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Fire Assurance

What's the upshot of this post: Holy baptism is not fire insurance; holy baptism is fire assurance. 

When last I heard Pastor Angela Shannon preach in person (2019), she quoted Garth Brooks. She spoke of how we are all called to difficult work and how the world makes some people's work more difficult. That extra difficulty, by the way, is not an accident. It is by design. 

Pastor Shannon then spoke of Brooks and the song, "Standing Outside the Fire". She quoted, "Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you're standing outside the fire." She spoke to our group, acknowledging that many there likely needed a rest from their life in the fire. She encouraged the taking of that rest. Then she reminded us that we will have to go back to the fire, not stand outside it, if we want to say we are living. 

Like all sermons, there is a space between the words of the pastor and the hearer. This is how I heard Pastor Shannon's words and how I have carried them, in and out of the fire, in my heart since that evening. 

Which brings me to where I find myself, a year and a half years later, standing inside a fire, which has been burning for generations. 

My life in the Christian church has included experience with many denominations. A common thread of that experience is that most denominations treated baptism like fire insurance. We present baptism as a "get-out-of-hell-free" card. We fail to speak of this holy encounter with God's promises with awe. We shortchange the truth that baptism puts our human priorities to death and aligns us with God's priorities. 

We do not allow that the baptized life is a life of standing inside the fire. 

Alignment with God's priorities is not complicated, but it is challenging. It means 
- looking for where Jesus is, 
- listening for where Jesus is calling you, 
- accepting how Jesus is disrupting your status quo, 
- being friended by people whom Jesus calls friend. 

The baptized life is a life of standing inside the fire. In this revelation, holy baptism is not fire insurance. Holy baptism is fire assurance.

When we make baptismal promises, we understand that the living of a baptized life is for: 

so that [you] may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace. (Holy Baptism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship

That's not what baptism is for, but it is how baptized people live. They live in the fire of trusting God, proclaiming Christ, caring for others and the world, and working for justice and peace. 

To attempt to limit God's work in baptism to mere salvation from eternal damnation is a work of spiritual bypassing. It means to try to skip by God's true intention of healing the world through the work of God's own people- us. When we decide to stand outside the fire of God's work for justice and peace because it's too hot or feels irrelevant to us- we commit other people to burn. 

If this seems like an exaggeration to you, then I commend Luke 16:19-31 to you. If you cannot hear my words, I believe you will struggle even if someone comes to you from the dead. 

Last night a friend asked me, "Why were we asked to love boldly and do justice?" 

My reply, "Because that's what baptized people do." 

You may need to take a break. You may need to regroup. You may need to admit to someone that it has taken you longer than you care to admit to reach a new understanding. You may need to say that you are struggling to understand. I will be the person to hear that for you. I can hear you with compassion. I will walk with you. 

But I will not let this go. 

I am not content to merely survive with fire insurance. 

I want to live. And living a baptized life means fire assurance- hard work, work of tearing down and of building up, work that brings deaths and resurrections, work that is alongside Jesus Christ.

As Garth Brooks says, 

There's this love that is burning  
Deep in my soul 
Constantly yearning to get out of control 
Wanting to fly higher and higher 
I can't abide standing outside the fire.


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