One of the things I like best about being a retired pastor is that it’s so much easier to really worship that when I was “in charge.” That may sound strange but when I lead worship I am busy thinking about what comes next in the service, is my microphone turned off during the hymns so I don’t frighten anyone with my lousy singing voice; did someone remember to put water in the font, are my sermon pages in the right order?
I experienced some real worship this morning during a service of baptism. The familiar liturgy that I’ve led many times was used, but I heard it like it was new; like I suddenly had ears to hear. One part of the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant asks the parents/sponsors of a child or an adult being baptized, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
What a powerful theological statement is packed into that short sentence. My first thought about it went to the phrase “resist evil, injustice and oppression” because that prophetic activity has been heavy on my mind for a long time. There is so much evil, injustice and oppression filling my news feed that I want to just say “stop the world I want to get off!” A college senior at Ohio State abducted and murdered at my Alma Mater, Christian children slaughtered by ISIS, immigrant and refugee families ripped apart by fear-inspired government policies, crony capitalists rewarded with high government offices they are not qualified to fill, and protections for God’s creation being threatened for purely profit motives. I look at my young grandchildren and wonder what kind of a world they will live in when they are my age? It wearies my soul.
Your list of evil and injustice may be very different than mine, but the responsibility of Christians to resist evil in the name of God’s justice is the same for all of us. That Christian responsibility was not being described at a service of ordination or consecration of someone dedicating her or his life to full-time Christian service. These are words of challenge and empowerment for all of us at our baptism. This is a bold affirmation of the priesthood of all believers, and it made me wonder how many Christians would agree to be baptized if they took those words to heart?
Babies and young children often don’t take too kindly to baptism water being poured or sprinkled on their heads. A cartoon circulated on Facebook awhile back showed a baby talking on a phone to someone and saying, “You wouldn’t believe it. This woman in a robe was trying to drown me, and my family just stood around taking pictures!” I remember one baptism where a young child resisted the chilly water by pulling away from the pastor and wailing for all to hear, and I commented “Maybe he understands the significance of baptism better than we do.”
Resisting evil and injustice can be dangerous work, and the coward in me tends to see the baptismal font as half full when I focus on the heavy responsibility those words carry. But then I read the first part of the vow again and by turning that gem over to see a different facet of its brilliance I saw the meaning of those words in a whole new, brilliant light. The sentence begins, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you….” Working for justice is not a burden to endure; it is a talent to be embraced, a gift of freedom and power to be accepted. God is not asking us to do the impossible all alone but is gifting us with the unstoppable power of the Holy Spirit to do the work God calls all of us to do. And by its very nature, baptism is not an isolated anointing. It is a sacrament of inclusion in the Body of Christ. It is a celebration of the power of community. It is a statement to the world that together we who have heard the call of Christ can and will support and encourage and nourish each other. We will we celebrate the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves, even when that means admitting we are part of the injustice.