Introduction to a Baptized Life
Baptism marks our entrance into a community dedicated to the idea that God loves all people and is healing and creating the world.
Baptism is not entrance to a club, a ticket to heaven, or a magical rite that somehow allows God to love us.
Instead, living a baptized life is to live life as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a partner with him in participating in God’s mission in the world.
Many have said that the church does not really have a mission but is called to take part in the mission of God in the world. In TCC we express God’s mission this way:
- God is committed to healing and creating the world
- God invites us to participate in the creation and healing of the world
- Our participation is one way God heals and creates us
- In Jesus we see God’s mission revealed. In Jesus we see how God chooses to carry out this mission. (More on this later this week.)
Baptism is a one-time rite that leads to a life-long, daily practice.
The symbolism of baptism is very powerful, disturbing and life giving. It is the symbolism of death and rebirth. Death is something we might wish to avoid, not only in reality but in our thoughts and emotions. But the life-long, daily practice of Christian baptism calls us to consciously engage our own mortality, limitedness and vulnerability.
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)
It is this that Christ says in John 3[:7], “You must be born anew.” To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand.
Why would one want to “experience death as if it were near?” Because death is always near. Seeking to avoid this, we become deaf to the God who loves us and accepts us as mortal and vulnerable people. When we don’t look at our own death and vulnerability, we don’t get to see God’s love for us in death and vulnerability. In Jesus we see that God radically affirms our existence as good and meaningful and beautiful. He has joined us in life. He lived life as we do. He was willing to risk his life to bring about a better way for us to live on the earth.
The limitations and mortality that we seek to avoid, Jesus embraced.
One very powerful way to understand the core of Christian teaching in the early centuries is this: If being human is good enough for God in Jesus, then it is good enough for us.
Likewise, the notion of human sin can be understood as the gut-level rejection of life as-it-is.
Salvation then is God loving and creating us so deeply, so completely, that we begin to embrace our existence, and even embrace the fact that we won’t always manage to embrace it fully.
Another reason we might engage our own death and vulnerability is to free us from the things we use to distract us from it. One function of human culture is to affirm us. The culture says that to work 70 hours a week is good, and so we work 70 hours to receive that acceptance. Most of this happens inside our own heads, as we have internalized the expectations of our culture.
This isn’t all bad. Culture offers many advantages to human survival, protection and enrichment.
But it can easily get out of control and be used to encourage, step-by-step, behaviors that are life destroying for us, others and the creation. How many of our actions are the result of us trying to fit into the culture around us? To avoid our death and limitations we make a bargain with our culture: We will live by its standards if we can receive affirmation that we are good people.
So, a part of what we die to in the daily practice of baptism is our slavish obedience to the expectations of our own culture and rise to the freedom of persons who are God’s beloved. Therefore we can begin to question the cultural assumptions that devalue our lives, the lives of others and the creation.
The life-long, daily practice of baptism is the embracing of a life of change. Walter Bruggemann teaches that God’s work in the world leads from an orientation to dis-orientation to a new-orientation. The love and affirmation of God is so sure that we become more able to embrace this kind of change.
In TCC we express discipleship in this way:
Disciples are those who by God’s free gift are being daily reoriented in baptism toward God’s Way of Mutuality and away from empire/domination
The early church ritualized the re-orientation from the larger Roman culture to God’s new way to live by asking those who were to be baptized to spit in all four directions. This symbolized their rejection of the values of the Roman empire that surrounded them. This is not the same thing, of course, as rejecting people in the Roman empire. There is a consistent theme in the Christian Scriptures of God’s love for all while being clear about the destruction brought about by empires.
Being daily grounded in God’s love for us as we are, and being constantly freed for a life that values life is what we mean by the term “baptismal awareness.”
Baptismal awareness is a capacity to embrace that we are totally and unconditionally loved and embraced by God in these contradictions:
- We are alive and yet we will die.
- We are powerful, and yet vulnerable
- We are capable yet have limits
The practice of daily baptism is meant to lead to a moment-by-moment awareness that our mortal, powerful, vulnerable and beautiful lives are beloved by God, and that we are so radically affirmed by God that we don’t need (not as much anyway) the affirmation of our culture. We then are more free to question our culture’s values, to exercise more freedom within our culture and to join Jesus in bringing change to it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who in many ways embodied baptismal awareness, called the church to resist Nazi values. He is famous for talking “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace blesses whatever culture it is in, while costly grace is willing to challenge life-destroying cultural values, even to the point of risking death.
In later writings, he said that what he meant was that grace (God’s free gift of love and acceptance) is neither cheap nor costly. God’s grace is always free. Rather what he was talking about was a costly discipleship.
TCC is an invitation to costly discipleship. Grace is free. You are accepted. You are loved. Loved as you are. Grace is always free. God’s love for you is not in question.
The question that you and I need to grapple with on a daily basis is this: Am I called to be a disciple of Jesus?
Are we willing to, because of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus, participate in God’s mission of healing and creating the world?
Discipleship of Jesus Christ, as we understand it in TCC, involves a journey to discover and develop your authentic self as a beloved child of God and a partner with God in the healing and creation of the world.
Members of TCC take time to practice three primary parts of being a disciple of Jesus:
- Spiritual Practices
- Critique of Worldviews (Theology)
- Nonviolent public leadership
Each of these forms, informs and supports the others.
Let’s start with nonviolent public leadership. We understand that Jesus was a nonviolent leader working on the issues in his context. Leadership is a dangerous word, bringing to mind leaders who “lord it over” submissive followers.
In TCC we understand leadership differently:
Leadership is engaging a situation with one’s authentic self so that other people and communities may become more authentic to God’s intention for them.
In this understanding of leadership, you can see that leading when one is not in touch with one’s authentic self isn’t leadership at all. Likewise, one can see that without the ability to use critical thinking about the values that are being lived out in that situation that we cannot lead well. Furthermore, without developing our leadership skills we won’t be able to lead effectively.
So these three disciplines form and inform each other:
We encourage authenticity with spiritual practices
We practice critical thought from the perspective of a theology of the cross
We equip people for engagement with social change skills
When we engage a situation with all its complexities and challenges, we are driven to the comfort and stability of our spiritual practices and to a deeper form of critical thought.
In the Gospels we see Jesus doing and teaching each one of the disciplines.
These disciplines are not things we will master or perfect. As disciples of Jesus we take time to practice them.
You will see that in these 40 Days, that you are invited to spend time with spiritual practices, critique of worldviews and nonviolent public leadership.