Archive for the 'Suffering Servant' 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 But once again Life superseded my carefully-crafted schedule and imposed its own timing.)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.