Baptism – it’s not fire insurance

Baptism – it’s not fire insurance

January 26, 2014
Stina Pope


So let’s talk about baptism and eventually we’ll get back to the gospel. What is baptism? Well, first, it is a sacrament, which is: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

We say that, it’s what is in the Prayer Book, but what does that mean? Baptism is one of two primary sacraments, and it is so important that it (almost always) happens during regular worship. There have been a couple of times when I have done a baptism outside of the regular worship services for pastoral reasons, but this is definitely not the norm.

Let us look at what baptism is not, at least as we understand it in the Episcopal Church.

It is not fire insurance.

It is not a means of salvation.

It is not a way to become a Christian.

It is not about membership in the Church.

Does this surprise you?

So what is baptism?

What Baptism IS – is acknowledging and accepting God’s unconditional love for you, and you acknowledge and accept God’s love for you by accepting forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.

It is accepting your membership in the family of God. You do that by renouncing Satan, by repentance of sins, and following Jesus.

It is your accepting the responsibilities of that membership.

So what are the responsibilities of membership? They are to pray, participate, and pledge for the well-being of this congregation. They are to honor your commitment to the Baptismal Covenant.

I want to elaborate on all this for a minute. The given is that God loves you, just as Josh and Tamako and the rest of us love Kizumi. So does Kizumi have to do anything to be loved? Of course not! So turn it around. God loves you, and considers you a member of the family. The question is not about God, the question is about you. Do you consider yourself a member of the family? And yes, if you are going to be a member of the family and live in the household, there are expectations. But are you loved no matter what? Yes.

The truth is that there is evil in the world, and if we are going to claim our place in the family, we have to “turn away” from following that evil and turn toward God. That “turning” is called repentance. Repentance is not about beating one’s chest and talking about how bad we are. No! It is acknowledging that we have been walking the wrong direction, and, that now we choose to follow Jesus, to walk the Way of Jesus that leads to life. In the Episcopal Church, we name certain things that we understand to be walking the Way of Jesus in the Baptismal Covenant.

Let’s look at that covenant (see below). What do you see there?

Why are these things important? There are two parts, the traditional creed, and then what we call the 5 questions. These questions lay out the framework for a way of life. But here’s an interesting question: You’re already saved; you’re already “in,” you’re already loved, so why work on these specific things?

What if our Baptism isn’t about our salvation at all? What if it’s about the salvation of others? What if we do these things so that we can honor God’s call to us?

The Gospel talks about the people who sat in darkness, who have now have seen a great light, and that light is Jesus. You know people who cannot see the light; who don’t even know to look for it; you know people who are stuck in dungeons of darkness; who don’t know any other reality. You know people who say, you die, and that’s it. What if our job as Christians is not about us at all, but to let the people outside know about the light?

In the Prayer Book (p. 372) one of the eucharistic prayers says this:

Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

How better to serve the world than to share with those around us the light that darkness cannot overcome? How better to serve the world than to share with those around us the amazing unconditional love of God?

But this is scary, we suddenly feel weak and inadequate. We totally understand Moses who says, I can’t speak, I stutter, or Jeremiah who says, I can’t speak, I am just a boy. We say, I can’t talk to people about God or about God loving us, they will run away from me.

Of course we are inadequate, of course we are weak. That’s OK. There are two important things to remember. First, remember St Francis, who told us to preach the love of God at all times, if necessary, use words. Our actions are a much louder witness than our words. If our actions cause us to follow the Way of Jesus, we do not need to worry about the words.

Second, we don’t do this alone. The larger life we are promised in Christ is not found by striving for success, social status or material gain; nor is it found in pursuing righteousness or holiness. It is found by surrendering ourselves to God’s life within us and by trusting God’s strength to be made manifest in our weakness. God can take our willingness, and turn it into something amazing.

I invite you to take a moment to reflect on where your journey with God has brought you. Then look around at your brothers and sisters, and give thanks that together we can celebrate our life in Christ, and look forward to further adventures as we follow the Way of Jesus.  Amen.


The Five Questions:

Celebrant     Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant     Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People          I will, with God’s help.