Series: Font and Table
#1 “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”
William Willimon, [the now retired] Dean of the Chapel at Duke University tells the story of getting a telephone call from an irate parent one day:
“I hold you personally responsible for this,” the father told him.
“Me?” the campus minister asked.
“Yes, you. I send my daughter off to college to get a good education. Now she tells me she wants to throw it all away, and go off to Haiti as a Presbyterian mission volunteer! Isn’t that absurd? A degree in mechanical engineering from Duke, and she’s going off to dig ditches in Haiti.”
“Well,” said Willimon, in a feeble attempt at humor, trying to break the ice, “I doubt the engineering department taught her much about that line of work, but she’s a fast learner; she’ll probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months.”
“Look,” interrupted the father, “this is no laughing matter. I hold you completely responsible for her decision. She likes you. You’ve filled her head with all those pie-in-the-sky ideas!”
“Now look,” said Willimon, trying to keep his composure, “Weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”
“Why yes,” the father replied.
“And didn’t you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday school, send her off [to Montreat with the Youth Group]?”
“Well yes, but….”
“Don’t ‘but’ me. It’s your fault she believed all that stuff, that she’s gone and thrown it all away on Jesus—not mine. You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”
“But all we ever wanted was for her to be a Presbyterian,” the father said meekly.
“Sorry, you messed up. You made a disciple.”
You made a disciple. I wonder how those words rang in the ears of the father who did not imagine his daughter as a mission volunteer, but rather as something else. Yet, when she was presented for baptism, her journey to discipleship began. When her Sunday school teachers read to her from the children’s Bible, when she colored worksheets on Sunday mornings and robed for the children’s choir, this young woman was being formed as a disciple. When she was in the Christmas pageants and joined the youth group – perhaps even traveling overseas on a mission trip – her formation continued. Each night when her family said grace before they ate, each Sunday her parents took her to church, her discipleship developed. As she stood before her church family – perhaps in a sanctuary different from the one in which she was baptized – and professed her faith, she claimed the promises made for her in baptism as her own, and she promised that she would continue to follow Jesus. And so, she followed Jesus as she followed her call to college, and then to what she would do after. She was not only a Presbyterian, she was a disciple. She is one who follows Christ.
Our text for today is one that I hold close to my heart. In this letter to the church at Ephesus, the recipients are begged to, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
This passage from Ephesians lifts up not only who we are as Christians – but who we strive to be as disciples. It speaks to our call to be centered and rooted in Christ, to the unity of the church, and how important it is to support one another by speaking the truth in love. Baptism is not something you do once and then are done with it forever. Yes, we believe in one baptism, but the event does not end when the water on your head dries. Baptism is one point on the journey of faith we all take together. Because Christ accomplished our salvation in his death on the cross, we are to behave in certain ways. Sanctification, how we live as the baptized people of God, is an ongoing event. As we journey with Christ, we journey toward Christ.
“Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In Baptism, we hear the call of Christ to follow him as a disciple. Baptism is the sign and seal of our incorporation into Christ. In his baptism, Jesus identified with all sinners, so that he could die for all sinners. Jesus commanded us to be baptized and to go out and baptize others. When we present ourselves or our children for baptism, and when the water washes, splashes or trickles over us, we receive new life in Christ and present ourselves to be living sacrifices to God. It is in baptism when we hear our calling, to be centered and rooted in Christ. When we are baptized, we are sealed into life with Christ and sent forth to live that life, marked forever as a child of God.
I have learned something about roots this summer. I’m what you might generously call a novice gardener. This summer, following an idea I found on Pinterest, I planted flowers, vegetables and herbs in raised beds made from shipping pallets. The seeds came up, my small plants were taking off, and things were going great. I was eagerly anticipating the day when I would have more yellow squash than I know what to do with. But something went wrong – some of the plants are not doing well, and I have realized that the beds are not deep enough for the roots to take hold and support the plants. There is not enough room. The roots do not have enough depth to draw nutrition and water from the soil into the plants. As Christians, we need deep places for our roots to grow too. Being rooted in Christ looks like having a faith that is strong enough to support us as we grow over the course of our lives. Being rooted in Christ looks a lot like living lives that have prayer, study, service, and love done not to glorify ourselves, but as a response to the lives Christ has given each of us. When we neglect our discipleship, when we skip worship or set aside our quiet time, when we act in ways that we know are not who we are as Christians, we place ourselves in shallow soil that will not give us enough of what we need to mature. Our roots will not be strong if we do not continually feed them. If our roots are strong – if we are strengthened by our faith, if we continue to feed ourselves with Bible study and worship, hen we will bear better fruit. When God calls us to whatever call we are given in our lives, we can feel confident to answer that call knowing that our roots run deep into the one who will support us as we stretch into new directions. When we are baptized, we water the roots that are beginning to grow, and provide a space for that rooting to begin.
Looking at this passage, we see that we are called to do something with our lives that are rooted in Christ. It describes Christians who bear each other’s burdens, speak the truth in love, and seek to do that as a united body, not as factions. The unity we strive for is an important place for us to begin thinking today. Our society can sometimes seem so polarized in the spheres of politics and religion. There are those who are right, those who are left, those who are blue, those who are red, and those purple people in the middle. We are still divided by class, and 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. As network budgets have decreased, it has become easier and cheaper to make unscripted programming – that’s the code word for reality TV – that centers around competition and conflict that can lull us into thinking that conflict is the norm and creating drama is a healthy way to be in the world. Christ calls us to something opposite of this. Christ calls us to unity. Unity does not mean uniformity, does not mean each of us is the same, but that we can stand together. We recognize that each of us has a different calling in the world, and yet we are called to work together. If you take a look at verses 4-6, you will see the word “one” seven times: 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” What roots us all, and holds us together is “one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism.” You do not have to be re-baptized to join the church. You do not get to be rebaptized every time you sin, or every time your faith deepens. When we receive members for other churches and denominations, that baptism is “good” for us – we believe that you are baptized into the entire body of Christ, not just this small piece of it. In Baptism, we can express our unity as Christ’s people. When we think about Baptism, we think about all those all around the world who are united and stand with us as Christians. We are united by our faith.
Yet, even those who are united disagree sometimes. Or often. Even if we profess to be brothers and sisters in Christ, we may not always see eye to eye on many issues – some big and some small. In the letter to the Ephesians, we see what we are to strive for as we live out our faith. When our faith is deeply rooted, we can mature, and grow stronger in our faith. And there are 2 marks of a mature faith described in this letter. Those who are mature in the faith bear the burdens of one another in love, and are able to speak the truth in love. Sometimes these are separate events, sometimes they are entwined. This congregation knows a lot about how to be supportive for one another. You make meals for each other, you drive one another back and forth to doctor’s offices. It is rare for me to go visit someone in the hospital and not hear of a phone call, card or visit from a church member that has already happened. The Mothers of Young Children share stories of the joys and heartaches of raising children, and in Sunday School, Session meetings, and Diaconate meetings, we pray for one another. We understand that in life there will be events and situations that we need help navigating, and our congregation supports one another well. However, bearing the burdens of each other is not just about good congregational and pastoral care. It is also about bearing with one another when our quirks come out, when the traits that make us uniquely who God made us to be can cause us to be frustrated or upset with one another. G. Porter Taylor’s words really struck me when I read them this week “To bear with one another is to sacrifice for the other. It is to help carry the other’s burdens. Love is not an emotion, love is an act of the will. Paul is not calling for the early Christians to feel warmly toward one another, but to act according to their calling.”
Sometimes acting according to that calling is hard to do. Sometimes it means we have to acknowledge that we love the body of Christ, and so we might have to say that hard thing to someone. A colleague of mine shared a story about one of her experiences in college. There was a student who was involved in Campus Ministry with her, and it was becoming clear that he was struggling with addiction issues. The community attempted to help, but the words were not getting through. She shared with me about that day when she sat down with her friend and told him that he had a problem and needed to get help. She was wiling to do what was needed for him to get the help – check him into a facility, call his parents, clean out the apartment, but she was no longer going to enable him. Their friendship was never the same – he did not get help for a long time, and they went in different directions in life. Yet, she loved him – not romantically — but as a sister in Christ, and she had to tell him that he was ill. We need to be cautious with how we tell these truths, and ask ourselves why we are doing what we do. As a pastor, I have had many conversations where individuals will begin with “You need to know…” and several minutes later I realize that what has been framed as pastoral information is really gossip. Gossip sharing is not truth-telling, and does nothing to promote the unity of the church. Sometimes truth telling is cloaked in conflict, and sometimes we feel a need to tell the truth to make ourselves look better in a situation, or to stir things up. Those instances are not speaking the truth in the sacrificial love of Christ to build up the body. I’m not advocating lying – hear that clearly, but I am advocating discretion before plunging in with words whose only purposes are to build up yourself or to tear another down. That is vastly different from having to say something that may be hard to hear because it is necessary. William Sloane Coffin tells this story, “I remember several years ago a freshman asking if he could give me some advice. ‘Go ahead’; I said. ‘Well, Sir, when you say something that is both true and painful, say it softly. Say it in other words to heal and not to hurt. Say it in love.’” I encourage you to ask yourself some questions when you feel that you are being compelled to speak the painful truth in a difficult situation. Ask yourself why? Are you saying words to hurt or heal? If it is to hurt, then that is not speaking from a place of love. If it is to heal, then speak in love. If you are feeling called to tell someone something like it is because it will offer you glory, or strengthen your position or standing, I encourage you to wait. Wait and ask yourself if the issue will be resolved, or if you are simply throwing gasoline on a fire that is already burning out of control. Christians are not called to thrive on conflict, nor are we called to avoid it when it might reveal difficult truths. Pray. Remember that Christian love is marked by “lowliness, meakness, patience, and forbearance.”
We are intimately related, as baptized Christians. We believe in one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. We are connected for all time to all other Christians. As we are continually formed, not only into Presbyterians, but disciples, we continue to grow and mature in a faith that is rooted in Christ. We speak the truth to one another because of this connection. We are not all uniform, but that does not mean that we are not all united. It is in Christ, and the waters of Baptism that we can find the courage to speak hard truths with the purpose of growing in love. We love sacrificially, not egotistically. We strive to build each other up, even when it is hard. What are your hopes for the future of those in this church, and the church as a whole? I imagine it was a hard conversation for the father to have with his daughter who wanted to go to Haiti as a missionary. I imagine that there were some painful truths that had to be shared – there can be when a child wants something different from his or her parents. Yet, because of their rootedness in Jesus Christ, because of her following the calling she has been called to, I imagine that their conversation was one that happened to build up the body of Christ, that healed, rather than hurt. I imagine that they both sent their roots down a little deeper that day, and then grew a little taller. We are united by what happens at the font. It is there we receive the welcome to the body of Christ that has been waiting for us all along. And it is in Baptism that we begin our journey towards becoming mature Christians who seek to continually grow in love. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Julie A. Jensen
First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville, GA
June 24, 2012