“Baptism is a public act by which the church proclaims God’s grace, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the use of a visible sign of God’s gracious initiative and the human individual’s response in faith. With other Christians we affirm that baptism is at once a divine gift and a human response.”
That definition, that understanding of baptism comes from the 1987 Commission on Theology’s “Word to the Church on Baptism.”
Baptism traces back to the life of Christ. It was a renewal movement led by John the Baptist. John of course baptized Jesus, thus marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Today we do baptisms based upon the call in the second chapter of the book of Acts, within Peter’s Pentecost sermon. He calls the people to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul interprets baptism as incorporation into the body of Christ, dying as Christ died, and then being raised to newness of life. For Paul baptism confers on the individual a new identity and a new community, calling us to present ourselves as instruments of God’s righteousness.
While leaders of the church administer and do the baptism, the book of Acts and the Apostle Paul, make it clear that the sacrament of baptism stems from God’s grace and the sacrament of Holy Communion stems from the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
Baptism and Communion are not rites of initiation. Rather they mark a radical break from a person’s old life to that of a new life in Christ Jesus. Baptism and Communion are sacraments of unity, for they unify us with God our Creator, Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer.
Today we celebrate these Sacraments of Unity being given and administered to one young man who came through this year’s Pastor’s Class.
Pastor’s classes are always special for me. I get excited about the chance to be in class with students who are nearing the time to make the decision for themselves to be baptized and become part of the church in a new and different way. It is my goal to open up the world of faith to them and we do that by exploring the Bible, discussing who God is, who Jesus is, the prophets, the disciples, the holidays and seasons of the year that come from it all.
We talk about the church and what its role is to them, and their role to the church. And we talk about what it means to make a confession of faith, be baptized, and receive Holy Communion. But truth be told, as excited as I get about teaching Pastor’s class, I get even more worried about teaching Pastor’s Class. It is all rather intimidating when it begins. But I’m not talking about intimidating for the students. I’m talking about intimidating for me!
I worry because where do you begin when you are talking about “God’s grace, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the use of a visible sign of God’s gracious initiative and the human individual’s response in faith.”
I’ve been part of the church my whole life, I was a religious studies major in college, I went to seminary and became an ordained minister and I still struggle to grasp what all that truly means, let alone what it means to the life and faith walk of someone eleven, twelve, or thirteen years old!
I’ve often thought that I probably should take an entire year to teach the pastor’s class. But truthfully, learning about God’s grace, learning about Jesus as Lord and Savior, leaning about all that the Bible has to teach, is a lifelong process.
Enacting our faith, living out of the biblical core beliefs, grasping the immense awesomeness of God’s grace and Christ’s unconditional love is never something that can be taught, and some might argue, it can never be learned. Rather, the effects of Baptism and Holy Communion—the Sacraments of Unity— and all they offer, can only be experienced.
Can you remember when… Can you remember when you were baptized or confirmed? Can you remember when you received communion for the first time? Can you remember when the church became part of your life in a significant way?
I can look back on those moments, and they all happened on a day I remember vividly. I had gone through all the classes and listened to all that Rev. Murphy said. I said “I do” when he asked the question, and then went and put on the silly white robe… and then I stepped into the baptistery. I remember when he leaned me back and immersed me in those holy waters. I remember opening my eyes under them, and for just a moment all I saw was the blurred vision of swirling water and bubbles. I remember later in the service the communion trays were brought to our pew, and instead of having to pass it along without taking any, this time I got to receive that little wafer and the small cup of grape juice.
Not a lot of it registered with me that day, but looking back on it all now, I know now just how big a day it was. It was a day that I received the Sacraments of Unity. Baptism and Communion— Given to me, a young twelve year old boy who was awkwardly husky and wore glasses. It was the day I became part of the church in a new and profound way. It was the day I, as the Apostle Paul said, was buried into Christ Jesus, buried with him by baptism into death, and then, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so I too rose to “walk in newness of life.” It was the day I ate the bread of life and drank from the cup of salvation.
It was all an experience that has since shaped me and formed me.
Can you remember when you were baptized or confirmed? Can you remember when you received communion for the first time? Can you remember when you the church became part of your life in a significant way? Can you remember when you rose to “walk in newness of life” when you received the sacraments of unity? Can you remember that experience?
From that experience, what did you let happen?
That experience, and all that happens from it, begins today for this year’s pastor’s class.
I always worry about teaching the Pastor’s Class. There is so much to teach. But what worries me even more is what might happen when the experience is past. I worry they will lose the excitement, the eagerness of what was taught and learned. I worry they will forget that moment when they experienced for the first time the sacraments of unity. I worry they will become like so many others who become dictators and gatekeepers of God’s grace and Christ’s unconditional love because they get so caught up in their our own self-righteousness and forget to present themselves as instruments of God’s righteousness, forgetting we have been brought from death to life not because of anything we have done, but because our God is a God of grace and love. I worry the powerful experiences of this day will be lost.
But I know our God is a God that can do all things, and when I remind myself of such, my worries all go away. I know God has a plan for the young man who comes forward today. And just like none of us did, he does not go forth alone.
“Through the sacraments of unity—Baptism and Holy Communion—we enter into newness of life and are made one with the whole people of God.”
That is what we the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believe, and today we bring to God one candidate who wishes to enter into that newness of life and become one with the whole people of God.
Today he comes forward to experience the sacraments of unity. May he come to know, through the experience of this day, that he is God’s holy and beloved child, forever and always. May we, be reminded, through the experience of this day, that we too are still God’s holy and beloved children. May we celebrate this glorious day as we witness the sacraments of unity administered. And may we always present ourselves to God, and to the world, as instruments of God’s grace and peace because of God’s sacraments of unity. Amen.