May 22 Sermon

“You Who Are Baptized

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower

May 22, 2016             Trinity Sunday                                 Based on Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31

In a few moments, something momentous will be happening here, although it may be something different than you are expecting. Daniel is going to be baptized. And that is momentous. Through baptism, we acknowledge that even as an infant God has presented Daniel gifts for the good of the church. Usually we think of the gifts of the holy spirit as things that directly aid the development of our resources, both spiritual and material, gifts like preaching and teaching, prayer and healing, financial administration and organizing people into work teams or ministry boards. And yes, those are gifts of the spirit, but so are gifts that help us love one another, help us infuse our lives with joy and play, help us be more attentive to being a compassionate community. By his baptism, we recognize and rejoice in Daniel’s role within the body of Christ. That is indeed momentous.

But I think something even more momentous is about to occur.

Because Daniel is an infant, his parents will be vowing to raise and teach Daniel so he will know their faith with the hope that one day Daniel will for himself profess Jesus as savior. Joe and Erika are recommitting to live as Christ’s followers, and they are stating they will be more diligent in maintaining a Christian household because as parents they want to share their faith. And it is not only a nuclear family that will stand here to make these vows: Daniel’s godparents will also make these promises. That is indeed momentous.

But I think something even more momentous is about to occur.

You see, baptism is not only about the individual being baptized nor their family and sponsors. Baptism is about being part of the Christian community. So while Daniel’s parents and god parents will stand here at the font to make vows, you too as a congregation will be making promises. You will be promising to provide Daniel – and anyone else who is baptized – a place where they may be instructed and encouraged to live and grow into a Christian life. That is a lifetime time endeavor. And even though you individually may not witness the entirety of Daniel’s life – and even if Daniel does not spend his entire earthly life at Lyonsville Congregational – you are promising to continuously provide an environment in which he may live and grow into greater and deeper faith. That is indeed momentous.

But I think something even more momentous is about to occur.

I have been with you less than a year. I am still learning the ways of faith that hold Lyonsville Congregational together as a people of faith. I do not know the all the ways you create, sustain, and provide this beloved community so that people like Daniel may learn their faith. I do not know the details. But what I do know that this time in which I am with you is a time of tremendous change, a time of being more intentional about your shared life together. And that means this is a time in which you are becoming more conscientious in maintaining those activities, those expressions of faith that hold you together as a Christian community. That is indeed momentous.

But it is not easy, especially for those of us who claim a congregational heritage. You see, up until about 600 years ago, the primary responsibility of being Christian was understood as keeping the sacraments. Worship was organized to highlight the special role of sacramental life. Huge communities grew around the church to maintain that sense of sacrament, communities filled with people who had taken religious vows and people who had not taken vows but were committed to living within intentional community. Baptismal vows and the supportive vows made by the community at the time of a baptism meant living within an intentional community so that the sacramental life was evident.

That shifted with the Protestant Reformation. Protestants insisted a Christian life was more than merely attending sacramental rituals. Protestants insisted that we need to better understand our Christian commitments so that we may be more deliberate in living as Christians. For most Protestants, that meant learning and understanding the great creeds of the church, statements through which the church has clarified what it means to believe and live as Christ’s followers. In order to grow in our understanding, Protestants developed catechisms directly connected to the creeds. While catechism focused on teaching children to memorize the creeds and a specific interpretation of the creeds, the catechism was a tool for the entire family and, when done well, the entire parish to recommit to a Christian life. Baptismal vows and the supportive vows made by the community at the time of a baptism meant assent to a particular understanding of creeds and living a Christian life aligned with those creeds.

But we Congregationalists have a distinct heritage within Protestantism. You see, the Congregationalists said “A creed written long ago does not necessarily address the matters of faith which we face in our lifetimes.” Congregationalists also said “Someone else’s interpretation of a creed is not the best representation of our understanding of how to live as baptized followers of Christ.” So Congregationalists said, “We need the freedom to discern God’s calling on our own lives. We need the discipline to discern together how God calls us to be a community of faith. We need the many gifts of a congregation to more clearly, more accurately discern how God shapes our collective lives.” Baptismal vows and the supportive vows made by the community at the time of a baptism meant an ongoing commitment to discerning God’s still-speaking voice calling believers to faithful living in their lifetimes.

Now, I do not know the specific ways such discernment has been done at Lyonsville nor am I going to prescribe the ways discernment should be done here – and I suggest anyone who tells you how to discern is not honoring this congregational heritage where part of the discerning is figuring out processes of shared discernment. In other words, we’re going to have to work together to figure this out.

But that is the essential part of congregationalism: we’re going to have to work together to figure out how God is calling us in this time, in this place, with this community. That is indeed momentous. But I think something even more momentous is about to occur. All times in a congregation’s history are times for being more intentional about your shared life together, but times of transition are times for being more deliberate about that shared life. Here today, we are being presented a unique opportunity: Daniel’s baptism is not only about his receiving gifts for the church, but for the church to be receiving gifts because Daniel is a new member of Christ’s body. Daniel’s baptism calls us to recommit for him; for his family, and for all who are baptized to be a more intentional community seeking to discern God’s call to us. Daniel’s baptism reminds us that we are called to live this life of faith together. That is the momentous thing that is about to occur.

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