Sunday, June 30, 2013

Renunciation

Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

There is a moment in each baptism service when the voices become a little weaker and uncertain. Is it when the parents of the person to be baptized (or the person themselves) are asked the long list of promises? Is it when the congregation promises to offer support and guidance and is expected to follow through on that promise? Is it when we have to affirm our trust and hope in the truth of the words of the Apostles’ Creed? Is it when I pray for an infant to have a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord? 

It is not. 

It is when we come to the space where I say: I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church. 

And then we proceed: 

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? 
Response: I renounce them. 

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? 
Response: I renounce them. 

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? 
Response: I renounce them. 

When we come to that part of the service, our responses are hesitant. It’s not that we are secretly in favor of forces that defy God or rebel against God or that we’re pro-sin. It’s more that we’re not sure what renouncing it looks like. What does it mean for a five-month old baby? What does it mean for a 65-year-old man? What are we really saying? 

If I said to you: I ask you to in the goodness of Jesus Christ, to resist wrongdoing, and to believe that the church exists to bear God’s light and truth into the world with the help of the Spirit… would anyone have trouble with that? It seems clear and it has a little more wiggle room. Resisting wrong-doing sounds easier than “rejecting sin”- though we want to do the latter. Trusting in the goodness of Jesus Christ feels more expansive than “professing faith in Jesus Christ”. And do I need to unpack the difference between hearing “confess the faith of the Church” and “believe that the church exists to bear God’s light and truth into the world with the help of the Spirit”. 

I think we falter in this part of the baptism service because we are unclear on what we are promising. We are not certain what we are renouncing. Some of that hesitation is because of the language we are using and some of it is because we are still worried about what baptism really means. 

In today’s reading, James and John are incensed at how Jesus is rebuffed in a Samaritan village. The behavior of the villagers is not a surprise, since Jews and Samaritans had tense relations going back to when Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. and Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.  So it had been a while since everyone was one big happy family under their ancestor Jacob. 

However, the Samaritans’ rejection of Jesus made the “Sons of Thunder”- John and James- vengeful. What is it they ask Jesus? “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Lord, can we kill them? Please, Jesus, please? While we may resonate with the thought, I hope we’re all relieved that Jesus didn’t say, “Right here. Right now. Let’s go!” Or even “You may and I ask God to help and guide you.” 

He rebuked them. He rejected not only their words, but the spirit behind them. He didn’t say, “Now, boys, ya’ll know they’ll get what’s coming to them.” He didn’t say, “We don’t talk that way.” He didn’t even say, “Strike one.” In my mind, he says, “Have you learned nothing? Nothing? Do you think that sermon on the plain was because I like the sound of my own voice? Did I heal all those Gentiles just because I can’t resist a sad story? Do I feed anyone who comes because I want to fatten them up before the Father smites them? Do I rejoice in peace and in the breaking down of boundaries because I’m too simple-minded to see that people will never get along?” 

James and John missed the essential meaning of what it meant to walk with Jesus. Being pulled, by the Spirit, into the work God was doing in the world did not mean knowing everything. It did not mean being mistake-free. It did not mean special privileges over other people. This is a reminder for us with regard to baptism. We are not suddenly endowed with special knowledge. We will not be without faults. We do not get to hold our baptisms over other people’s heads.  

What we are renouncing in the service of baptism are all the things that try to distract us from what baptism really means and who is really doing the work and the promising. When I say “distract”, we think of a minor distraction, “Oooh, shiny.” What I mean is serious spiritual, physical, emotional, and political powers that do try to stop the on-going work of God’s creative and healing Spirit in the world. 

The devil and all the forces that defy God? Spiritual forces- things beyond our understanding

The powers of this world that rebel against God? Political and governmental groups and individuals that reject the good of others and creation.

The ways of sin that draw you from God? Physical, mental, and emotional powers within ourselves that tell us that we know the mind of God… to lean on our own understanding… that exacerbate our doubts and undermine our trust. 

When we renounce (reject) these things in a baptismal service, we are reminding ourselves and assuring the baptized that these things are real, but they are trumped by God’s power. These things will try to tempt us, but they will never be better than the consolation of grace or more peaceful than the hope of rest in Christ. When we renounce these forces and powers, it is not just saying that we are blowing off some minor distractions. With the promise that is our inheritance as children of God, we are dismissing precisely the things that would cause us to look back as our hand is put to the plow. 

Understanding what we are saying matters because of what it says about God and what it reveals about what God says about us. At Heavenly Sunshine (our service for children), we say: 

Do you say no to things that do not like God?
Response: I say no to them. 

Do you say no to lies that may be told about God?
Response: I say no to them.

Do you say no to sin, that is, actions that make you feel far away from God and God’s love?
Response: I say no to them.

Baptism is not magic. It’s work. It’s God work of washing us clean, of giving us a fresh start, of re-framing our self-understanding so that it is not oriented in what we can do, but is instead rooted in… anchored in… growing out of what the One who made us knows and says about us. We are refocused, not on original sin, but on original blessing. Baptism reveals God's own truth is an everlasting welcome- a open washing and an equally open table. Accepting this about ourselves and about others is what it means to follow Jesus. With the acceptance also comes a rejection of what is not true of God… the lesson of saying no to those distractions that derailed James and John and so easily do the same to us. 

What we have all agreed to this morning is to teach these things to Alice: 

Alice, you are a beloved child of God. 

Alice, the church exists- across time and space- to help you understand that truth.

Alice, there are forces that want to distract you from that truth. We firmly renounce them. 

Alice, we will always walk with in discovering and living into God’s grace for all people. 

Alice, you are a beloved child of God. Welcome to the family. 

What is true for Alice is true for all of us. 

Amen.

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