message worth sharing with a wider audience. It’s longer than my typical post. It is in two parts, as you’ll see. The first part is based on 2 Timothy 1:1-7 (The Message).] 

Today we become partners in a life-shaping adventure. Amelia Rose Salzman, our youngest granddaughter, will be baptized this morning. Family and godparents will gather around her.  Those of us in this service will promise, on behalf of the entire congregation, to partner with Amelia’s family to help her grow to maturity in Christ. What better way to fulfill our mission to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ…”?  Church and families partner together to help children catch the contagious joy of following Jesus wholeheartedly.

Discipleship is “caught” far more than it is “taught”.  Of course we’ll teach Amelia and all the children “Jesus Loves Me”, John 3:16, and the Apostles’ Creed. We’ll teach them who John Wesley is, what it means to be a “connectional church”, and much more about our distinctive Methodist style. But most important, we will immerse them in a loving, Spirit-filled, faithfully adventurous Christian community.

A community like that nurtured Timothy’s growth into Christ. We heard Paul praise his “honest faith…handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you!” Mom and grandma taught him the story of Jesus. They also immersed him in a vital Christian community. Timothy first “caught” faith in Christ from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. But he also learned to follow Jesus from the living example of dozens of older brothers and sisters in Christ.

Amelia’s parents will do their part. Her five living grandparents, all present today, will see to it! But it takes a faith community to grow a disciple. I am a prenatal Methodist. From my beginning Maynard Memorial Methodist Church in Los Angeles partnered with my parents. Glenn and Darlene McMurry, Fred and Irene Hillman, Dale and Flo Conrad, and many others offered living examples of life lived Jesus’ way. That rich environment helped me discover and claim “that special gift of ministry” God had given me.

Many of you can tell similar stories. The names and places will be different. Your story may have more twists and turns than mine. But our stories have this much in common: Disciples grow best in community. Today Amelia’s biological family asks you, her spiritual family, to partner with us in helping her grow up into Christ. We look forward to the day she claims the community’s faith as her own. We look forward to sharing her journey as she discovers and shares with the world her “special gift of ministry.”

[Here we performed the actual baptism. Those at the earlier services were invited to imagine the baptism taking place–the family gathered, questions being asked and answered, Amelia behaving–however she chose!]


Now what? We’ve done the ceremony. We’ve celebrated God’s love for this child. We’ve affirmed God’s claim on her life. We’ve sealed our partnership. Amelia’s on the church’s books. Now what exactly will we teach her—and all the other growing disciples within our reach? Listen to Paul’s words to one early church (Philippians 2:5-11) No, I’m not suggesting you prepare all the children in this church to be crucified—at least not literally. I do challenge you to teach them to be disciples with attitude—“the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”.  “He emptied himself,“ Paul says.“He humbled himself by becoming obedient…Therefore God highly honored him…”

Teach Amelia—and all the growing disciples within your reach—“the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” Teach them this radical countercultural lifestyle of self-emptying obedience. This church has some saints whose very presence teaches humility and self-emptying. You know who they are. Their lives embody “the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”    

Make these saints lead teachers for Amelia and all the children. You don’t have to put them in the Sunday School classroom every week. But expose the children to them frequently. Let them see and experience the “attitude” of these grownup disciples. Don’t worry about how many bible verses the kids learn or how many perfect attendance ribbons they take home. The Holy Spirit will help the details fall into place. Just do everything in your power to grow a generation of disciples with attitude—“the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”.

Now I know some of you are still stuck on Paul’s graphic language: “…He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…” That’s a real baptism bummer! So here’s another version of “the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”. It comes from Time religion writer Jon Meacham. “The central tenet of Christianity”, Jon writes, “…is that we are to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward, to give when we want to take, to love when we are inclined to hate, to include when we are tempted to exclude.”–Jon Meacham, “Of God and Gays and Humility” in Time Magazine 7/30/12

Disciples “reach out when our instinct is to pull inward.” The Old Testament tells the story of God reaching out to humanity. Every time God reached out we acted like jerks. We were ungrateful. We willfully disobeyed the rules. We insisted on living life our way instead of God’s way. We fought to grab all the goodies for ourselves. We refused to share. Time after time we bit the hand of God that reached out to feed and care for us.

When someone treats me that way I don’t put up with it very long. It doesn’t take long until I’m done reaching out. But God’s relentless love wouldn’t quit. Finally Love wrapped itself in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. We killed the messenger. But some of us got the message—especially when we saw on Easter morning that Love was stronger than death. God began drawing Jesus’ followers beyond their comfort zone. He sent Jewish Christians to tell the hated Samaritans about Jesus. He sent Paul, and later Peter, to the Gentiles. Everybody knew God didn’t like Gentiles—except God! Over the centuries our reaching-out God sent missionaries to all the peoples nobody but God could love. Our reaching-out God continues to push us beyond our comfort zones to the people and places we’ve written off.

Disciples also “give when we want to take”. Amelia’s brother Lucas has begun learning this discipleship lesson. He’s learning to share his toys with friends who come over to play. He’s learning to share Mom and Dad with his sister. Sometimes, he thinks, she can be pretty high-maintenance. Sometimes Lucas’s and Amelia’s  high-maintenance moments occur simultaneously! If Lucas learns to share as quickly as the rest of us, he’ll be a very generous person in just a few more decades.

I just finished reading a book called Love Without Walls. It describes the ministry of Mariners Church in Southern California. A new senior pastor came into a very bleak situation. After nearly two years of hard prayer and hard work by everyone, the church’s budget deficit had become a modest surplus. The board wanted to take most of it and put it in the bank. They needed reserves. They could earn some interest. This was back when you didn’t need a microscope to find your interest. The pastor said, “It’s God’s money, not ours. Let’s use it for God’s purposes. Let’s give it away.” So they didn’t take God’s money and put it away for their own needs. They started giving it away. An amazing thing happened. The more people they helped, the more pressing needs they uncovered. The more needs they addressed, the more people wanted to help and the more people gave to meet those needs. The more they gave, the more opportunities they had to give and make a difference.

Disciples “love when we’re inclined to hate”. “The attitude that was in Christ Jesus” knows that “an eye for an eye” soon leaves everyone blind. We will love our enemies as Jesus taught us. We will return good for evil. We will treat others with respect and dignity regardless of how they treat us. We will break the death spiral of name-calling, retribution, and escalating violence. Disciples with attitude model an alternative way to live in families, in politics, in business, in traffic, in every part of life–even in intense church conflict.

In 1942 Clarence Jordan and a few other Christians formed an inter-racial community called Koinonia Farms near Americus, Georgia. They wanted to model the way they believed followers of Jesus were called to live together. The neighbors weren’t impressed. They were outraged. They brought housewarming gifts of isolation, harassment, religious persecution, and violence. Clarence Jordan and his friends just kept on living their lives and loving their neighbors. Their consistent practice of “the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” helped prepare the way for the Civil Rights movement.

Disciples “include when we’re tempted to exclude”. Our natural human tendency is to associate with others like ourselves. At its best that helps us build strong, stable communities. At its worst it means we aggressively exclude those who don’t fit for whatever reason. Our society today is just doing what comes naturally. We are intensely polarized around intense social, political, cultural, religious, and economic issues.  We’re happy to be on ‘our” side of the chasm—and equally happy to have “them” far away on the opposite side. We gather in our “us” groups—sometimes even in the church–and give thanks that we’re not like “them”.

Folks living with “the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” won’t stand for that. We know God doesn’t see “us” and “them”. God sees persons created in God’s image who are tragically separated from each other and from him. “The attitude that was in Christ Jesus” wants to help Jesus tear down the walls that separate us from each other and from God. “The attitude that was in Christ Jesus” wants to help Jesus build bridges of healing and reconciliation where we’ve dug Grand Canyons of separation. “The attitude that was in Christ Jesus” wants every one of God’s children to know the joy of being included in God’s family. We want to nurture Amelia and the children in this church to discover their “special gift of ministry”. But we won’t stop until that’s true for every child of God of every age and situation within our reach. Incidentally, you’ve taught me this morning that this church’s “reach” extends at least as far as Africa. So we have a lot to do together before we’re done!

So, partners, teach the children well. Teach them to be disciples with attitude—“the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”. Teach them—and one another—“to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward, to give when we want to take, to love when we are inclined to hate, to include when we are tempted to exclude.”