August 4, 2019


Baptism and the New Humanity

Preacher:
Passage: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13; 2 Corinthians 5: 16-17

Synopsis: Baptism is a hopeful, exciting church ritual as we invite one more person into the adventure of faith and of following Jesus. Being baptized is more than a one-time event. It is a dynamic spiritual discipline of “loving Jesus together and loving the way he loved.” It’s not about pining after some mythical former Golden Age or longing for a distant future utopia. Instead, we trust that God is doing a new thing right here and right now. Together, we are part of this new creation—God’s new humanity.  

 

This is an exciting day for me. Almost a year ago, Fei Hung told me that he would like to be baptized before I retire as our pastor. Fei was the only kid in our congregation when I arrived seven years ago. I was the new person arriving and he was one of the people here who greeted me.

 

Leading up to today, he and I met four times to explore Christian faith and life in preparation for baptism. This gave us a good opportunity to learn to know each other better. We talked about how our stories are part of God’s story. The story begins with God creating a good world that includes you and me along with all the rest of life as we know it. We talked about how Jesus is our revelation of who God is as well as what it means to be truly human in a way that loves and cares for each person (even our enemies) as well as the whole creation.  We recognized that giving our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is an individual decision.

 

At the same time, baptism makes us part of a community of people who support each other, care for each other, and have common commitment to live the Jesus way together. God’s Spirit moves in and through us to create this new community of people on a journey. It’s God’s story, my story, and our story. We talked about living into the story. We trust God’s love and grace and we develop spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, community worship, serving others, and simple living, which help us grow in our faith. A healthy Christian life keeps a balance is three areas: “being alone with God, connecting with other believers in the church, and serving the world beyond ourselves.”[1]

 

Fei and I concluded our study sessions by briefly looking at the Mennonite part of the Christian story. This includes our 16th century roots as part of the Anabaptist reformation movement in Europe. Today our fellowship includes a very diverse community of people around the world. We talked about how this diverse fellowship now includes churches that were planted in North American cities in the second half of the 20th century which include people from a wide variety of backgrounds. We said, “Ah, that’s us. That’s Daniels Run Peace Church here in the City of Fairfax.”

 

Fei Hung, last Sunday, as we were planning some of the details of the baptism service, I asked you if you wanted to have people come forward to welcome you as a member of our church. You said you’d like that. Then you grinned and said, “Actually, I’ve been here longer than most of the people who are part of our church today. It reminded me of how mobile we are and how things never stay the same.

 

Let’s consider Paul’s words to the church in Corinth that we’re all part of one body in our diversity. Those early churches were bridging was the diversity of Greek and Jew, male and female, rich and poor, slave and free. What about us? What diversity do we bring together into one body? We have all the diversity that Paul’s churches had, and perhaps even more.

 

That creates both opportunities and tensions? There were intense fights in the early church over including Gentiles. There were also tensions over gender relations, respecting and supporting poor people in the church, and over treating slaves with equality as sisters and brothers. If we remain sensitive to how God’s Spirit is leading us, such tensions can strengthen our church body and help us grow.

 

Baptism signifies being born again and becoming part of a new humanity. The rite of baptism itself doesn’t have any saving efficacy but it’s a sign of something much bigger, of a whole new world coming. As Irma Fast Dueck says, “Unfortunately, baptism is frequently seen as a one-time event based on a one-time decision, but baptism really is a way of life—a way of being Christian together.[2]

 

In this respect, Fei Hung, you are the one being baptized today but we’re all joining you in that. We remember our own baptisms. Even if we can’t remember, because we were baptized when we were too young at the time, we can all reaffirm our baptism. I invite all of us to do that and, in this way, join with Fei when he is being baptized/

 

According to Irma Fast Dueck, “Baptismal membership in the church captures the life of baptism well. Rather than a list of duties and obligations and constitutions, church membership (or church participation) is more like a communal spiritual practice or discipline that we engage together.”[3] She adds, “In this sense, we move away from understandings of membership that are essentially passive; that is, we join and now we’re in, and church is something we go to rather than something we are. To see membership as a spiritual discipline is more dynamic. Spiritual disciplines require effort because they are not ends but means, pointing us toward the spiritual goals of loving Jesus together and loving the way he loved.”[4]

 

Paul says that we and he used to look at others from a human point of view which includes prejudice and bias. He even looked at Jesus that way before he was converted. Now all of that has changed. He writes, “If anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation.  Old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” Many cultures have the theme of returning to an original Golden Age. But serious historical research generally reveals that our mythical Golden Age was not as wonderful as we imagine. Or we imagine a distant future utopia when God will set all things right. Paul’s new creation was not about returning to a past Golden Age or about a future utopia.

 

As biblical scholar Ernest Best writes, “With Paul, . . . this longing is no longer a wish about a faraway future but a present reality. Through his cross and resurrection, Christ has already created his followers anew.” This does not mean that we have been given new ideals to live by or that we will experience a slow moral change by our desire to be good. That would be recreating ourselves.[5]

 

This is God’s doing. God is creating all things new just as in the original creation. In Christ’s death and resurrection, his followers have become new people. That’s how God looks at us. The operative words here are “God” and “in Christ.” For our part, this involves a lifelong journey of living this out in the way we think and behave, no longer living for ourselves but for Christ.[6] In the words of one of my favorite gathering hymns:

Here in this place, new light is streaming,

now is the darkness vanished away.

See in this space, our fears and our dreamings,

brought here to you in the light of this day.

 

Not in the dark of buildings confining,

not in some heaven light years away,

but here in this place, the new light is shining;

now is the kingdom, now is the day.

 

Fei Hung, you, I, and all of us are part of this new creation, this new humanity. Through your baptism today you are making a public affirmation of what God has done in you through Christ. You are also making a commitment to the church as the body of Christ—church is not something we go to, its rather something we are. We’re part of each other in Christ.

 

This will be the adventure of your lifetime as you work out, along with your fellow Christians, what it means to love Jesus and to love as he loved.

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[1] Michele Hershberger, God’s Story, Our Story (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2013),142.

[2] Irma Fast Dueck, “Is the Church a Barrier to Baptism?, The Leader (Fall 2019): 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ernest Best, II Corinthians: Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987), 54.

[6] Ibid., 54-55.

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