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Our Baptismal Vows- August 1, 2021

No scripture

Were any of you a member of the Boy Scouts? Did you advance from Cub to We-be-lo, and did you achieve the rank of Eagle Scout? Maybe you were a Camp Fire girl and moved from Blue Birds to Camp Fire to Horizon? Were you initiated into the National Honor Society in High School? Or did you pledge a fraternity or sorority in college?

In each of these cases, you probably were celebrated and initiated into a new standing or rank or membership and that ceremony may have been an important time in your life. It may have been the beginning of commitments that lasted a lifetime or just a year or two.

In the church, we have a ceremony of initiation into the family of God, into the community of faith. It is physically observed and sealed in our

sacrament of baptism.

Many of us do not remember our baptism because our denominational tradition (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic) practices infant baptism. In some cases, your parents or other family chose to not have you baptized as a child and allowed you to make your own choice as a teen. Or your faith background believed in a ‘believers baptism’ at the age of accountability.

No matter how or when or where you were baptized that baptism usually represents one, two, or both occasions: Your life was claimed by God and you committed your life to that claim of God AND you became a member of a community of faith, a local church.

If we are/were baptized as infants and small children someone took these baptismal vows for us and promised to make sure we understood them well enough that when we reached the age of accountability we could take them and reaffirm them for ourselves. If we took these vows as young adults or adults we promised them on our own before God and others.

Here are the words out of our ritual in the United Methodist Church.

The Pastor says: “On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

In the Free Church tradition the baptismal vows center on the last of those three questions. By Free Church, I’m thinking of denominations such as the Baptist, Church of Christ, and some of the more evangelical or Pentecostal faiths. They often ask two primary questions somewhat similar “do you ask Jesus to forgive your sins do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

In the denominations that are more similar in their form of organization and theology from the reformed tradition, that is those groups that align with the Lutheran church at the time of the protestant reformation our baptismal vows also ask you to consider our role in the larger world around us.

We specifically ask if you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness that we find in the world around us. And we ask if you reject the power of sin over your lives. And like the Free Church tradition, we ask if you repent of your sins including the personal sins you commit and your role in the communal sins of society.

At the end of each day when I reflect on the day's events and I think through the conversations I’ve had with people and interactions I’ve witnessed in the community this set of questions is one of those that lingers over me the longest. I use a version of the Examen where I reflect and answer for myself “where did I most disappoint myself today?” and “where did I most disappoint God today?”

It seems like often those places where I tend to feel that I disappointed myself are often relational places, interactions with the people I know — my family, friends, parishioners, and others in the community.

And it seems as if the places where I feel that I disappointed God are often in the community and societal places. I often feel like I didn’t do enough to change even one person around me in order that they might with me make a difference in the world around us. And I feel like I disappoint God when I don’t work with you and others in the church to understand how important it is that we realize we can be better and we can do better than what we currently are and what we currently do.

Years ago as a young pastor I really didn’t want to offend people by pointing out the sin of racism that was implicit in the way they speak to others and about others. I didn’t want to anger someone by asking if they understood how about they perpetuated the invisibility of sin in how economic policies are crafted and enforced.

I’m no longer a young pastor and I’m not as concerned about offending people about their sins. However, I still become concerned that by speaking out about our sins and the forces of evil and wickedness around us someone will turn on their heel and walk away from the church rather than stay in the community and work together to combat evil and wickedness.

If you watched last week's service you may remember the last thing I asked in the sermon was for you to spend this week remembering your baptism. When I practice what I preach and I reflect back on the baptismal vows I begin to understand that it is not my fear and timidity that serves my job well.

If I read the second set of baptismal vows over again I am reminded that I was asked whether or not I accepted the freedom and power that God would give me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.

The answer provided to us by the pastor at that point is simply, “I do.” I do. And I said that. I do accept the freedom and power that God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. That freedom and power from God that I accept is available to us all. We cannot cower in fear and timidity from confronting ourselves, our friends, our church membership, our families, and our community with the reality of the forces of evil and wickedness that surround us every day. Our baptismal vows remind us that we said we would receive that power to stand up and resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

This week I had someone share with me the story of encountering a Ku Klux Klan cross-burning meeting when they were younger. Growing up in the south I didn’t see it often but I also saw on two occasions a burning cross in someone’s yard and rope nooses hanging from the trees in the front yards of some of the African-American neighbors in a town in which I pastored.

I wish I could say that I claimed the power that God gave me to speak out about that. I talked with a few people in town. But I should’ve said it from the pulpit and I will try to never turn down the power of God to speak out against evil and wickedness and injustice no matter what form they might present themselves in the community.

Once we have struggled with those two questions we are ready to answer the third and final question posed to us at our baptism.

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

For me, this last vow is the hinge pin on which the other vows are hung. Once I have struggled to understand evil and wickedness, and once I accept the power that only comes from God, I realize that there’s only one source for the wisdom and the strength to engage in that battle each and every day of our lives.

I confess Jesus Christ as my Savior and I put my whole trust in Jesus Christ and I promise to serve Jesus and Jesus only in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

God did not intend that any one of us should ever take on this task of resisting and fighting evil and wickedness alone. God gave us each other and asked that we together take these vows. Our baptismal vows join us and unite us as one with another in the community of faith called The Church in order that the world might be transformed and convicted in its soul to fight evil and wickedness together across all faiths and denominations, across all generations and races and gender identities and ages. We are baptized to come together and to work together that the world might be transformed by God in us.

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