It’s hard to believe that it is already almost nine months since [we/the Coolidge congregation] moved out of the large sanctuary in which [we/it] had worshipped since long before I had even heard of Coolidge or Florence, Arizona.
One of the things that I think was a bit of a surprise as we had engaged in the process of trying to determine what would remain with the buyer of the building and what we as a church would retain, was that we found at the front of the congregation below the level of what would most easily be described as “the stage,” the remainder of what had once been a tank for immersion baptism, a practice not, to the best of my knowledge, common in Presbyterian churches.
Indeed, I had only seen such immersion in an African American church in Mendenhall, Mississippi, where, until a year or so after I had moved to Arizona, I had been assisting in directing a mission activity of that church that consisted in large measure of a school. One Sunday, Pastor Artis Fletcher, whose name has been in our prayer list, was baptizing some teenagers in a similar tank. He put on long, stream-fishing boots, while those being baptized were in tee-shirts over their bathing suits, and, one-at-a-time, he would briefly dunk them in this little “pool” and then pronounce them as baptized.
Which, rubber boots, tee shirts and bathing suits aside, sounds like what I guess the baptism of John the baptizer must have been.
John was, of course, baptizing not Christians, but Jews, and was baptizing them, the gospels tells us, “for the forgiveness of sin.” And as I sometimes super-abridgedly — that’s a word I created, meaning “in very abridged manner” — as I sometimes super-abridgedly describe as part of the words of the Sacrament of Baptism, that baptism by water sort of recalls the great flood in the story of Noah, and the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of the Exodus, and the less familiar but important stopping of and passing through the River Jordan, when Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan at the end of that same Exodus. A passage through water leading in all cases to a new start.
And similarly Christian baptism does represent a new start, but rather than think of it as something as impassive as a child’s being held by a pastor while the pastor puts three drops of water on the child’s forehead, as much as I enjoy that ritual, or of a teenager’s being dunked in a tank by a pastor, I would think of it as figuratively putting on my own bathing suit and jumping into the pool — a pool defined not by the water of baptism, but by the vows of baptism.
I say that, because whatever the Jewish origins of Christian baptism by water might be, Christians agree that at least of great importance are the vows we make, or are made on our behalf, at our baptism: basically, our declaration that we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and seek to follow His will and commandments.
And there is hardly enough room in a baptism font or the kind of tank that was once in Community Presbyterian’s sanctuary, or, for that matter, anywhere that I can think of, to hold all of us as we shall renew our vows in a few moments.
No, we would need a reasonably sized swimming pool were our renewal to involve recalling our baptisms with immersion in water.
Yet there is a “pool” into which we are in fact called, and belonging in that pool involves our doing the baptizing, the pool which is, collectively, or perhaps I should say, those who belong in that pool are those who in more than name constitute a part of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Now, I frequently use the terms, “Capital ‘C’ Church” and “small ‘c’ church,” the “small ‘c’ church” referring to a single congregation, like ours, and I usually say that the “Capital ‘C’ Church” is the worldwide body of all believers in Christ now and in the past.
And I do not want to abandon that concept. Yet it would be a mistake to suggest that all members of either the capital ‘C’ Church nor, sorry to say, all members of this small ‘c’ church have “jumped into the pool” as members in more than name, but members committed to do that which in the Baptismal vows we made or our parents made on our behalves.
Committed does not mean that we necessarily can keep those vows at all times; we are human. But those vows really do commit us to be followers of Jesus, which means to try to follow the commandments and directions that he gave us, and does not just mean that we are on the membership list of a church.
As an aside, and as I point out in the newsletter that is slightly late, what Jesus asks of us in terms of how we live is not particularly new; Jesus taught what the Jewish faith taught and teaches; the difference Jesus brings is the example of his death and the teaching it gives us of forgiveness for our failings, forgiveness of sins, and his saying that those who understood that there is life after death for us were correct.
Big, theological teachings that matter.
But Jesus did ask not only that we follow His teachings, but tells us also that, as the writer of the Gospel of Matthew tells us, we are to “make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, we are not just to be concerned with ourselves or with our individual church, we are to care about the world! We are to carry the “Good News” into the world.
And as I often say, we do this in two ways: through the mission activities that display Jesus through acts of kindness and generosity on the part of the church, and through the way we collectively as Church and individually as Christians make Him visible in us through our kindness and hospitality, not just to those who come through church doors, but, well, to those whom we encounter in the least attractive settings and who may present to us the most unpleasant of appearances.
I am not going to repeat something I did a good number of years ago by handing each of you a five dollar McDonald’s gift card and asking you to hand it to someone in need this coming week, but when I did do that, I said to do it with these words: “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you.” No, I am not going to ask you to do that, and whether you want to use those words or not, I do want you to greet the least pleasant person you encounter with a smile and either a “good morning” or “hello” or whatever, and since we cannot in fact wait until the end of the day to determine who was that least pleasant person, I think it would be best to greet everyone that way.
For everyone we meet is in fact a child of God, and I do trust you all now agree with me on that, and thus everyone is deserving of that greeting. It may not immediately make a disciple of Christ of that person, you may not be “baptizing” them, but you are carrying Jesus to “the nations.”
And you are not getting wet, but you are jumping into that blessed pool of those who take seriously their role as disciples of Christ. For being His disciples is what our Baptismal vows are truly all about.
And in His name. Amen.